Looking at the prevailing conditions, it is imperative to deliberately increase the physical distance between two or more people.
Whenever a new virus emerges, no individual is left immune and behind the current pandemic is a highly transmissible coronavirus. The best way to prevent this raging wildfire is to avoid being exposed to this virus. This is the reason that phrases such as “social distancing,” “self-quarantine” and “flattening the curve” have become a part of our daily vocabulary.
Whether such strict isolation could be maintained for months on end is unknown. “We’ve never faced anything like this before,” says Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The economic costs would be enormous, especially for the most vulnerable members of society .
“But I’m not ready to give up on the lessons from places like South Korea and Taiwan,” Rivers says. “They’ve shown the virus can be [locally] contained through general social distancing coupled with extensive testing, case isolation, and contact tracing.” South Korea, for instance, reported its highest number of new cases, 909 on February 29. Since then, the number has steadily decreased. On March 24, only 76 new cases were reported.
“This virus is going to stay with us for a while — and certainly data suggest that it is not going to suddenly disappear when the weather changes,” Lydia Bourouiba, an associate professor directing the Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory at MIT says. “There’s a fine and important balance between safety, precautions and action that is important to strike to enable and dramatically accelerate research to be done now so we can be better prepared and informed for actions in the weeks and months to come when the worst of the pandemic will unfold.”
On average, her experiments have revealed that a cough can transmit droplets up to 13 to 16 feet, while a sneeze can eject them up to 26 feet away. Surrounding air conditions can act to further disperse the residual droplets in upper levels of rooms.
Another sure shot way to protect yourself from those tiny infectious droplets is to wash your hands frequently. The World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and many other health agencies all recommend hand-hygiene as the number one precaution measure against disease spread.
Practicing hand hygiene is a simple yet effective way to prevent infections. Cleaning your hands can prevent the spread of germs, including those that are resistant to antibiotics and are becoming difficult, if not impossible, to treat. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
“In the final analysis, it’s the hands. The hands are the connecting piece,” says Elizabeth Scott, PhD. Scott co-directs the Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community at Simmons University in Boston.
“You can’t necessarily control what you touch. You can’t control who else touched it. But you can look after your own hands,” she says.
Hand-washing — with soap and water — is a far more powerful weapon against germs than many of us realize.
Scott says it works on two fronts: “The first thing that’s happening is that you’re physically removing things from your hands. At the same time, for certain agents, the soap will actually be busting open that agent, breaking it apart.”
If you can’t wash, reach for some hand sanitizer. Lipid membrane viruses like coronaviruses are killed by alcohol-based hand sanitizer, Scott says. Just make sure it’s at least 62% alcohol.