As governments begin to lift stay-at-home orders and reopen sectors of the economy, you may be wondering how you can continue to stay safe. Practicing recommended CDC guidelines will be key to protecting your health. Please note, the information below does not substitute for medical advice.
The health care community’s understanding of the symptoms of COVID-19 has developed over the course of the pandemic. The CDC now advises people to look for the loss of taste or smell, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, and/or sore throat. Some people with COVID-19 have also reported nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. These symptoms can appear as mild or severe 2–14 days after exposure to the virus. If sick, call ahead to a health care provider to review your symptoms and seek care early if you are immunocompromised, older, or have underlying medical conditions. Seek care immediately if the symptoms are severe.
The virus is spread mainly from person to person. Maintaining a safe social distance from others and wearing a cloth face covering over the nose and mouth remain important safety precautions as states reopen. Washing hands frequently with soap and water and avoiding touching the face are also essential for reducing your risk of illness.
In addition, the CDC strongly recommends routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are touched often, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, phones, desks, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. It’s important that you understand how to safely use disinfectant products, which can cause severe harm if used improperly.
Disinfectants do not work instantly and most products will recommend pre-cleaning surfaces with soap and water to improve the disinfectant’s effectiveness. The product will typically list how many minutes it must sit on a surface before you wipe it clean and which surfaces it can be applied to; bleach disinfectants are not safe on fabrics. When using bleach-based products, take safety precautions like wearing gloves and ventilating the room. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists on its website the products that meet its criteria for disinfecting SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The EPA also issued a memo reminding the public to never apply disinfectants to yourself or others or on food, never ingest disinfectant products, and never mix products. Read the warning label carefully and follow instructions on the EPA registered disinfectant products.
The high demand for disinfectant products has made it difficult for many people to find these products on shelves or online. If necessary, check the CDC for its instructions on how to safely make disinfectant from diluted, unexpired household bleach for use on hard surfaces. Follow instructions very carefully. The CDC, however, discourages the use of homemade hand sanitizers, which can be ineffective and cause skin burns if made incorrectly. Hand-washing is best, and if you are unable to wash, then use an FDA approved alcohol-based hand sanitizer which lists 60% alcohol on its label.
Some of you may have questions about how to safely handle packages and shopping for essentials like groceries. Packaging is not thought to be the main way that COVID-19 transmits because the coronavirus survives poorly on packaging. But if you wish, according to the FDA, wipe down packaging and the surfaces it touched and allow them to air dry. And the CDC recommends washing hands or using hand sanitizer after accepting deliveries or mail.
Avoid shopping when you are sick. When you do go shopping, prepare a list in advance and wear a cloth mask (some stores may require it). If using reusable bags, clean and wash before every use. Keep at least 6 feet between you and others and wipe down the handles of the shopping cart; avoid touching your face and use touchless payment if possible. If you must touch any uncleaned surface directly, use hand sanitizer afterward. At home, wash your hands before and after handling your purchases. For groceries, follow general food safety practices as usual, such as rinsing fruits and vegetables, immediately refrigerating or freezing perishables, and cleaning kitchen counters regularly. For more information on shopping for food, check the FDA website, and for advice on running other essential errands like getting gas and deliveries, visit the CDC.