You’re washing your hands and covering your mouth. You’re staying inside and wearing gloves when you grocery shop. You assume you’re doing all you can to stay healthy and steer clear of the coronavirus. But some habits that may seem healthy are actually contributing to the spread of COVID-19. Check out these 21 “healthy” habits you may have adopted during this pandemic that could be putting you at risk for contracting the virus.
Relying on Hand Sanitizer
Hand sanitizer is a great way to eliminate some bacteria on your hands when you’re in a pinch. But if you have access to running water and soap, hand washing is a better way to make sure you’ve washed off germs after being in public. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.”
The Rx: Wash your hands frequently, especially if you’ve been out in public, to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. If it’s not possible, use a generous amount of hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to kill some bacteria you may have been exposed to, and wash your hands as soon as you’re able.
Keeping Gloves on During Your Shopping Trip
You can lower your risk of touching droplets that may contain the virus if you wear disposable gloves on your essential errand runs. But if you put your gloves on, touch items in the store, and leave them on as you get into your car and touch the steering wheel, you’re just spreading these germs onto your own personal surfaces. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “The use of contaminated gloves caused by inappropriate storage, inappropriate moments and techniques for donning and removing, may also result in germ transmission.”
The Rx: If you plan to wear disposable gloves when you shop, carefully take them off and throw them away before you get into your car. Never reuse gloves. Also, consider the belongings you touched with the gloves before you threw them away, such as your wallet or keys. Disinfect these items before you touch them again.
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Eating Snacks in Your Car
You’re setting out on a few essential errands and know you’ll probably get hungry. To avoid social interaction, you forgo stopping at a restaurant and bring snacks to munch on in your car instead. While it sounds reasonable, it’s important to think about what you may touch while you’re out in public. If you’re exposed to the virus and germs are on your fingertips, eating pretzels from the bag can spread these germs to your face.
The Rx: Try to wait until you get home and can wash your hands before eating. If you must eat a snack on the go, be sure you’re wearing gloves while in public and you take them off before touching food. Sanitize your hands thoroughly before popping those M&M’s in your mouth.
Re-Using Your Face Mask
The CDC recently changed recommendations: Now it “recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” The purpose of the face mask is to ensure you don’t spread droplets to other people, just in case you’re infected with coronavirus but asymptomatic.
You can use a scarf, neck gaiter, or other cloth item to follow these guidelines. But it’s important to remember that when wearing your mask in public, it can easily be exposed to germs or droplets from other people around you. If you set it down on a surface at home or reuse it again, these germs can spread to your face.
The Rx: If you use a face mask while in public, wash it before you use it again or set it down at home. Washing your cloth mask in your washer and dryer with regular laundry detergent is the best way to kill any germs that may have landed on it.
Putting Your Hair Up
If you have long hair, it’s a good idea to secure it up and away from your face before going out in public. But if you forgot to do this before you ran your first essential errand, don’t worry about it now. If your hair touched surfaces that were sneezed or coughed on by someone who had the virus, it’s possible those germs could spread to your locks. If you have a habit of putting your hair in your mouth or playing with your hair, then biting your nails, it could be transmitted to you.
The Rx: Natural oils in your hair may help kill germs. According to Dr. Adam Friedman from George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, these oils kill some microbes and organisms that can bind to hair but may not eliminate all of them. “Using shampoo, there are surfactants—charged molecules that will bind to dirt, to oil, to bacteria, to viruses—and get them off or kill them,” he says. “Washing hair will prevent whatever matter is on your hair from being maintained.”
Using the Apartment Gym Treadmill
While most public gyms are closed at this time, you may still be able to get your sweat on at an apartment complex or hotel gym. But before you hop on that treadmill, think twice about the potential for catching or spreading COVID-19. You’ll need to use the same buttons that other people have touched and breathed on. You may also hold the handrails on the treadmill or touch other hot spots in the gym that may be contaminated. FitRated conducted a study to analyze the bacteria found on gym equipment. The study discovered that the average treadmill had 74 times as much bacteria as a faucet handle.
The Rx: You’re safer staying away from public places and exercising at home. If you must use an apartment complex or hotel gym, wipe down the equipment thoroughly with a sanitizing wipe before hopping on. Don’t touch your face or mouth while you’re in the gym. Wipe down the equipment again when you’ve finished and wash your hands thoroughly.
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Picking Food Out of Your Teeth
Before you get out of your car to run into the pharmacy, a flash of that spinach salad you just ate may enter your mind, causing you to subconsciously pick your teeth. But if you’ve already touched items in public, your fingertips may have been exposed to germs that spread the virus.
Stick your fingers in your mouth and you’re just moving these germs closer to your mucous membranes, which can cause infection. According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, “When we touch people who are sick, or touch dirty surfaces, we contaminate our hands with germs. We can then infect ourselves with those germs by touching our face.”
The Rx: When you’re out in public, it’s crucial to be aware of where your hands are at all times. It’s common to touch your eyes, mouth, or nose without even realizing it, but this is one way the virus can spread. Keep your hands away from your face until you can thoroughly wash your hands.
Sharing Communal Snacks
You have a socially distanced driveway get-together with a few neighbors and bring out some healthy snacks for everyone to enjoy. But before you put that bowl of nuts in the middle of the socially distanced circle, consider how this interaction will put you at risk. Sharing snacks in a communal bowl spreads germs from one person’s fingertips to everyone else.
While your neighbors seem healthy, they could have COVID-19 and simply be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. By studying previous cases of transmission, the CDC found, “Investigation of COVID-19 cases in Singapore identified seven clusters in which presymptomatic transmission likely occurred.”
The Rx: If you want to be a good host for a socially distanced party, hand out packaged individual servings of snacks. Granola bars or pre-packaged servings of nuts are healthy snacks that aren’t conducive to spreading the virus.
If you’re like many during this time, you’ve taken your job home with you. Working remotely has its perks: You can stay in your pajamas, and you may be a little more flexible with your working hours. But working from home can also make it hard to separate your personal life from your professional one.
If easy access to your work has turned you into an over-productive workaholic, your sleep schedule may be the first to suffer. And skipping out on sleep may deteriorate your immune system, which you need to fight off coronavirus. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response.”
The Rx: Don’t let yourself drown in work, no matter how productive you feel after a 14-hour day at the computer. Keep a regular sleep schedule so your immune system remains healthy. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep every night for adults.
Greeting Your Neighbors
If you and your neighbor walk outside to bring your trash cans to the curb at the same time, you may strike up a conversation. Any type of human interaction at this point is probably more than welcomed. Just make sure to stay on your side of the street. The CDC recommends that the general public follow social distancing guidelines at this time, including “Staying at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people.”
The Rx: Six feet apart is farther than you think. Be sure to maintain a safe distance so you help stop the spread of the virus.
Growing a Quarantine ‘Stache
If you’re working remotely or not working at all, you may find you have the unique opportunity to do something crazy with your appearance, like grow a handlebar mustache. But that could be hazardous to your health. Although the CDC doesn’t claim that facial hair contributes to the spread of coronavirus, it may complicate treatment for COVID-19 symptoms.
With facial hair, a respirator may not fit correctly over your face. According to an infographic published by the CDC, “If you need to use a respirator with an exhalation valve and have one of several facial hairstyles, it may interfere with the valve working properly.”
The Rx: You don’t need to shave to stop the spread of coronavirus. But keep in mind that if you need to seek treatment and a respirator is placed on you, your facial hair could be an issue.
Taking a Jog on the Neighborhood Path
If you’re in an area that’s under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, engaging in recreational activities is really the only thing you can do outside your home. This includes walking, jogging, or biking on local paths and trails. Since everyone is going stir crazy, you may be surprised to see hordes of people on paths that used to be desolate. With so many people on these narrow trails, it may be impossible to maintain social distancing, putting you and other people at risk.
The Rx: If there’s an influx of people on local trails, you may need to make some modifications to your jogging schedule. Consider winding through different neighborhood streets that aren’t as crowded. Push your jogging time to the early morning or late evening hours so you can avoid the most popular times and stay away from people.
Using Public Transportation
If the threat of COVID-19 wasn’t present, using public transportation would be an environmentally friendly way to run your errands and get around the city. But buses and subways aren’t healthy places to be right now because they put you in close proximity to other people who may be infected with the virus.
A study published in Osong Public Health and Research Perspectives analyzed 70 samples from Portland buses and trains. The study found several different types of bacteria, including Staphylococcus. “We found floors and cloth seats to be areas on buses and trains that showed particularly high levels of bacteria,” said researchers.
The Rx: To stop the spread of coronavirus, it’s important to stay away from crowds as much as possible. If you have other transportation options, such as your own car, a bike, or walking, use them instead of buses or trains. If you must utilize public transportation, cover your nose and mouth, try not to touch anything, and wash your hands thoroughly once you’ve arrived at your destination.
Bringing Home-Cooked Meals to Friends and Family
It may seem like a sweet gesture to bring Tupperware filled with food to your friends and family during this difficult time. But you may have sneezed or coughed on these items, and even if you don’t show symptoms of coronavirus, you may still have it and spread it unknowingly.
According to the CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, “A significant number of individuals that are infected actually remain asymptomatic. That may be as many as 25%. That’s important, because now you have individuals that may not have any symptoms that can contribute to transmission, and we have learned that in fact they do contribute to transmission.”
The Rx: You don’t need to completely ditch your good deeds for fear you’ll transmit the virus. Consider sending groceries or meal delivery to your loved ones. If you do want to cook for friends or family, leave the food on their doorstep and be sure they’re careful about handling the items. Allow them to keep your disposable food containers instead of taking them back.
Cleaning With a Wet Rag
Keeping your house clean is one of the best ways to ensure the virus isn’t living in your home. Disinfecting surfaces that are touched frequently is key, but wiping down areas with a wet rag or towel simply won’t help. According to the Cleveland Clinic, your sink faucet, refrigerator, and oven handles are some of the germiest places in your kitchen. It’s important to address these germy areas by disinfecting them properly and regularly.
The Rx: Use a disinfecting cleaner or diluted bleach to regularly clean surfaces in frequently used areas. The CDC recommends washing and disinfecting frequently touched areas in your home, including “tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.”
Sharing Puzzles and Board Games
Puzzle and board game swapping programs have become popular in some communities. While this is a great way to keep everyone occupied, be careful about trading items with other households, because you never know who has the virus.
The National Institute of Health studied how long coronavirus remains active on different surfaces. It found that the virus “remained active on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for two to three days under the conditions in this experiment. It remained infectious for up to 24 hours on cardboard and four hours on copper.”
The Rx: Puzzles, board games, books, and other shared items may have recently been coughed or sneezed on by your neighbors before you grabbed them. Disinfect these items before handling them if possible. If not, wash your hands thoroughly after touching borrowed or shared items.
Covering Your Face With Your Hands
If you don’t have a face mask, or you left yours at home before your essential errand run, you may think a good compromise is to cover your nose and mouth with your hand if you get too close to people around you. But touching your face is a big no-no.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, “Infections may be transmitted by self-inoculation. Self-inoculation is a type of contact transmission where a person’s contaminated hands make subsequent contact with other body sites on oneself and introduces contaminated material to those sites.”
The Rx: If you’re not 100% sure your hands are clean, keep them away from your face, especially when you’re in public. If your fingers have been exposed to germs that carry the virus, touching your face, including your nose, eyes, or mouth, can cause you to become infected.
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Not Talking to Friends and Family
If you’re not going out, not visiting friends’ houses, and not hanging out with family members who aren’t in your immediate household, you’re doing this social distancing thing right. But just because you can’t physically visit your friends and family doesn’t mean you can’t connect with them virtually. Your health depends on it.
According to Stanford Medicine, social connection is important because it may “lead to a 50% increased chance of longevity, strengthen your immune system, help you recover from disease faster, and even lengthen your life.”
The Rx: You don’t need to completely isolate yourself while you’re socially isolating. Reach out to friends and family members by email or video chat. Engage with your friends on social media and through phone conversations. Keeping these connections will help you stay happy and healthy through this strange time.
If you’re an environmental advocate, you may assume that handkerchiefs are a better choice than disposable tissues. While it’s better for the environment, using handkerchiefs while we’re dealing with the threat of COVID-19 may not be the best option.
Even if you don’t feel symptoms, you may be infected with the virus. If you blow your nose on a handkerchief and leave it on a surface in your home, a family member may touch it, then touch their face, spreading the virus throughout your household.
The Rx: Although it may go against your environmental views, use disposable tissues to blow your nose. Throw your used tissues in the trash right away and don’t set them down on surfaces in your home.
Pushing Yourself to Exercise
Exercise is a healthy way to reduce anxiety while keeping your body and immune system strong. But if you’re pushing yourself too hard, the health benefits of exercise can backfire on you. If you’re an active person, with so much time on your hands, it’s tempting to push yourself into two- or three-hour workouts.
However, it’s important to keep your immune system strong right now, so you can fight off the virus if you catch it. According to a study published in Immunology and Cell Biology, “There is evidence that several immune parameters are suppressed during prolonged periods of intense exercise training.”
The Rx: Daily moderate exercise strengthens your immune system and boosts your mood, which can make your social isolation feel more bearable. But it’s important to listen to your body and take time off if you’re sore or tired. Don’t push yourself too hard or engage in intense exercise sessions that last longer than 90 minutes at one time.
Obsessing About the Virus
It’s important to stay updated on the latest coronavirus-related regulations in your area. Learning about the spread through the news is also a good idea as you’re hanging out in quarantine. However, obsessing over the COVID-19 spread and gluing yourself to 24/7 news outlets can take its toll on your nerves and your mental health, causing unwarranted and dangerous stress.
Dr. Leonard Calabrese, DO, from the Cleveland Clinic says it’s important to nix stress to keep your immune system healthy. “Eliminating or modifying these factors in one’s life is vital to protect and augment the immune response,” he says.
The Rx: Your mental, physical, and immune health are important—now more than ever. Keep yourself updated on the latest virus news in your area, but limit the time you spend ruminating about current events. If you find yourself getting stressed, turn to a healthy outlet, such as journaling, reading, or drawing, to ease your mind.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 40 Things You Should Never Touch Due to Coronavirus