How can I protect myself from coronavirus when I do leave the house?
If you’re self-isolating as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, there will be times when you have to step out of your front door – here are the simple precautions you can take.
Even if we are following social distancing and self-isolation rules to the letter, there will be times when we have to go outside, for example, to take exercise or visit the supermarket.
So, what are some simple ways we can protect ourselves from coronavirus when we have to leave the house?
Keep your distance
The good news is that this new virus doesn’t last well outside – the risks come from other people. The most important way to protect yourself is to keep your distance. Don’t worry about appearing rude – the international health authorities say this is vital for everyone.
Public Health England recommends keeping two metre’s distance from others.
Wipe down car surfaces after driving
It’s not known exactly how long the new virus stays on surfaces but one new study found respiratory droplets remained up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
One particular area to watch is your car. After driving, wipe down the handles of your car door, steering wheel, keys and any other buttons you have pressed - including your touch screen - with disinfectant, or alcohol-based wipes or spray containing at least 60% alcohol in case you have picked up the virus while you were out.
Masks – yes or no?
Expert opinion is divided on whether healthy people should wear masks - unless you are caring for someone who is sick. Some experts say wearing masks can give a false sense of security and might make wearers less likely to use good hand hygiene. Other experts advise that masks can help to stop the spread of infection.
If you do choose to wear one it needs to be taken on and off properly to work, replaced when damp and not reused.
If you’re coughing and sneezing you should wear a surgical mask, which needs to be taken on and off properly to work, replaced when damp and not reused.
What about the two Gs – gloves and goggles?
It might seem sensible to wear gloves when you are out, but experts do not recommend them.
Instead the mantra of not touching your face, and washing your hands for 20 seconds regularly is more important. Disposable gloves are recommended if you are handling dirty laundry from an ill person - discard them after each use.
There’s no official line on goggles but if you are caring for someone who is infected or feel you are at risk of being exposed they could provide a benefit. If using goggles you should take them off carefully and clean them down with sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Do clean your credit cards
New research indicates the virus may last for many hours on metal surfaces (such as coins) so you might want to avoid paying with coins as a precaution.
The same research found the virus stayed for three days on plastic such as credit and debit cards. So, clean your card after shopping with alcohol-based wipes or spray containing at least 60% alcohol.
Avoid putting your phone on hard surfaces
We touch our phones and other electronic devices all the time. Use wipeable covers or disinfect the touch screen.
Wash your hands as soon as you get home
We’re all now familiar with the advice about washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or if that’s not available, using a hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.
So – go straight to the sink before you touch anything once you arrive back home, concentrating on washing hands, arms and face with soap and hot water.
Don’t shake out your clothes before washing
According to authorities, the virus lasts less time on soft materials such as clothing than it will on hard surfaces so there’s no need to wash your clothes immediately. Instead, change your clothes at the end of the day, putting them in a washing machine on a normal cycle. Just avoid shaking them out before you put them in the drum to avoid virus particles in the air which you could breathe in.
General advice to prevent germs spreading is to wash underwear, towels and household linen at 60C or at 40C with a bleach-based laundry product - and don’t keep the laundry in the machine.
Take extra care when you have to go to work
Offices can be prime spaces where infections spreads. If you have to go to work, when you arrive, clean surfaces others may have come into contact with including keyboard, handles, tables, kettle, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, desks, toilets, taps, and sinks. If you can’t avoid public transport, wash your hands as soon as you get to work.
How to interpret differences
Scientists and health agencies can have different views, that’s why advice varies and changes as the science evolves, and from country to country. But the one thing all agree on is keep your distance – so when venturing out, keep that top of mind.
What should I do next?
- Respiratory droplets may remain up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel in your car so wipe down steering wheel door handles and gear stick once you get home with wipes or spray of at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid shaking your clothes before you put them in the washing machine to avoid virus particles in the air which you could breathe in. Wash clothes after each wear.
- Wash underwear, towels and household linen at 60C (140F) or at 40C (104F) with a bleach-based laundry product - and don’t keep the laundry in the machine
- At work clean hotspots like keyboards, tables, kettle handle, doorknobs, light switches.