For the past few months, our day-to-day lives have been drastically different. To flatten the COVID-19 curve, we spend the majority of our time at home, waving to friends from phone and computer screens. When we do go out, we wear masks and gloves and maintain six feet of distance from others while going for walks.
Until a vaccine for COVID-19 is approved, these social-distancing tactics are the best way to prevent virus transmission. But as Michigan and many states are lifting shelter-in-place restrictions and reopening non-essential businesses, the virus is still a looming threat.
“I worry about the second wave of infections once people start going out again,” says Sean Drake, M.D., an internal medicine doctor with Henry Ford Health System.
But when going back to work, school, and out into the public is inevitable, there are tips you can continue to use to protect yourself and others from contracting COVID-19. Hopefully, some of the below suggestions have already become habit throughout these past few months, so they’ll be easy to incorporate into your everyday routine:
- Wash your hands often. “This cannot be stressed enough,” says Dr. Drake. Vigorous washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is best, but if you don’t have access to soap and water, hand sanitizer will suffice. Keep one in your car and one in your handbag so they’re always within reach. While wearing gloves when out in public is also an option, Dr. Drake prefers hand washing: “The problem is that people use gloves incorrectly. They touch public surfaces like door handles and then touch their phones and contaminate them.” If you wear gloves, put them on before leaving the house, and take them off immediately after leaving a public space. Your best bet, though, is to wash your hands.
- Don’t touch your face. During these past few months, you may have started to realize just how often you touch your face. Continue to be aware of that, and refrain from doing so as much as possible.
- Wear cloth face coverings in public. When you’re in an enclosed environment with others for a prolonged period of time, wear a mask. It will protect other people from catching anything you may unknowingly be carrying. (Some people can remain asymptomatic yet have COVID-19 and pass it on to others.)
- Don’t use your hands to touch high-touch surface areas. “I just used my elbow to touch the elevator button to get up to the fourth floor of the hospital,” says Dr. Drake. If you can, use elbows or tissues to touch buttons, door handles, faucets—any surfaces that many other people will also be touching.
- When possible, maintain six feet of distance from others. It’s easy when you’re outside, but when you can’t (for example, when you’re commuting to work on a crowded bus), use hand sanitizer or wash your hands as soon as you can afterward, and don’t touch your face.
- Work in an office environment? Talk to your employer about implementing an alternating work-from-home schedule. Having everyone in the office work from home on a rotating basis will limit the number of people in the office at one time. “Spread it out and have people work from home on different days so that 100% of the workforce isn’t in the office on any given day,” says Dr. Drake. “Having two-thirds there will decrease the amount of contact between people.”
The big takeaway? Be vigilant and be cautious. Time will reveal how this pandemic will change our society in the long run. (Will shaking hands become obsolete? Will working from home become common?) But for now, implementing the above safety tips will help everyone stay safer and healthier until herd immunity prevents the spread of COVID-19.
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Dr. Sean Drake is an internal medicine physician seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in Sterling Heights.