Protecting yourself from Coronavirus

How can you best protect yourself from coronavirus? Unfortunately, the “government” is providing inconsistent and sometimes misleading advice, as are airlines and other businesses that want to keep you coming.  Disinfecting surfaces and extra cleaning of airplanes and other public transports may not be helpful and can communicate a false sense of safety. You would be safer to sit on an uncleaned toilet and then wash your hands, than to clean the toilet seat yourself with some disinfectant.

Two key facts are critical to understanding the transmission of viruses, such as Coronavirus. The first is that not all disinfectants are created equal.  Most are effective in killing bacteria but not viruses.  By and large only products with bleach (Clorox or sodium hypochlorite) will destroy viruses, but they can potentially also destroy the surfaces they are applied to, including your skin and thus it is not desirable to use them routinely. The second fact is that the coronavirus does not enter your body through your skin. It enters through your eyes, nose or mouth (or an open sore). This is why you should avoid touching your face.  Your best protection is to keep the virus off your hands, and then keep your hands off your face. The best way to keep the virus off your hands is to be more careful where you put them and to wash them with ordinary hand soap whenever you think your hands might have contacted the virus.

Wash your hands:  “If we sanitize, it will be fine.” No it won’t. Saying so can give a false sense of safety. Products to disinfect your hands without rinsing might kill bacteria but they will only rearrange viruses on your hands. Even ordinary soap will not “kill” viruses, but it is great at removing them from your skin so they can be rinsed away. Wash for 30 seconds (humming the “happy birthday to you” song twice) and rinse well. The following article provides an excellent and detailed discussion of the power of soap: “Deadly-viruses-are-no-match-for-plain-old-soap-heres-the-science-behind-it”

Don’t touch your face:  The most reliable measure of protection from acquiring covid-19 is to avoid touching your eyes, mouth or the inside of your nose. These are the access points for viruses into your body. This is easier said than done. See Ito’s suggestions below.

If you are young, don’t worry and have fun. That’s what the young do anyway. If you are my age, keep a distance from others and try not to touch anything (especially someone else’s hands). Stay home more. It will also allow time to develop better treatment protocols, increase isolation ward capacity, and a vaccine (which, however, will take another year or more to test for safety and effectiveness).

In the following, Dr. Victorino (Ito) Briones, MD, Ph.D., provides the most relevant tips on how to prevent getting infected with the Coronavirus

  1. The most significant source of infection will be your hands.

We always use our hands in order to go about our daily routine. We touch the doorknob to open the door, hold the grocery handle from a cart or a basket, shake hands, etc. Do not be afraid to get the virus on your hands. Our skin is one of the best defense barriers from this virus. It will not infect you even if you have touched an object or another person’s hand that has the coronavirus. The way the virus can get into your body is by entering through your mucous membranes, which in this case includes your eyes and your mouth as well as the inside of your nose.

Suggestions:

  • Do not touch your face. Again, don’t worry that you might have the virus in your hands. But don’t transfer the virus from your hands to your face where it can enter and infect you through your eyes, mouth and nose.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water. Do this most especially before eating.

NOTES: Most often public toilets will have a liquid soap dispenser. Be mindful that the top of the bottle may be contaminated with the virus by the previous person who used it. Be careful when you use bar soaps as the virus may survive in the soap bar as well. Also be mindful that the faucet knob or handle may be contaminated with the virus so do not close the faucet with the hand you just washed.

The CDC suggests about 30 seconds of washing. I personally like to wash once with soap first, then rinse and then wash again a second time. Please understand that soap and water do not kill the virus. Washing simply removes the virus from your hands.

  • Wrap a masking tape around the tips of both your forefingers.

It is extremely difficult to consciously prevent ourselves from touching our face.    Research says that we touch our face about 20 times an hour and we may not be aware we’re doing it. Wrap a masking tape (blue or orange) around the tips of your forefingers. The hope is that the masking tape at the tip of the forefinger will remind you not to scratch our face with your hands. Also, the sensation of the tape on the face should immediately tell you to stop.

  • What about Masks?

Masks are most helpful to those who already have cough and colds symptoms and this prevents them from spreading the virus in the air. Wearing masks, however, can be helpful in reminding you not to touch your face especially your mouth. But personally, I don’t find it essential.

  • Hand sanitizers?

A friend showed me a hand sanitizer he was using and the label said “antibacterial”. Antibacterial sanitizers do not kill viruses. Bacteria and viruses are very different organisms. CDC recommendations here: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html

Personally, I don’t like to recommend hand sanitizers because it may give the person a false belief that his hands are virus free. My recommendation is to think that your hands are always contaminated with the virus.

  • How to scratch your face/eyes?

It may be time to carry a pack of tissues with you. If you feel the urge to scratch your eyes, use a clean tissue from the pack. Make sure that your fingers don’t touch your eyes or face. Then discard the tissue into a trash can after using. Do not re-use the tissue. Be mindful that if your hand is contaminated, then the tissue is also now contaminated with the virus.

    2.  It might be time to change some personal habits.

  • No more shaking hands and embracing when greeting other people. At this time, people already understand and, I think, appreciate that this form of greeting is no longer appropriate.
  • Perhaps start the standard of using virtual fist bumps or elbow bumps to acknowledge personal greetings.

In general, always consider the possibility that everything you touch is potentially contaminated with the virus. But also understand that the virus cannot enter your body through the skin on your hand.  So don’t be afraid to go about your daily lives. However, be always mindful that the virus can enter your body through your face. Your hands are the most probable source of infection.

 

About wcoats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My most recent book is One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.
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3 Responses to Protecting yourself from Coronavirus

  1. Scott Huch says:

    Very helpful information — thank you to both you and Ito. Stay healthy!

  2. Joe Cobb says:

    I am also pleased that a habit I dislike is going to be suppressed – hugging greetings, et al. I stand with Seinfeld about hugging: don’t.

  3. laura Freedgood says:

    Very sound advice, Warren. Nice to have Ito there. Best to both of you,
    Laura

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