The COVID-19 curve may be flattening, but until there is a vaccine readily available for distribution, any one of us could still catch the highly infectious and deadly virus. Even during self-isolation, we must be careful, because it’s unlikely any of us are able to stay indoors one hundred percent of the time and not interact with a single person while we do so. “While staying at home will reduce the spread, COVID-19 can still spread in a number of ways,” Dr. Daniel Atkinson, GP clinical lead at Treated.com, explains to Eat This, Not That! Health. And, once we slowly enter into the new normal of life, there will be even more opportunities for the virus to spread. Here are the 20 ways you could still catch COVID-19.
You’ve Stopped Social Distancing
It’s important to keep in mind that just because things are starting to reopen, social distancing is still crucial in keeping COVID-19 at bay. “Re-exposure will all depend on how long you are in close contact with people,” Purvi Parikh, MD, allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network, explains. Even if you return to work, keep distance from your coworkers. The same applies to grocery shopping, exercising, or even going to the beach. Even if you are wearing a mask, he points out that it isn’t going to protect you from viruses living on surfaces such as tables, chairs, floors, and counters. “They stay in the air for days on end,” he points out. “We will need to still keep our space and be diligent about hand washing and washing what we touch.”
You Leave the House When You Don’t Have To
Just because there is some governmental edging toward lockdown relaxation, it doesn’t mean it is totally safe to return to your normal life. “The truth is we will likely see a gradual return to normality, spread across several weeks or even months, perhaps with schools being reopened first, then semi-essential business’ and services,” explains Dr. Atkinson. Even if this is the case, a lot of us will still be asked to remain at home. “This includes a lot of jobs where we can comfortably do this, such as office jobs. If we all rush into leaving our homes, it will have an extremely negative impact. I see no true return to regularity until a vaccine is found.”
You Live With an Essential Worker
If you’re living in the same household as somebody whose job has been judged as essential—particularly somebody working in a medical atmosphere like nurses and doctors, but any hospital staff also such as cleaners and porters—you really need to try and limit your activity as much as possible, urges Dr. Atkinson. “This may apply even after we start to see a relaxation of the lockdown,” he explains. “If you live with somebody who is going out into the world, interacting with other people, touching all manner of surfaces and objects, then the risk of them bringing the virus home is far greater than that of a non-essential worker who’s just been out for a jog.”
You Handle Money
Let the term “dirty money” live in your mind during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We all know that money, as in coins and notes, is usually dirty at the best of times. This is because it circulates in the financial system for several years, often decades, passing through dozens of hands as it does so, which makes it dirty and a potential carrier for harmful germs,” Dr. Atkinson explains. While we’ve already witnessed a huge uptake in cashless transactions, due in part to several shops and supermarkets requesting this, he urges the importance of continuing this trend to help limit the spread. “I would recommend we avoid cash where possible until a vaccine is found and becomes widely available to the general public,” he says.
You Drink at Re-Opened Bars and Clubs
It’s very likely that we may begin to see our pubs and restaurants reopen, perhaps even before a vaccine is widely available. If this happens, you should think twice about amping up your alcohol consumption or partying in a setting like this, urges Dr. Atkinson. First, alcohol lowers immunity and alters your common sense. “In the excitement of all the rediscovered freedom, some might drink more alcohol than is wise, they might become less inhibited and act more impulsively, so may think less about the importance of remaining vigilant in relation to the virus,” he says. Second, these settings encourage close contact, which is something you probably should avoid until a vaccine is available.
You’re Back at the Gym
While gyms and fitness studios were included in Donald Trump’s first phase of reopening the country, they probably aren’t the safest places to get your sweat on. Since COVID-19 is spread primarily through small droplets, sweat-covered shared surfaces are sure-fire ways to easily transmit the virus from person-to-person. If you do decide to visit a gym, make sure to wipe down surfaces and equipment and disinfect your hands thoroughly as you move from machine to machine.
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You Touch High-Traffic Objects
Elevator buttons, ATM screens, water cooler levers…these are just a few of the surfaces that many of us touched without thinking twice before the COVID-19 pandemic changed our normal. “For people who are still working, and for those of us who may need to return to work sometime in the future, we will begin to encounter a number of objects and items that lots of people touch, but that we do not need to,” Dr. Atkinson points out. When you can, avoid touching these items or exert diligent hygiene practices before and after. For example, why not switch to bottled water from a water cooler until a vaccine is here? “Don’t be afraid to suggest to colleagues, friends or peers ways in which contact which isn’t essential can be reduced,” he says.
You’re Using Gloves Wrong
You might think that wearing gloves is helping keep you safe against COVID-19. However, if you aren’t following proper procedure they might be working against you. “Gloves if used should be removed and changed every time you leave and return to the house — ideally multiple times in between as well if gone for long periods of time as you will be touching your phone and face etc,” says Dr. Parikh. If not changed frequently, your globes are picking up all the same germs your hands can and can transplant them onto your face and body. “Ideally keep washing your hands frequently as that is the best way to remember to keep your hands clean,” he urges. “Wash your hands before and after you put gloves on and take them off a well.”
You’re Not Washing Your Face Masks
While wearing a facemask is helpful in slowing the spread, cloth or homemade masks need to be washed as soon as you come home, says Dr. Parikh. “If they are disposable, such as surgical masks, they really should not be cleaned or reused too frequently,” he says. “N95 should be used for medical professionals only.”
You’re Visiting Public Places
Just because public places are reopening — such as beaches, gyms, restaurants, bars, and shopping centers — doesn’t mean you should visit them. “I would strongly discourage public places until we have a better confirmation of cases declining and NOT increasing and an idea of how much of the population is immune,” points out Dr. Parikh.
You Use Childcare and Babysitters
Many people are going to be going back to work. However, Dr. Parikh strongly suggests taking some precautionary measures before dropping your child off with a caretaker. “I would make sure they are socially isolated at least two weeks before taking care of your children and make sure they have not had any symptoms of fever or cough in those two weeks or been around anyone who has,” he says.
You Wear a Mask Improperly
Wearing a mask—whether medical grade or cloth—can be extremely uncomfortable. Not only can they make it hard to breathe, but nearly impossible to talk with others. However, even if you get the urge, Joseph Vinetz, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist, warns against dropping your mask down to talk or dropping the nose portion down to breathe better, as it is “defeating the purpose of wearing a mask,” he points out. “Not only could you put someone else at risk of getting COVID-19 if you’re asymptomatic, you could also unwittingly expose yourself to the virus,” he explains. Instead, keep your mask on the entire time you’re in public to help prevent the virus from spreading.
You Touch Your Face Mask
Similarly, you should avoid touching your mask altogether. “On average, studies show we touch our faces 23 times per hour!” Dr. Vinetz points out. “Touching your face mask because it’s uncomfortable is understandable, but it’s also delivering germs and potentially the COVID-19 virus directly to your face mask.” While it’s hard, he urges resisting the urge to touch your face, “and if you must, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands first.”
You’re Not Taking Your Mask Off Correctly
Medical professionals are trained in how to take off PPE correctly to prevent infecting themselves, but the rest of us probably aren’t, Dr. Vinetz points. He suggests taking a look at the CDC’s helpful tutorial, offering step-by-step instructions on how to put on, wear, and take off a mask before attempting to do so on your own.
You Let Your Children Play With Their Friends
It’s likely been hard for your children to be away from their friends for such a long period of time. However, allowing them to resume playdates can be incredibly risky for you and your family. Keep in mind that many children who are COVID-19 positive are asymptomatic, meaning they can be totally symptom free while carrying and spreading the virus. So, even if they seem healthy, you may be exposing your entire family—and whoever else you are coming into contact with—to the virus. If you do resume playdates, try and remind them to follow social distancing protocol, staying six feet away from each other, wearing face masks, and practicing hand hygiene.
Wearing Your Shoes Around the House
According to a recent CDC study, the novel coronavirus can live on the soles of your shoes. While the chances of contracting the virus this way are likely slim, you should still refrain from wearing your shoes around the house, as you could be spreading it — as well as other icky germs and viruses — all over your floors without even knowing it. You should clean and sanitize your shoes, and wear rubber or plastic shoes whenever possible, as they are extremely easy to clean.
Final Word from The Doctor
Remember: The end of the virus will come with help from us all. “Whenever the time comes when we see a relaxation of the present lockdown, it will still be up to all of us to ensure we’re doing everything within our capabilities to prevent transmission until a vaccine becomes widely available,” says Dr. Atkinson.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 100 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.