Protecting yourself and others from COVID-19

By Henrylito D. Tacio

On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced the official name of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCov), first identified in Wuhan, China.  It’s called COVID-19, an abbreviation of CO for corona, VI for virus, D for disease and 19 for 2019.

“There are many types of human coronaviruses, including some that commonly caused mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses,” explains the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2 as it is similar to the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.  “COVID-19 is a new disease, caused by a new coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans,” the CDC states.

Exactly one month after the official name was given, the WHO declared the viral disease that has spread from China to almost all parts of the world as pandemic.  “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out. “It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”

There is still no treatment available for COVID-19.  Although there are some reports that a vaccine has already been developed, it may take a while before it will be available for use.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime leader of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that developing the vaccine will take at least a year and a half – the same message conveyed by pharmaceutical executives.

In the absence of treatment and vaccine, the best way is protection.  “All around the world, people are taking necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families from coronavirus,” said Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, deputy executive director of Partnerships of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in a statement.  “Sound preparation, based on scientific evidence, is what is needed at this time.”

Wash your hands properly: Time and again, the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is hand washing with soap.  As pandemic continues its spread, WHO, UNICEF and the Department of Health (DOH) are reminding the public of the importance of handwashing as a key prevention measure against COVID-19.

“Hand washing with soap is one of the cheapest, most effective things you can do to protect yourself and others against coronavirus, as well as many other infectious diseases,” UNICEF reminds.

However, hand washing must be done properly.  UNICEF shares the following tips: Wet hands with running water.  Then, apply enough soap to cover wet hands.  Scrub all surfaces of the hands – including back of hands, between fingers and under nails – for at least 20 seconds.  After that, rinse thoroughly with running water.  Dry hands with a clean cloth or single-use towel.

If soap and water are not readily available, you can use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.  “Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them until they feel dry,” CDC suggests.

A study done in the United States late last year on hand hygiene and the global spread of viral disease through air transportation showed that “if people wash their hands while at the airport, the spread of pandemic could be curbed by up to 69%.”  The same research group previously found only an estimated 20% of people have clean hands while at airports.

Avoid touching your face: Several recent studies have shown that people often touch their face than washing their hands.  Greg Hudson, writing for, reports: “One study published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene recorded 10 subjects as they did office-style work for three hours in a room by themselves.  On average, they touched their faces 15.7 times per hour.  A similar study of 26 students in South Wales showed they averaged 23 touches per hour, with almost half of those involving contact between the hand and mucous from the nose, eyes, and mouth.”

That’s scary, indeed.  This must be the reason why Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to advise not to touch MEN (referring to mouth, eyes, and nose).  “Hand touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses.  Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eye, nose or mouth.  From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick,” he was quoted as saying.

Although it is not a substitute for good hand hygiene, avoiding touching your face can help protect you against coronavirus and other respiratory infections, according to Dr. William Schaffner, the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

In an interview with Fox News’ Madeline Farber, Dr. Schaffer bared some tips on you can avoid touching your face:

Use alarms and sticky notes.  “Try using reminders, such as an alarm on your cell phone or sticky notes on your desk or refrigerator,” he said.

Tie a ribbon to your finger.  “Put a ribbon or tape on your finger to make yourself more aware when you do touch your face,” he advised.

Keep your hands busy.  “Try sitting on your hands or folding them in your lap when you are in a meeting or watching TV,” the doctor said.

Practice social distancing: “In terms of social distancing, it’s important to understand how this virus is transmitted,” explains Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic.  “It’s transmitted through respiratory droplets generated when someone infected coughs or sneezes.  We know that these droplets extend about 3 to 6 feet from the person that generates them.  If you breathe in the droplets, or they land on your eyes, nose or mouth, then you are at risk of getting infected.”

This is where the concept of social distancing comes in.  “If we stay away from someone who is sick, or in general, beyond that 6-foot margin, then the risk of being exposed drops dramatically,” says Dr. Rajapakse.  “That’s why some of these recommendations about cancelling large meeting and gatherings were people are in very close contact with each other.”

Some of the social distancing measures include: closing schools and child care centers; avoiding malls, theathers, grocery stores, or anywhere with large crowds (such as concerts or festivals); suspending services at houses of worship; encouraging people to work from home; and avoiding the use of public transportation.

“Social distancing has been shown to be effective in slowing the spread of infection during many outbreaks in the past,” Dr. Rajapakse says.

Avoid handshakes: The handshake is commonly done upon meeting, greeting, parting, offering, congratulations, expressing gratitude, or as a public sign of completing a business or diplomatic agreement.

GQ magazine says the main purpose of handshake is to convey trust, respect, balance and equality.  If it is done to form an agreement, the agreement is not official until the hands are parted.

In these days of COVID-19, avoid handshake is necessary.  “We know our hands carry a lot of germs on them,” Dr. Rajapakse says.  “Changing to another method of greeting is encouraged and recommended.  I recommend people wave or bow, or put their hands over their heart as certain alternatives that people can use that don’t carry the risk of a handshake.”

Clean and disinfect: United States government and other scientists have found that SARS-CoV-2 “can live in the air for several hours and on some surfaces for as long as two to three days,” reports Marilyn Marchione for Associated Press.

In a study, researchers “found that viable virus could be detected up to three hours later in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel,” Marchione wrote.

As such, the CDC suggests cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily.  This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.  If surfaces are dirty, clean them: use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

Use disinfectants appropriate for the surface. If such are not available at home, you can use a solution, which has at least 70% alcohol.  Or, you can dilute your household bleach.  To make a bleach solution, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water.

“Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation,” CDC reminds.  “Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date.  Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.  Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.”

Wear a mask: “Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water,” reminds the United Nations health agency.

However, healthy people are advised to wear mask only if they are taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19 virus.  Wearing a mask is also advised if a person coughs or sneezes.

If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly, the WHO says.  Here’s how to do it: Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.  Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there no gaps between your face and the mask.  Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.  To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

To end this piece, the words of Dr. Rajapakse is timely: “Now is the time for people to plan and prepare for this epidemic and to stay informed and get their information from valid news sources.  There is a lot of misinformation circulating out there specially on social media so I would encourage people to check where their information is coming from and try to avoid sharing and spreading information that is coming from invalidated sources.”

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