Diseases are scary in general. But they’re even scarier when they have the potential to kill you and the ability to cross international borders with ease.
That’s the situation with Covid-19 (the abbreviation for coronavirus disease 2019), a respiratory disease caused by a type of coronavirus, transmitted by respiratory fluids from coughing and sneezing, that currently has no vaccine. Though the first cases of it appeared in Wuhan, China in November 2019, it has now spread around the world and is officially classified as a pandemic — from the Greek for “all” (pan) “people” (demos) — meaning that it will affect every human on this planet, sooner or later.
Of those infected, the current fatality rate, or rate of death, is still uncertain. There are many reasons for this, including the lag time between infection and onset of symptoms and the prevalence of asymptomatic cases (people who have the coronavirus but don’t have the disease, which is like pneumonia). But the most reliable estimates thus far indicate that the aCFR (adjusted case fatality rate) is most likely around 0.9%, and those who have the highest risk of fatality are the sick and the elderly. (Compared to the fatality rate of 0.1% for seasonal flu, this is significantly higher, but nowhere near as high as other recent infectious diseases.)
As such, it’s important to be informed. And since many countries are instituting quarantine measures of one form or another (ranging from event cancellations to border controls to school closures), it’s entirely likely that your life will soon be affected, even if you never become infected.
Five Specific Steps to Avoid Infection
It should be noted that none of the following steps is foolproof, and some number of people who follow every possible precaution — on this and other lists — will still contract coronavirus. But while the following steps may not be a guarantee of avoiding infection, they are presently your best bet.
The first and most important step to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to limit travel, especially internationally.
Since the disease originated in China, this should come as no surprise. And since the disease has spread from China to almost every other country on the planet, there really is no place to go to escape it. (Even Moldova, one of the smallest countries in Europe, had its first fatality from the disease recently.)
Beyond that, the stress of travel on the body — resulting from a combination of sleep deprivation, dietary fluctuation, climatic shift, and social dislocation — can increase the risk of contracting the virus even for people who are otherwise healthy. Further exacerbating this is the congestion of most transport hubs, which invariably facilitate the spread of microbes from one person to another by contact with public surfaces like toilets, doorknobs, checkout stations, and tablets.
As a result, the best kind of travel in this case is local and would include walking, hiking, running, or biking. Whichever you choose, these forms of travel are the least likely to facilitate the spread of coronavirus and are most likely to keep you healthy.
Avoid Large Gatherings
Of course most people by now are familiar with the concept of “social distancing” — the idea that maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other people will reduce the risk of infection. And certainly there is some value to this approach if and when you know exactly who has an infectious disease. But in the case of Covid-19, the symptoms are so easily confused with those of other minor ailments (including seasonal flu and allergies) that it’s very hard to tell who does and doesn’t have it.
As such, if you really want to limit the risk of infection, the best way to do so is to avoid large gatherings of people — especially very dense or enclosed gatherings, like concerts, amusement parks, and subways.
The reasoning for this is simple. When there are only a small number of people around you, you can keep your distance very easily. But when the number of people around you exceeds ten or fifteen, there’s less space for each person and greater likelihood that one person will enter another person’s space without realizing it.
In large gatherings, you will also be more likely to come into contact with public surfaces that have been contaminated by coronavirus, thereby increasing your risk.
So, if you really want to be safe, avoid large, dense, enclosed gatherings of people and get some fresh air while you’re at it.
Sanitize Public Surfaces
Most people understand the value of keeping your personal space clean, whether that happens to be your desk, your office, or your business. And while the reason for this is primarily aesthetic — after all, nobody wants to live or work in a dump — cleaning your space also reduces dust, cobwebs, dead skin cells, and microbes, improving the healthfulness of your surroundings. And this is the rationale behind sanitizing public surfaces.
When people frequently touch something — whether it’s a toilet, a doorknob, a checkout station, or a tablet — microbes that inhabit their skin are passed to that surface, usually by way of oil from your skin. (This is why tablets and phones quickly become smeared and filthy after being handled.)
And the best way to sanitize a public surface is with one of three things:
- bleach (in a mixture of four teaspoons per quart of water)
- alcohol (at a minimum concentration of 70%)
- hot water (as close to the boiling point as your hands can tolerate)
(Always remember to wear gloves when using any of these cleaning agents, as they can be abrasive or harmful to the skin.)
Of course none of these cleaning agents is going to kill every microbe on every surface that you clean. But they will reduce the number of microbes substantially and give your immune system a fighting chance, which is all you can really hope for under the circumstances.
Practice Good Hygiene
Most people by now are also aware of the need to wash your hands frequently or, failing that, to apply hand sanitizer (with a minimum of 60% alcohol), especially when coming into contact with public surfaces.
But this is really just one aspect of what should be called good hygiene, which also includes:
- washing your hands
- applying hand sanitizer (with a minimum of 60% alcohol)
- covering your mouth when you cough
- using tissues to wipe your nose
- avoiding contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth.
(Eyes, nose, and mouth are emphasized because they’re the most accessible mucous membranes of the human body and, as a result, the most easily penetrated and infected.)
And of course all of these approaches are helpful, especially when you find yourself in public spaces where contact with public surfaces (like toilets, doorknobs, checkout stations, and tablets) is unavoidable.
Wear a Mask
Of all the recommendations on this list, this is the one that most people will find unsettling. And of course it makes sense, since so much of what makes us human is conveyed through our faces — through the subtle interplay of motion that produces smiles, frowns, laughter, and tears. Yet there is no reason to be afraid of a mask, or any kind of protective gear, in and of itself.
And if you are a caretaker, medical professional, or even simply a family member taking care of a sick loved one, it may be necessary for you to wear a mask (possibly along with gloves, glasses, and long sleeves) in order to protect yourself from coronavirus
More importantly, if you are ever diagnosed with Covid-19, it’s important to use every tool at your disposal to protect other people, especially loved ones. And the best way to do this is simply to wear a mask, since this will reduce their exposure to the virus and risk of infection.
Five General Steps to Stay Healthy
Beyond the specific steps to avoid infection listed above, there are also a number of general steps that can help you to remain healthy at any time in life.
Keep a Regular Schedule
While it’s sometimes necessary to make significant changes in the face of a looming crisis, it’s also important to retain a sense of continuity in life. And one of the best ways to do this is by maintaining the same schedule you normally do, as much as possible.
Obviously changes will be necessary if you find yourself in quarantine — as there is currently in Italy, where almost all public facilities are closed and strict isolation is being enforced — but even in these conditions, doing what’s important to you in life is the best way to get through.
After all, if you have a reason to get up in the morning, you’ll have a reason to make it through the day.
Eat Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables have a host of nutrients which the body needs for essential functions. These include macronutrients like protein, fat, and carbohydrates as well as micronutrients like trace minerals, amino acids, and vitamins.
Vitamin C in particular is hugely beneficial to the human body, bolstering the immune system and reducing the risk of infection from coronavirus or any other pathogen. It has the added benefit of being water-soluble, which means it can be excreted in urine and poses negligible risk of overdose.
So as long as you get it from fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s almost impossible to get too much.
Sunlight isn’t merely a nice perk of being at the beach. It’s also a necessity of life.
More specifically, it helps the body to produce the micronutrient vitamin D. This vitamin assists in a whole host of vital functions, including sleep regulation, bone formation, and immune function. And there’s nothing more important in the face of a pandemic than maintaining your body’s immune function, which is your first line of defense against infection.
So whether you’re under quarantine or not, getting at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day is a great way to stay healthy.
Exercise is, or should be, a part of everyone’s daily life. And if it’s not, there’s no time like the present to remedy the situation.
This can take many different forms, including walking, running, hiking, yoga, tai chi, parkour, gymnastics, calisthenics, or weight lifting. Now of course some of these may be more accessible to you than others, especially if you’re in quarantine. But at least a few of these — especially yoga, tai chi, and calisthenics — can be done in almost any space and with almost no equipment.
In the end, the specific form of exercise isn’t as important as the fact that you pick something and stick with it. By building on it over time, you may find that you can add other forms as well. And by doing this, you can improve your mastery of your body, your health, and your mood, even if you happen to find yourself in quarantine.
This last step may seem sentimental, yet it’s just as important as all the others — perhaps even more so. Because it’s precisely at moments of crisis that we need to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, imagine what they’re going through, and do our best to help. After all, that’s the very basis for the existence of the medical profession: to alleviate suffering.
Now of course we should be doing this in responsible ways that align with the steps I’ve outlined above. We shouldn’t put ourselves or anyone else at risk by trying to be heroes. We should use practical and hard-headed precautionary principles, like limiting travel, washing hands, and even wearing a mask when necessary.
But at the end of the day, we should be reaching out to those in need, if only to ensure that they have the quality of healthcare necessary to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. Whether that means providing meals to poor families, shelter to the homeless, or medical treatment to the uninsured, we should be doing whatever we can to help.
After all, if there’s one thing we should be fighting for, it’s our humanity. And if there’s one thing that makes us human at the end of the day, it’s kindness.