As we move into the summer months, not much has changed with regards to the risk of developing COVID-19, but what has changed is our understanding of how you can potentially mitigate your risk, assess your personal limits, and live with coronavirus.
After months of stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, states across the country are officially starting to roll back some of their COVID-19 restrictions. Titled by many the “new normal” this next stage of the pandemic brings with it a wide range of questions: What will life after quarantine look like? How can we continue to protect ourselves and our loved ones as we re-enter the world? When will a vaccine or other treatment options be available? And—is it safe?
The fact is, we don’t have cut and dry answers, and even as workplaces, restaurants, shops, and more continue to open, we must move forward with the understanding that the original reasons for stay-at-home orders remain the same. A harmful virus is still in our midst and our resources against it remain limited. This is not a return to normal life but rather, it is the start of a new chapter that’s primary focus is learning how to co-exist with a common viral enemy.
We do that by using the measures we know to be protective—many of which look quite familiar to us at this point. In this next phase, we’ll need to be even more focused on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and supporting our immune systems. Then, we double down on mindful hand washing and disinfection, public mask-wearing, widespread screening and testing, and physical distancing. Each one of these practices is not foolproof, but becoming too lax in even one of them—especially as we reopen—greatly decreases our ability to continue slowing the spread of COVID-19. That’s why the following measures will all be in place as Parsley Health’s centers in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco reopen.
Here, we’ll outline the importance of each of these prevention strategies, what their strengths and limitations are, and how you can assess your personal limits as things reopen.
1. Regular disinfection.
When it comes to COVID-19, the greatest defense will continue to be a strong offense. Staying on top of regular hand washing and cleaning high-touch surfaces daily will help to kill the virus if it ends up on our hands, in our homes, or on public surfaces—which remains a top concern for how individuals can inadvertently infect themselves. According to a 2015 study in the American Journal of Infection Control, people touch their faces more than 20 times an hour on average. Touching our nose, mouth, and eyes creates a potential for transmission of a range of infections—including COVID-19—making hygiene measures some of the simplest yet most powerful weapons we have to fight against illness.
Research on the 2002 SARS outbreak found that washing hands more than ten times a day significantly reduced a person’s rate of infection by over 45 percent. While ten times a day may sound like a lot, when you consider the fourteen different key times to wash your hands recommended by the CDC, it becomes clear how often we should really be engaging in hand hygiene to protect ourselves.
If you can’t wash your hands, reaching for some hand sanitizer is your next best bet. Coronaviruses are easily killed by hand sanitizers that contain at least 62% alcohol, but you need to use enough so that it covers all the surfaces on your hands and rub it in until your hands feel dry—which should take about 20 seconds.
We know that disinfecting surfaces helps, too, particularly high-touch surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, phones, touch screens, remote controls, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets, and sinks at least once per day.
How to stay vigilant: As you go back into the world, make the extra effort to wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, and carry hand sanitizer gel with you. If you are going to a newly opened restaurant or store, check their disinfecting policies ahead of time. If you don’t feel like they are being followed, or you notice a lack of cleanliness, you may want to rethink going there. Being mindful of not only the practices you’re following, but the actions of people and businesses you’re interacting with may help you to avoid unnecessary risk.
2. Wearing masks.
As we re-enter the world, masks are coming with us. Individuals will need to wear cloth face coverings in public settings, especially where it’s difficult to maintain the appropriate six-foot physical distance recommended such as in grocery stores, pharmacies, offices, airports, schools, and even crowded public parks or sidewalks.
In laboratory experiments, standard surgical masks proved to significantly reduce the amounts of various airborne viruses coming from infected patients. Unlike N95 masks that act as respirators and should be reserved for medical professionals, evidence shows cloth face masks and surgical masks help to protect those that are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic from potentially, and unknowingly, transmitting the virus to others and their environment. In this way, wearing a face mask is not about protecting yourself, but rather about protecting others. Therefore, collectively wearing masks will support the community approach of, “I protect you, you protect me.”
How to stay vigilant: If you are in an environment where other people are not wearing masks, even if you are, remember that you are not protected. A mask should not create a false sense of security in regards to preventing you from getting sick when others around you are not also sporting face coverings. To stay confident and safe in your prevention efforts, always take a mask with you when leaving home and remove yourself from situations where others aren’t doing the same to help lower your risk of exposure.
3. Screening and testing.
Both widespread screening and testing for COVID-19 is another essential piece of the puzzle that will help to contain the virus as we reopen society. Nationwide shortages of testing have remained an issue in the United States throughout the pandemic thus far, but finally have become more widely available to access in most areas of the nation.
Screening involves measures such as monitoring temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate—any of which could potentially reveal a current infection—while testing will include both PCR nasal and oral swab testing and antibody testing for current or previous exposure to COVID-19. Catching symptoms early and knowing an individual’s status, which requires regularly re-testing for the virus and helping to find those that may have asymptomatic COVID-19 infections, presents another key opportunity to equip ourselves with information needed to appropriately isolate those that are ill and prevent ongoing spread.
How to stay vigilant: Be open to the new screening measures that may be implemented at your local establishments such as schools or airports and understand their role in serving to protect you. If you’re a member at Parsley Health, feel free to contact your care team to get more information regarding testing available in your area so you can receive information and guidance on your current status. You can also reach out to your primary care provider or workplace to find out about how to get set up with testing and any new screening policies being implemented at your office.
4. Physical distancing.
As socializing—particularly in outdoor settings—becomes more accepted in the next stage, it’s important to remember that continuing to respect a six-foot distance from others remains one of the best ways to slow the spread of the virus. By and large, person-to-person spread of COVID-19 is still considered the key way in which the disease transfers to others.
Even despite this, though, the six-foot rule isn’t something that respiratory droplets always obey. In fact, speaking loudly or singing around others is thought to significantly increase the distance in which droplets are likely to reach and the amount produced. Being in motion, such as while running or cycling, also can extend one’s respiratory reach according to viral simulation studies—further underlining the importance of combining physical distancing with mask-wearing and other protective measures to support effective mitigation.
How to stay vigilant: Limiting how many people you choose to interact with can continue to be a protective measure—especially those that are more vulnerable to developing a severe case of COVID-19. But as states begin allowing more people to gather, if you choose to widen your social circle, ask friends and family what measures they are taking to protect themselves. Have an open discussion around what would make you feel comfortable as you start to re-engage with one another and the expectations you both have. As social support is important for emotional wellbeing, this is the time to open your circle to those you trust are on the same page as you and your family.
5. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
In conjunction with the above protective measures, supporting your immune system with nutrition and lifestyle strategies such as an anti-inflammatory diet, medical grade supplements, daily relaxation practices such as meditation, restful sleep, and regular movement are also especially important at this time.
In fact, research shows that lifestyle factors such as having a nutrient-dense diet may be some of our most powerful prevention tools—having direct impacts on our blood vessel health and ability to decrease the development of and improve the management of underlying health conditions that are known to lead to greater complications and increased likelihood of mortality from COVID-19.
While the first four strategies listed are extremely important in preventing you and your loved ones from becoming infected, a healthy lifestyle might make the difference in preventing death from a complication of COVID-19 if you do become infected.
How to stay vigilant: Start with the basics for a healthy lifestyle, including drinking at least 2-3 liters of water daily, focusing on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, well-sourced animal proteins, and whole grains, exercising for a minimum of 20 minutes per day, and sleeping for 7 to 8 hours each night. If you can, increase your consumption of foods known to have a positive impact on immune function. These include anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, hemp, and chia seeds and foods rich in vitamin C and E such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, bell peppers, squash, almonds, avocados, sunflower seeds, and spinach. Ask your doctor for dosing recommendations of high-quality supplements to help support your immunity such as vitamin C, vitamin D3, zinc, elderberry, and quercetin.
As we go forward with re-entering the world, we know that countries that required face masks, testing, isolation, strict hygiene practices, and social distancing early in the pandemic had more success slowing the disease’s spread. Our success behind the effort of containment will only be found if all of these measures are combined, respected, and executed collectively—helping to slow down the virus and protect ourselves and our communities as a whole.