House Hygiene: How to Keep Coronavirus from Coming Home
Updated: Apr 21, 2020
I don’t know about you, but lately, as the spread of the new coronavirus has driven me and everyone else indoors to shelter in place, my home really has become my haven … and my office and school and gym and movie theater and restaurants and pretty much my world.
I’m good with that. However, if our homes are going to be the family safety zone for the unforeseeable future, keeping them clean and the enemy virus out is top of mind. For answers, I talked to Dr. Edwin DeJesus, an infectious disease specialist based in Orlando, and peppered him questions:
Marni: What do you wish more people understood?
Dr. DeJesus: That every American needs to take this situation very seriously. COVID-19 is not just another flu. It is a potentially lethal infection with serious consequences. Experts agree that the main driver is getting close to someone who has it. We must practice social distance at the very least. Staying six feet away is a good rule.
Why do we have to stay home?
We learned from the epidemic in China that most of those who got infected got the virus from someone who didn’t know they had it. So we need to avoid contact with others in the community who have mild or no symptoms. Understanding that helps people comply. The virus can live in the air, and can be transmitted when someone coughs, so staying home is so important. Because the virus can live for three days on some surfaces, we also must be vigilant about what comes in the door.
How do we practice border control at home?
Start with a clean, coronavirus-free house. Wipe down and disinfect all surfaces including door handles, light switches, counters and faucets. Next take care not to bring the virus in by creating a coming-home routine that everyone follows.
Have everyone come in through the same door, preferably one close to a sink. Put a sign on the door reminding those entering to remove shoes (which have been on surfaces where people could have coughed, sneezed or spit), and wash their hands. Stock the sink area with soap and paper, not cloth, towels. While there, clean items you touch and carry, such as your keys, cellphone, wallet, and purse handle.
If you’re coming home after being in a high-risk environment, like a doctor’s office or emergency room, remove your clothes and put them straight into the washing machine. (Bypass the hamper.) Wash them with regular detergent, and take a shower.
When we do go out for groceries, how do we avoid bringing the COVID-19 virus home?
No one gets infected by touching the virus. It cannot pass through skin, only through a mucosal membrane. Infection occurs when the virus is on your hands, and you touch your eyes, nose or mouth. When out, try not to touch your face until you’ve used hand sanitizer or washed your hands. Keep your car clean by wiping your steering wheel, dashboard, and door handles with disinfectant. Put bags in your trunk, not inside the car.
Once home, put grocery bags in the transition zone. After you wash your hands, unload groceries and wipe down cartons and cans as you put them away. Put empty bags outside, directly into the recycle bin, and clean the counter.
What if some family members don’t cooperate?
A home is only as clean as its least adherent person. You can be perfect, but if your partner or children don’t follow the rules, all has gone to waste.
I just learned I have been cleaning my counters wrong all my life. How do we properly wash our hands and disinfect our homes?
Cleaning and disinfecting aren’t the same. Soap cleans, and is the first choice for hands. It works by allowing dirt and germs to detach from the skin and get rinsed off. Wash your hands for 20 seconds in warm water. That allows time for dirt to detach; warm water heats the soap and expands its cleaning action.
Disinfecting is the first choice for surfaces. Agents like Clorox, alcohol and household cleaners kill bacteria and viruses. When disinfecting a counter, spray it, then let the agent sit for at least a minute. (This is where I’ve gone wrong. I wipe immediately.)
Cleaning supplies, such as Clorox wipes, are in short supply. What can we use instead?
You can make your own. Create a solution of 1/3 cup Clorox to one gallon of water (or 4 teaspoons per quart). Fill a spray bottle, or moisten paper towels with the solution, fold them and keep several in a sealed baggie. Straight rubbing alcohol is also an excellent disinfectant.
What about visitors? Should I still have my housekeepers come?
I am not recommending banning all visitors, but everyone who enters is potentially infected. Ask all visitors to remove shoes and wash hands. Then keep your distance. So when the cable guy comes in, don’t get close.
As for housekeepers, they help keep the house germ-free, but bring risk, too. I’m less concerned about what germs they might carry on their supplies from the last house than I am about them. Ask them to clean handles and doors behind them.
What if someone in your house gets the virus?
That person needs to be isolated, and you quarantined. You isolate those you know are infected. You quarantine those who have been exposed. The infected person needs to stay confined alone to one area or room in the house, and be responsible for keeping that area disinfected. Other household members need to stay away and not touch anything that person has touched. If the infected person cannot keep the isolation area sanitized, then one designated person can clean while wearing a mask and gloves. Isolation can end after the infected person has had two negative tests over two consecutive days. Those exposed need to stay in quarantine for two weeks.
Be clean. Be safe. Be home.
CAPTION: Spray, wait, wipe -- When disinfecting household surfaces, don’t rush, say experts. Spray the cleanser, let it sit for a minute or longer to kill germs, then wipe. Photo courtesy Vadimgozhda/Dreamstime.com.