Masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and 6-foot distances: products and guidelines that are playing a much bigger role in daily life than ever before. The science on preventing the spread of the coronavirus has been changing as officials continue to gather and analyze data.
Thankfully, there is a pretty big hospital in the neighborhood where health professionals are willing to give a little advice to those who are floundering on how they should prepare themselves for a trip to the grocery store. This is a list of tips from a team at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale to keep people correctly using these products in their everyday lives.
1. Do wash your face covering regularly. The CDC recommends wearing some form of face covering in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, as it helps prevent the spread of the virus to others (not the wearer). Right now, homemade masks with multiple layers sewn or fashioned with rubber bands are most ideal for everyday outings. The CDC reasons that higher-demand, higher-protection coverings like surgical masks and N95 masks should be reserved for health care workers working closely with COVID-19 and other high-risk patients.
Still, if you’re wearing a cloth mask pretty frequently, you might want to wash it frequently. Most fabric masks can be hand washed or washed in a washing machine. When the mask is dry, make sure it still fits snugly on the sides of the face.
2. Don’t assume everyone should be wearing a face covering. This is especially important for young children, as the CDC does not recommend using a covering for those under the age of 2. Masks should also be avoided by those who have trouble breathing. In emergency situations, the CDC recommends that masks not be placed on individuals that are “unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance.”
3. Don’t assume cloth face coverings are a substitute for social distancing. Simply, they’re not. Again, the mask only offers limited protection to others around you. It’s still a good idea to wear one because the wearer may have the virus but is not yet showing symptoms (and possibly won’t for the duration that they are infected).
Try your best to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, avoid touching your face (or adjusting your mask) and continue to frequently wash your hands.
4. Do take extra precautions when caring for someone infected with COVID-19. If you are charged with taking care of someone, gloves will become your greatest ally. Use gloves when handling items that had been worn or touched by the infected person, like laundry, dishes, utensils and trash.
If you’re using reusable gloves, the gloves shouldn’t be used for any purposes after. Ideally, the CDC recommends discarding gloves after each use.
For those that aren’t dealing with a sick person, there’s no need for medical gloves for everyday activities. Instead, make sure hands are being washed frequently and are staying away from your face and hair. In these cases, gloves might be best reserved for times when surfaces are being cleaned or disinfected.
If you are caring for a sick individual, do not assume because you are not exhibiting symptoms you can not spread it to others. The CDC reports that a “significant” portion of people exhibit no symptoms or have a delay from the time of infection to illness. The virus can still be spread regardless of whether you feel ill, through speaking, coughing or sneezing.
5. Don’t forget to wash your hands. Even if you are wearing gloves, wash your hands as soon as the gloves are taken off and disposed of. The same goes for when a mask is applied or removed.
There is a debate on the effectiveness of hand sanitizer, and the current recommendation is to stick to soap and water. If hand sanitizer is all that’s available, make sure it contains at least 60% alcohol. Hard spirits like vodka are typically not that strong, so do not consider products from your liquor cabinet as your last line of defense. Some that have attempted making at-home sanitizers have ended up with chemical burns. Be sure to check that the sanitizer is still within its expiration, and hasn’t been subject to extreme heat (above 105 degrees) for any period of time.
The soap itself does not need to claim special disinfecting properties, either; the FDA maintains that “there is currently no evidence that consumer antiseptic wash products (also known as antibacterial soaps) are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients could do more harm than good in the long-term and more research is needed.”
On a related note, applying household cleaners and other chemicals directly onto the skin is a recipe for disaster. The Environmental Protection Agency has proffered a list of cleaners that are effective for use against COVID-19 (that list here: bit.ly/3bPL7tX), but they aren’t intended for human, pets or really anything that isn’t a hard, nonporous surface.