COVID-19 is likely taking up a lot of mind space right now. The specifics of the situation will vary widely depending on where you live, but there are some universal recommendations:
- Frequent hand-washing
- Social distancing
Social distancing is simply any effort on a personal, social, and policy level to maintain physical distance to minimize the chance of community spread of contagion. In many regions that are hit hard by COVID-19, there are closures of public spaces and policies to enforce social distancing. Even if that’s not the case in your community, there are many things that you can do to socially distance yourself.
- Avoid crowded places
- Keeping 2 meters or 2 arms lengths apart from others
- Staying home if at all possible
- Only leaving for essentials like grocery shopping. No parties, weddings, and other unnecessary group gatherings. Find online ways to socialize instead.
These recommendations cut down on the most common transmission vectors – person-to-person transmission via droplets – coughing and sneezing. The other transmission route is via touching objects that have the virus on them, although this appears not to be the main route of transmission.1
Handwashing and Safety
Handwashing is generally good advice and a good habit to develop, even under normal circumstances. In today’s environment, where we are trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it’s become essential. In Canada, the recommendations for handwashing are as follows:
- Wet hands with warm water
- Apply soap
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (including your palms, back of each hand, between fingers, thumbs, and under the nails)
- Rinse well
- Dry hands well with a paper towel
- Turn off the tap using the paper towel
There are also other practical tips to help reduce the chances of transmission.
- Carry a hand sanitizer. Ensure that it has an alcohol content of at least 60% to be effective. More than 75% is recommended. Hand sanitizers can’t replace hand washing, but they may be your only option if you’re outdoors.
- Avoid touching your face. Touching your mouth, nose, or eyes can be a transmission vector. This isn’t an easy habit to break, but being aware helps reduce this habit2 and thus, helps reduce your risk of infection.
- Repeat this process every time that you touch foreign surfaces. COVID-19 can live on surfaces for hours to days.
- Keep objects that you frequently touch, like your cellphone or your keyboard, clean. Cash comes into frequent contact with many hands as well. Wash your hands after handling cash.
Handwashing is a simple precaution but one of the most important ways to protect yourself, your family, and the larger community.
Taking Care of Your Skin
Outside of staying indoors, repeated and thorough handwashing is the best you can do to protect yourself. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of handwashing is that it’s a common source of irritant contact dermatitis. Soap can also be a source of irritation, as alcohol is the primary ingredient of hand sanitizers. It’s also important to note that this isn’t merely a cosmetic issue. As anyone with eczema knows, dry skin can be painful and even harmful if the skin dries and cracks, leaving you exposed to various infectious agents. When the skin dries and cracks, it becomes more vulnerable to various infections.
- Don’t be lazy with your handwashing. Wash your hand thoroughly for the recommended 20 seconds.
- Moisturize your skin immediately after handwashing. This is a good habit to develop to protect the barrier function of your hands.
- If your hands become dry or damaged from handwashing, try moisturizing your hands and wear cotton gloves before bed.
Stay Home But Stay Healthy
Social distancing is a policy in many geographic regions today, though, hopefully not for too long. If possible, most affected areas are advising non-essential workers to work from home and to stay indoors. In many Western countries, containment has failed, and the focus is now on “flattening the curve.” To do this, staying home as much as possible will be important.
You can go outside to exercise (unless you are showing symptoms) but ensure that you can maintain distance (2 meters) with others. Crowded parks, beaches, or trails may not be the best idea. Avoiding peak hours can also help with distancing as well.
Your immune system will need to be strong to fight off any type of infection, not just COVID-19. Breaking a sweat can help boost your immune system. Ensure that you are still eating healthy and getting enough sleep. There is evidence that the strength of your immune response may help beat back COVID-19 at an early phase where symptoms are mild.3
- Always follow the advice of the experts. This is not the time to be a maverick or to test your own theories on epidemiology.
- If you do go outside to exercise, maintain social distancing (2 meters) and try to go during off-peak hours to avoid crowds/people on the streets as much as possible.
- Our immune system is extremely complex and is influenced by many factors. Lifestyle factors play an important role in our immune system, and stress reduction and exercise are important.
- Keep in mind that the usual rules still apply. Sunscreen up; stay away from crowds.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap when you get back.
- Remember that you can always get exercise indoors as well. YouTube is a great source for exercise videos.