The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting every part of our lives, from the way we behave and interact with others to the media and news we consume. “This situation is unprecedented; this is really something we’ve ever seen before,” says Molly Hyde, MHS, CIC, Infection Control Practitioner at GBMC. In her interview with Mary Beth Marsden, Ms. Hyde explains new information that we’re learning about the virus and how you can protect yourself during the outbreak.
What We Already Know
We know that COVID-19 is a virus that spreads through respiratory droplets. These are tiny droplets that are expelled from an infected person’s nose or mouth that land on inanimate objects or are inhaled by another person. While the droplets are too small to be seen with the human eye, they are fairly large and heavy on a microscopic scale. They can only travel about six feet before falling to the ground – if you are outside of this range, you can’t be exposed in this way. This is why social distancing is critical.
Person-to-person transmission only happens when you are in close contact with the infected person for a somewhat prolonged period of time (around 10 – 15 minutes). Simply passing by an infected person in the grocery store is not enough to become infected yourself.
The more common way that the virus is spread happens when infected droplets land on an inanimate object, which is subsequently touched by a healthy person who transfers the virus to his or her face. Once the droplets are on the face, the virus may be inhaled and infect that person. The best way to avoid this kind of exposure is through regularly washing your hands and avoiding touching your face. Click here to see the CDC’s guidelines for proper handwashing guidelines.
What We’re Learning
Through lab tests, we’re learning that COVID-19 can live on inanimate objects for several days under the right conditions; however, this varies based on the material, temperature, and humidity. The virus can live much longer on hard, non-porous objects like metal and plastic than it can on porous objects like cardboard.
Under the right conditions, COVID-19 can live up to three days on hard surfaces such as doorknobs and light switches. This is reduced to 24 hours on more porous surfaces. Keep in mind that this data was collected in a controlled lab environment. So, while we know the virus will live for a shorter period of time in unideal conditions, it’s impossible to tell how long that period of time will be in real world situations.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
We now believe that it’s possible for an infected person to spread COVID-19 to others up to 48 hours before experiencing symptoms. Due to this, medical professionals are reevaluating their recommendations for wearing masks in public. If used properly, a mask may stop an infected person from contaminating the environment and infecting others around them. But, if used improperly, wearing a mask will put that person at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
“I urge everyone in the general public not to use medical-grade facemasks for personal use. We really need to reserve these for medical professionals who are providing care to patients,” says Ms. Hyde.
There are many tutorials online for creating DIY masks, and individual sellers have begun offering them on their online shops. If you choose to wear a personal mask, there are several steps you must take to avoid exposure:
- Use a DIY mask
- Put on your mask before entering the new environment, making sure it fits snugly and is covering your mouth and nose
- Do your activity without touching your mask
- Take your mask off from the back when you’re done the activity – touching the front could contaminate your hands
- Drop it straight into your washing machine after coming home
- Wash your hands after handling the mask
- Use a medical-grade mask
- Touch or move the mask while wearing it
- Wear the mask in any position other than over your nose and mouth
- Talk on your cell phone while wearing the mask
- Take the mask off from the front
- Put the mask down on other surfaces after taking it off
The same principle applies to the use of gloves. Gloves pick up the virus in the same way that bare hands do, so wearing them for prolonged periods of time is equivalent to not washing your hands. In order to be effective, gloves must be changed frequently and used in the appropriate environment. For the general public, it is much more effective to simply practice good hand hygiene.
Many are concerned that they have been exposed to the virus and wish to be tested, but there simply aren’t enough tests to do this. Healthcare providers need to be careful about not wasting tests, so a person needs to show symptoms and have a doctor’s order in order to be tested. “There is no scenario where someone can walk up and get tested without a doctor’s order,” explained Ms. Hyde. Orders are needed to ensure that the correct people are being tested and they are necessary to make sure that the person can be contacted with their results. This is the same process as any other diagnostic test. Click here to see GBMC’s COVID-19 testing policy.
Experts are also working to develop an antibody test that would show whether or not a person contracted COVID-19 in the past. An antibody is a specialized protein in the blood that the immune system creates to fight a particular disease – they are only created when a disease has entered the system. This means that a person who has antibodies for COVID-19 was infected with the virus at some point. These tests would allow scientists to learn more about how the disease spreads and whether or not there are asymptomatic carriers.
Flattening the Curve
“Flattening the curve” is a well-used term at this point, but it doesn’t mean what many people think. The phrase is referring to spreading the amount of cases out over time – instead of 200 cases in a week, we get 200 cases in six months. This is to keep the medical system from becoming overwhelmed and to ensure every patient that needs care has access to it. As a byproduct of the measures we take, we will hopefully decrease the number of cases overall.
Social distancing and hand hygiene are critical if we are to accomplish this. The longer people don’t follow these steps, the longer the pandemic will last. When asked the one thing she wanted people to come away with, Ms. Hyde replied, “Wash your hands and don’t touch your face. There is a reason that everyone is saying it – it works.”
*Click here for more information about the coronavirus (COVID-19)*