Slowing the Spread of COVID-19: We All Have to Do Our Part
While there are still a lot of unknowns about COVID-19, one thing is certain. ALL of us play a role in slowing the spread of the virus and protecting ourselves, our families, and our community. “Each of us has a social responsibility when it comes to preventing the spread of any infectious disease,” says Dr. John Bolden, Infectious Disease physician at Morris Hospital. “Our personal actions can have an effect on the health of others.”
There are three important things all of us have been asked to do to help slow the spread of COVID-19, commonly referred to as the Three W’s: (1) Wear a mask; (2) Wash your hands; (3) Watch your distance. We can do this!
1. WEAR A MASK
According to the Centers for Disease Control, COVID-19 is mainly spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person is in close contact with others (within 6 feet) and coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice and the droplets land in the mouth or nose of those who are nearby or possibly get inhaled into the lungs. Since you can have COVID-19 without knowing it, you protect others from yourself when you wear a face covering. And if you are healthy, wearing a mask may reduce your own chance of getting the virus even if those around you aren’t wearing one.
“Masks properly worn over the nose and mouth can reduce the spray of droplets that are occurring even when we don’t realize it. This provides a barrier between you and those around you,” says Dr. Bolden. “When you wear a mask, you’re protecting your friends, loved ones, and others from you.”
“I know it can feel like an inconvenience, but it’s really a small price to pay for bringing the virus under control.”
In fact, experiments have shown that hundreds of droplets are generated when saying a simple phrase. Nearly all of the droplets are blocked when the mouth is covered.
While any mask that covers the nose and mouth is beneficial, cloth masks are generally recommended for the general public, while surgical masks and N95 respirators are used for healthcare workers and first responders. Most important is finding a face covering that can be worn comfortably.
• Wash your hands before putting on a mask.
• Keep the mask over your nose and mouth at all times and secure it under your chin. You don’t need to pull it down under your nose and mouth to speak!
• If you have to adjust your mask, adjust it at the bridge of your nose, not in the mouth area. If you do touch it while you’re wearing it, wash your hands!
• When you remove your mask, handle it by the ear loops or ties, being careful not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth. Fold the outside corners together and then store it in a paper bag or other space designated for storing your mask. Don’t set it on a countertop or desk, and don’t leave it hanging around your neck or pushed up on your forehead.
• Wash your hands again after removing your mask.
• Masks should be washed after each use in the washing machine with regular laundry detergent or wash by hand. Make sure the mask is completely dry before wearing again.
• Keep an extra mask in your car, purse or book bag in case you need a replacement.
2. WASH YOUR HANDS
Respiratory droplets are just one way the virus spreads. You can also spread the virus to surfaces and to yourself through your hands. That’s why it’s so important to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands!
The most effective handwashing technique is washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. When soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol is the next best thing. Be sure to cover all surfaces of your hands and continue to rub them together until they feel dry.
So when is it most important to give our hands a good cleaning? At a minimal, be sure to wash your hands:
- after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- before eating or preparing food
- before touching your face
- after using the restroom or changing a diaper
- after leaving a public place
- when arriving at home from a public place
- after handling your face covering
- after caring for someone who is sick
- after touching pets and animals
“We want to be sure that we’re washing our hands frequently and that we’re washing them properly and at all the right times,” says Dr. Bolden, adding that there are a number of good handwashing videos on YouTube that may be especially beneficial to show children.
3. WATCH YOUR DISTANCE
Social distancing. Physical distancing. Whatever you prefer to call it, keeping a safe space between you and people who aren’t from your household is another way to reduce the spread of the virus. 6 feet – or about 2 arms’ length – is the recommended distance. That applies to outdoor settings as well as indoors.
“Six feet is really the minimum,” says Dr. Bolden. “Respiratory droplets can travel even further than 6 feet, especially when people are shouting.”
Along with keeping six feet of distance, Dr. Bolden recommends avoiding large crowds.
“If you’re invited to a party or gathering, you really have to personally judge for yourself whether it’s worth the risk, especially if you have high risk individuals in your household,” cautions Dr. Bolden.