Disinfecting and Safety Tips to Prevent COVID-19
Protect yourself from the coronavirus at home and in public by properly cleaning and disinfecting.
By Bryan D. Vargo
It’s more important now than ever to take precautions against exposure to germs that can lead to sickness, including the novel coronavirus and the delta variant. It’s well understood that these viruses spread from person to person. However, it’s less clear how they can be contracted from surfaces.
What we know about the contagiousness of the coronavirus on surfaces and objects is largely based on a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine by scientists from the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UCLA and Princeton University. Through a series of 10 experiments with two coronaviruses (SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus, and SARS-CoV-1) in five environmental conditions (aerosols, plastic, stainless steel, copper and cardboard), the scientists discovered that SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 disease, remained in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The results provide key information about the stability of the new coronavirus and suggests that people may acquire it through the air and after touching contaminated surfaces and objects.
While experts agree there is less risk of contracting the virus from surfaces and objects than from other people, precautions should still be taken. Use these tips to limit your exposure in your house, when out and about, and when you return home.
In your home. To best protect yourself from exposure to the novel coronavirus at home, the CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves or a pair of dedicated, reusable cleaning gloves while cleaning frequently touched hard surfaces in your home (doorknobs, light switches, faucets, sinks, toilets, countertops, etc.). It’s important to not only clean these surfaces with detergent or soap and water, but also to disinfect those same surfaces with a household cleaner. (Click here to see a list of effective disinfectants.) Follow the instructions on the label to disinfect safely and effectively. Cleaners with 70% alcohol may also be used. Or you can make your own disinfectant with 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach per one gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach per one quart of water. Keep hard surfaces wet with the bleach solution for at least a minute to effectively disinfect, and always provide enough ventilation when cleaning.
Soft surfaces, like rugs and curtains, can be cleaned with soap and water and laundered in your washer according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The CDC recommends using the warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely before using. Clothing, towels, and linens can also be effectively cleaned by laundering them in your washer on the warmest appropriate water setting and then drying them completely.
Phones, tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls, and other electronics can be disinfected with wipes or sprays with at least 70% alcohol.
How often you clean and disinfect surfaces ultimately depends on how often they are touched or used, say experts. However, if you suspect someone in your home has the novel coronavirus, the CDC recommends the following protocol for cleaning surfaces and handling laundry:
- Clean and disinfect surfaces daily.
- Wear gloves when handling their dirty laundry and linens.
- Do not shake their dirty laundry as it may disperse the virus into the air.
- Clean and disinfect clothes hampers or line hampers with disposable bags and toss the bag after each use.
- Dispose of gloves and wash your hands afterward. According to the CDC, it is OK to wash a sick person’s clothing with others.
When shopping. When in public or around people who are not in your household, such as the grocery store or pharmacy, always maintain 6 feet distance (about two arm’s length) away and wear a mask to help protect others in case you have the virus but are asymptomatic. Wearing disposable gloves can also help protect you. However, it’s imperative that you do not touch your face or mask with the gloves and that you remove and dispose of the gloves and mask properly. Remove the gloves by pulling one from the end of the glove at your wrist and turning it inside out as you remove it from your hand. Repeat with the other glove and wash your hands immediately with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Do not remove your mask by grabbing the front of it. Instead, remove your mask at the ear loops – avoid touching your nose, mouth, or eyes – and throw it away if it’s disposable. If it’s a reusable mask, put it in a plastic bag and wash it with your dirty laundry when you get home.
Having hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol on hand is also recommended when you can’t immediately wash your hands. Using your own bags instead of a shopping cart can also limit your exposure. If a cart or basket is necessary, use a wipe to disinfect the handles.
When you return home. Leave your shoes at the door and wash your hands immediately. Designate a place to unload your items and clean and disinfect that surface after you’re done. It’s not necessary to wipe down all your purchases, however, doing so may further limit your exposure. And unless you believe you’ve been directly exposed to the virus, there’s no need to shower or change your clothes after an outing.
Follow a similar process for deliveries. If possible, allowing deliveries, packages and even mail to sit for 24 hours may further limit your exposure, as will removing deliveries from their outer cardboard box and immediately disposing of the box.
Just remember to wash your hands afterward and regularly. Click here for more ways to protect yourself.
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