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Covid-19: 7 ways to stay safe in winter

20 Oct 2020

With a new wave of infection in Europe, you may be wondering how best to balance going out and staying in, while keeping safe — here’s advice from our experts

Winter is coming, a second wave of Covid-19 infections is already here, but it seems that going into complete hibernation for months isn’t on the agenda.

So, we are all having to find the right balance between work and play, while minimising our risk of infection.

It can be confusing when official measures to limit the spread of Covid-19 vary from country to country and, in many cases, from region to region.

So, here’s the latest advice on what you can do to hang on to your social life while still protecting yourself and your family, from Livi infectious diseases expert Dr Annette Alaeus.

1. Keep catch-ups short and sweet

The coronavirus is spread through close, sustained contact — which is generally defined as spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone who is infected. So short is sweet.

A quick catch-up keeps friendships alive, while minimising the risk of spreading Covid-19. Just make sure you stick to your household or support bubble while indoors, and groups of 6 or less outdoors.

And there are always video calls for longer chats. Relationships deteriorate if we don’t work on them, but a recent study found that ‘seeing’ someone on a video call maintains a connection almost as effectively as meeting in person.

2. Take the stairs

Most people are infected by breathing in respiratory droplets of Covid-19, so the highest risk comes from spending time inside, in crowded, confined spaces.

Indoors, the coronavirus can also linger for up to 2 hours, so confined spaces where a lot of people come and go — like lifts — are also likely to be a higher risk.

If you can, take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you have no choice, wear a mask and keep as much distance as you can from anyone else using the lift, facing in the opposite direction where possible.

3. Embrace the outdoors

It might be chilly, but wrapping up warm and spending time outside is one of the safest ways to have fun – and there are plenty of health benefits of being in nature.

The risk of becoming unwell from Covid-19 partly depends on how much of the coronavirus you breathe in, which is known as the viral load. This will also be lower outside.

So if you can, make a date to meet in a park in a group of up to 6 people, or share a nice walk or bike ride. Other outdoor activities that are distance-friendly include tennis, badminton and hiking.

Read about the benefits of exercising outdoors during winter.

4. Open a window — even if it’s chilly

Ventilation is key, so when you’re inside, open a window or turn up the air conditioning (but only if it draws fresh air from outside). There’s evidence that systems which recirculate air, or are poorly maintained, help the spread of Covid-19.

5. Travel safe

If you’re taking a car journey with immediate family or a group you live with, there’s no need for any extra measures.

But if you’re using a large taxi or travelling with someone outside your household, make sure everyone wears a face mask and keep the windows open to ensure good ventilation and respect the driver’s safety. Before and after the journey, sanitise door handles and other areas people may have touched.

Follow the same steps for travel on buses, trains and other forms of public transport.

6. Wear a mask — especially if distancing is difficult

Initially, experts were divided on whether or not we should all wear masks, but there’s now general agreement that they can reduce the risk of transmission and are a good idea if social distancing is tricky.

Unexpectedly, the science around masks was advanced by the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted across America in May. Public health officials warned there would be a surge in Covid-19 infections. But that didn’t happen and follow-up studies suggest this is probably because so many of the protesters wore masks.

It’s now mandatory that masks should be worn in shops, on public transport and other confined or crowded environments where physical distancing is difficult.

7. Practise mask safety

To stay safe, it’s important to use masks properly:

  • Wash or sanitise your hands before putting on your mask
  • Make sure your mask covers your mouth and nose
  • Wash fabric masks after use to kill any virus
  • If you can’t wash your mask straight away, put it into a plastic bag and tie it up, or use a resealable bag
  • Dispose of medical masks safely — do not drop them in the street

The odds of catching Covid-19 from surfaces are relatively low — but it’s still sensible to be cautious about contact with high-traffic surfaces like shop door-handles, card machines, and handrails on public transport.

And, of course, avoid touching your face when you’re out and wash or sanitise your hands regularly when you don’t have access to running water and soap.

This article has been medically approved by Dr Annette Alaeus, Head of Infectious Diseases at Livi.

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