Despite urgent containment efforts, it has become apparent that SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes — COVID-19 — have spread to pretty much every country across the globe. While some countries are reporting small numbers so far, it is almost certain that everyone will, eventually, see an outbreak nearby.
The question on everyone’s lips is the same: “What can I do to protect myself from coronavirus?”.
The unfortunate answer is, not all that much. Despite the vast numbers of people telling you to boost your immune system with everything from vitamin C injections to sex, in all likelihood the only thing that will significantly impact your risk of getting COVID-19 is washing your hands and trying not to touch your face.
What you can do, what everyone can do, however, is help to protect society. This doesn’t mean that you personally won’t catch the disease, although it may reduce your risk somewhat, but what it really means is that fewer people will get sick, and when they do they will be better cared for.
So, here are some practical things that you can do to help limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
Social distancing is a pretty simple idea — we come into close contact with a lot of people, all the time. Hugs, kisses, the occasional warm breath of a stranger on your neck during your morning commute.
When practicing social distancing, rather than getting in close, try to stay at a distance. Instead of kissing an acquaintance, use a much cooler fist bump. Replace hugs with air-fives (remember to make the sound effect). Don’t breathe on people on the train if you can avoid it*.
All small things, but they can have a disproportionate impact on how the virus spreads. This in turn could vastly alter the nature of the epidemic from a disaster to something much more easily handled.
Prepare At Work/School
One of the big things about infectious diseases is that they spread best when lots of people are around. In particular, this includes schools and workplaces, where children and adults are forced into small, sweaty rooms together.
So, prepare to take action to reduce the risk of spreading disease. Schools may close, but probably not all of them, and not forever. You can reduce the risk to society by making sure kids stay at home when they’re sick, and enforcing simple rules like washing hands on a schedule during school hours.
Workplaces are a similar story — if you’re an employee, make plans to work from home. You may not have to, but it’s a good idea. If you’re a boss, be realistic — people are going to get sick sooner or later. Make sure people have sick leave, and find ways to keep to business going if staff have to stay home for some time. Start holding what meetings you can by distance, and try to ensure that when people get together they aren’t forced into small spaces with no ventilation.
Practice At Home
Early information out of China indicates that one of the ways that coronavirus spreads is through the household. Now, it’s obviously impossible to be entirely distant from your family, despite the hopeful dreams of many millenials, but there are things you can do to help prevent the virus from spreading among your friends, family, and weird roommates.
If you do get sick, isolate yourself from the family. Take precautions when caring for sick loved ones. Wipe down shared surfaces more often. Try not to let your kids stick their hands directly into your mouth quite so often.
Wash Your Hands, Don’t Touch Your Face, Sneeze And Cough Responsibly
I know, I know, I already said this. But it is worth saying again. Washing your hands, not touching your face, and avoiding coughing on everyone else are some of the main ways that you can help to lower your risk of infection, and protect everyone else as well.
Overall, don’t panic, but don’t disregard the news entirely either. These are some reasonable, straightforward steps that we can all take to help reduce the burden on health services in the weeks ahead.
It’s also important to remember not to blame people when they do spread the disease. There is no magic bullet against viruses like this, and even the best precautions will only reduce the risk. Apportioning blame may feel good, but ultimately it will only make infection control harder as people try to hide their symptoms from the ravening masses.
Stay safe, and remember: we’re all in this together.
You can now listen to Gid on the Sensationalist Science podcast for your weekly dose of scientific shenanigans and media muddling:
*Note: I haven’t suggested an alternative here because you shouldn’t be doing this anyway. It’s gross. Stop that.