Everyday Life and COVID-19
In many parts of the world COVID-19 is causing severe disease, death and long term disability. Individuals can protect themselves by taking precautions against exposure to those who are infected and may be asymptomatic at the time they are infectious. Prevention requires care in daily activities. While some public narratives dismiss precautions suggesting the risks are low, even in areas where transmission is not widespread there continue to be many preventable cases and deaths. Risk of transmission accumulates over time, so that even when transmission has not happened to an individual, it may happen at any time if precautions are not taken. The risk of infection is higher for higher levels of transmission in the local community. Prevention and risk mitigation, using multple layers of precaution, should continue until cases in the community are very low. Redouble efforts to prevent transmission when case numbers become higher. Preventing transmission to one individual prevents the consequences of infection for them and reduces the risk for others. Social measures combined with widespread vaccination and testing can curtail transmission and provide an opportunity for safe conditions and even elimination locally.
Here are guidelines for individuals to take precaution against becoming infected through daily activities:
Apartment Buildings and Common Areas
- Homes with shared entrances expose everyone in the common areas, entryways, hallways, laundry rooms, sometimes even from the air in common ventilation systems.
- Wear a mask when in common areas. Mask protection is improved in the sequence: cloth masks, surgical masks, respirators (N95, KN95, FFP2, KF94), elastomeric half masks, and powered air purifying respirators (PAPR).
- Wear goggles, safety glasses, or even regular glasses, to further reduce the chance of exposure through particles entering through the eyes.
- The coronavirus stays around in the air and on surfaces. Spend as little time as possible in entryways and common areas, even when they are not crowded.
- Bring lots of fresh air inside. Where possible open windows. Evaluate and improve ventilation and add filtration.
- Change air with fresh, clean air with better filters (MERV-13, if possible) in central ventilation systems. When possible, keep ventilation and furnace fans ON, minimize recirculation of stale air to bring in more outside air.
- Maximize clean air supply in apartments and homes (as possible) and place HEPA air purifiers in common areas. Avoid ionizers and ozone generation that are sometimes included in HEPA air purifiers.
- HEPA air purifiers in your apartment will help reduce risk from shared air through central ventilation systems, air leakage under doors, or when windows can’t be open.
- Make DIY air cleaner (with MERV-13 or similar filters and fan boxes) for homes, neighbors, community groups.
- Clean air at least six-twelve times/hour (6-12 ACH) in common areas, meeting rooms, gyms, other places people gather.
- Assume any surface others will interact with—your mail-box, the doorknob, elevator buttons—is contaminated. Put something disposable between you and the surface, gloves, a piece of cloth, or even a piece of paper.
- Once you get to your apartment, wash your hands well before touching anything else (with soap for at least 20 seconds). Carry hand sanitizer with you to clean your hands when you are going out.
- Assume the air in elevators and high touch buttons are contaminated, as there may be many people per day sharing that small space. Avoid sharing elevators with other people. When possible, use the stairs if they are otherwise not being used.
- See setting up a receiving area for packages (below).
Grocery Shopping / Pharmacy / Other necessary errands
Obtaining and providing essentials requires careful attention. Many grocery stores and pharmacies offer a number of ways to keep shopping safe for staff and customers. The simplest and best way to stay safe is to arrange for home delivery of food and other essentials. The best alternatives to delivery is drive by or curbside pickup. Where neither of these is possible, and going into the store is necessary, high quality mask wearing (N95, KN95, FFP2, KF94) is key to safety. Other precautions should be carefully considered.
Find and use the stores in your area that take safety seriously, including providing for:
- Ordering online for home delivery with no contact, or for pick up at curbside or parking lot. Some pharmacies deliver prescriptions or have drive-by pickup.
- Requiring mask wearing of all patrons and staff.
- Staff who remind shoppers to distance while shopping.
- Staff who use a no-contact digital IR thermometer to check external body temperature, to make sure no one who enters the store has a fever.
- Extended hours to avoid crowding.
- Early opening with access limited to seniors and other vulnerable customers.
- Limiting the number of people in the store at any one time.
- Customers, store workers, and store managers should continually seek ways to improve safety of the community.
- Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes at the entrance, throughout the store and at check out for cashiers and baggers, as well as customers.
When deciding whether or not to go shopping. Where possible:
- Individuals who suspect they might have COVID-19, or exhibit flu-like symptoms, should not go shopping. They should arrange for alternative solutions which do not involve coming in contact with others.
- Similarly, those who are over 50 or have preexisting health conditions, should arrange for alternative shopping solutions. Otherwise, they should take advantage of early hour restricted shopping where it is provided.
- Alternative shopping solutions include, but are not limited to: online shopping, delivery apps or websites, having a friend or family member shop for you, and asking the store if they have delivery options. Delivery, family, friend or otherwise, should be done no-contact.
- Shopping should be done as infrequently as possible.
- Limit the shopping time. If possible only one member of each household should do the shopping. If the effort is too much for one person, plan the trip carefully so each one has part of the list and the shopping time is as short as possible.
- Items that can be stored for extended periods of time can be ordered in bulk to reduce the effort that is necessary on a week to week basis.
Before going to the store:
- Have a designated set of clothes and shoes that you use when shopping. Before and after shopping, launder or disinfect these clothes thoroughly, and keep them separate from your everyday clothes and shoes.
- Wear a mask and gloves.
- Bring your own designated shopping bags if you have them, disinfect them before and after shopping, and keep the bags away from everyday items. A rolling suitcase is a great alternative to grocery bags when walking long distances is necessary.
- Hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, soap, or other sanitizing materials should be brought to the store, in case you or others are in need.
- Make a grocery list of essential items, including amounts, before going to the store. If you know the layout of the store, organize the list so that you go through the store without doubling back.Include backup items in case the store is out of something specific. A well done list will make it unnecessary to call home as the use of a cell phone in the store is to be avoided.
- If possible, set up a receiving area in your garage, porch or entry area where you can leave non perishable items for 2-4 days, by which time any virus on the surfaces will not be active. If you have to bring them into your home, set up containers or a marked off area for them near the entryway.
- Avoid public transportation if at all possible. If it is necessary, take extra precautions—masks and gloves are essential. Passenger cars are helpful not only to decrease exposure but to bringing larger amounts of groceries home.
- App Ride/TNC/Taxis are better options than mass transportation but also have risks—masks and gloves are essential, keep windows open.
- If you do not have a car but have the ability to park one and can afford it, rent a car.
When you are in the store:
- Social distancing protocols should be followed, including keeping maximal distance from your nearest neighbor at all times (while often described as 6 feet / 2 meters, there is no safe distance indoors but increasing the distance reduces the risk).
- Sanitize your cart or basket before and after using it, and place your shopping bag into it
- Use gloves and/or plastic produce bags to take items from the shelf into your cart. Since gloves can be contaminated by touching anything in the store it is best to use both gloves and disposable plastic produce bags where possible.
- Take items from the back of the shelf, where they are less likely to have been handled by multiple customers.
- Checkout should be performed with minimal contact. Using self-checkout and electronic payment is preferable.
- Ask cashiers and baggers to wear gloves or use hand sanitizer while checking out your items.
- When you get home, place all items in a receiving area where they can be left for 2-4 days (see above).
- Reminder: Wash your hands when you are done.
- For perishable or urgently needed items, wash them with soap and rinse carefully before putting away, or place in an oven at 75◦C (170◦F) for 12 min (wear a mask or stay away during this process), or disinfect with alcohol.
- Upon return from any outing with other people, even if you’ve maintained safe distancing, place clothing in a bag for laundry, and shower.
Packages and Mail
At room temperature, coronavirus can remain on paper and cardboard for one day. For plastic and other materials, it can remain for 3-4 days, depending on the conditions. Packages have been handled by many people before they arrive at your home. Sterilization can be performed through disinfectants especially alcohol, soap, or the application of heat or waiting for time to pass.
- If possible, leave the package unopened in your receiving area: garage, porch or some similar area for 2-4 days.
- If it needs to be opened immediately, or you do not have such a space available, wash off the box with soapy water, disinfectant or alcohol wipes (70% is effective) before opening. Remove the item or items carefully and discard the outside box. Alternatively, if it can be fitted into an oven, heat at at 75°C (170°F) for 12 min (wear a mask or stay away during this process).
- Where packages are left in outdoor or non-climate controlled receiving areas, summer heat and sun may somewhat reduce the time needed for disinfection of packages. Winter cold or refrigeration extends the time for disinfection so that alternative means should be employed.
- Reminder: Wash your hands when you are done.
- When traveling, moving or sending items from one safe location to another, wrapping boxes or other packages in plastic bags or movers wrap allows it to be handled by others on the way and then to unwrap and bring in the contents safely at the destination.
Jinyang Gu, Bing Han, and Jian Wang. Covid-19: gastrointestinal manifestations and potential fecal–oral transmission. Gastroenterology, 158(6):1518– 1519, 2020.