The spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is prompting lots of concern and questions. Coronaviruses are not new: A majority of them are the cause of most cases of the common cold. But COVID-19 can cause more severe health problems, especially among the elderly and sick.
Symptoms can appear two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. If you develop these symptoms after having been in close contact with someone with the virus, or who has traveled from an area with widespread infection, call your healthcare professional.
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To protect your family from germs:
Wash hands frequently and immediately after you come home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend washing with warm soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Cover up if you cough or sneeze. Use your elbow – NOT your hand – to cover your mouth. Better yet, use a tissue, then throw the tissue away.
Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth. This is especially important when you’re preparing food. If you do touch your face, wash your hands again.
No sink? Use hand sanitize. It’s an appropriate on-the-go option, though washing hands with soap and water kills the most germs. Look for one with at least 60 percent alcohol, and to use it effectively, rub hands together vigorously for 20 seconds. Avoid sanitizes and soaps that contain “fragrance,” which can include a number of potentially allergenic and endocrine-disrupting mystery ingredients.
Keep personal objects personal. It’s a good idea for people to use their own belongings – towels, linens and especially kitchen and dining utensils. One recommendation is to change linens and towels twice a week.
Home and school
You’ll also want to do everything you can to keep your surroundings as clean as possible, which involves wiping down surfaces that people frequently touch – doorknobs, phones and other devices, keyboards, cabinet handles and the like.
To clean up your environment:
Choose effective disinfectants. Consult the Environmental Protection Agency and CDC lists of recommended products to combat COVID-19. Then cross-reference those products at EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to find disinfectants with fewer ingredients that may affect your health. If using a spray disinfectant, spray it into a cloth first to reduce accidental inhalation.
Wipe down everything with the safer disinfectant product – a lot. Clean those surfaces frequently, particularly handles and knobs.
Check in with your kids’ school. Most schools run low on supplies in the best of circumstances. They may be happy right now to receive extra tissues and hand sanitizers. Even more important, make sure your children’s school amps up its cleaning routines to help stem the spread of illness.
Out in public
When you’re not at home, you can’t control how clean things are. But there are certain disease-prevention habits you and your family can adopt.
Avoid contact. The virus spreads through respiratory droplets, like those produced when you sneeze or cough. The droplets can land on people nearby and possibly infect them if they then touch their face or inhale it. If you feel under the weather or are meeting someone who is, avoid hugging or shaking hands – and stand at least six feet away.
Avoid crowds. If the coronavirus does spread widely in the U.S., consider limiting the amount of time you spend in crowds or tight quarters – and avoid touching your face.
Sanitize. Make sure to carry hand sanitizer. Use it frequently, especially after you touch communal objects like doors.