Tips to Avoid Catching COVID-19 (coronavirus)

By Lori Hartwell, Founder and President of the Renal Support Network

I was in the grocery store when I overheard a conversation between a woman and a grocery clerk at the checking-out stand. The woman was saying the new coronavirus is a hoax and questioned everyone’s concern. She went on and on about how the elderly and the sick die from the flu every year, saying their numbers are so small compared to other causes of death. I bit my tongue and decided not to open my mouth and expose myself to any more germs.

Speaking as someone who has a kidney transplant and a compromised immune and pulmonary system, I am concerned about this virus called Covid-19. According to James Robb, MD, who was a professor of pathology at the University of California, San Diego, and was one of the first molecular virologists in the world to work on coronaviruses the 1970s, “the virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This means that the air will not infect you! BUT all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average – everything that is associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious. The virus is on surfaces. You will not be infected unless your unprotected face is directly coughed or sneezed upon.”

Knowing this, I am not going out in large crowds right now if I can avoid it. I’m not greeting people with a hug or a handshake. A wave is good enough for me. Grocery shopping at night when there are fewer people seems like a good idea. I use my knuckle to touch light switches and push elevator buttons. I avoid grasping handles with my hands and use my hip or closed fist to open a door, especially in a public restroom or doctor’s office. If I must use my hands, I wash them or use hand sanitizer right away.

The best defense you have is to not touch your hands to your face (unless you just washed your hands). Cover your cough or sneeze into a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

I am taking other precautions, like, wait for it … washing my hands with soap for 20 seconds. They say to wash until you are finished singing the “Happy Birthday” song, but I prefer the hit 70s tune “Staying Alive.” This chorus is 30 seconds long, and I want to make sure I get all those germs off my hands. Here are the lyrics if you want to sing along:

And now it’s alright, it’s okay
And you may look the other way
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man
Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive

Washing your hands is the best way to stay healthy. I only use hand sanitizer when a sink is not available. The alcohol in hand sanitizer is very drying and can make your skin chapped and cracked.

I still keep important appointments. Those who need dialysis can’t miss a treatment. Doing so will cause serious health issues. When I was on home dialysis, I was very grateful not to have to go to the center during flu season. Although dialysis centers are taking every precaution to ensure your safety, this may be a good time to consider switching modalities. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.

I also avoid eating out at any type of place that has a salad bar or buffet environment where food is left out. I’m cooking at home more often. But, my friends came over for dinner recently, and they wanted pizza, so we had it delivered. I felt it was safe to have a slice. Other precautions I’m taking is to ensure all the surfaces in my house are wiped clean, including door knobs, phones and remotes.

Luckily, I work from home and can limit contact with people. My husband works in an office environment and I want to send him out in a hazmat suit, but that is not realistic. So instead, I sent him off with an arsenal of goodies like wipes, hand sanitizer and a copy of “Staying Alive.”

And if you know someone is sick, stay at least six feet away from them. Be on extra high alert. If you are sick, stay home and rest. Contact your doctor if you have any symptoms that may lead you to believe you may have the virus. The symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath.

For a little background, this new coronavirus was first detected in China and has now been detected in almost 90 locations internationally, including the United States. The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2,” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated: “COVID-19”). Coronaviruses belong to a large family of viruses common in humans and many different species of animals. Humans have never seen this strain of the virus before and have no internal defense against it.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend wearing a facemask to protect against COVID-19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent spreading the disease to others. The mask will not prevent a direct sneeze from passing the virus into your nose or mouth. It will, however, keep you from touching your nose or mouth.

Luckily, treatments are already being tested. More than 80 clinical trials are under way for antiviral treatments, according to Nature magazine, and most have already been used successfully in treating other illnesses.

In a few months we will know how bad this outbreak is, and if we over-reacted. To the lady in the grocery store who thinks this disease is a hoax, I hope she is taking all the precautions I listed above. In the meantime, it is better to be safe than sorry, and “Stay Alive.”

Lori hartwell - Renal Support Network - PresidentLori Hartwell is the Founder & President of Renal Support Network (RSN) and the host of KidneyTalk™, a radio podcast show. Lori was diagnosed with kidney disease at the age of two. In 1993 she founded RSN to instill “health, happiness and hope” into the lives of those affected by chronic kidney disease. Lori is also the author of the inspirational book Chronically Happy: Joyful Living in Spite of Chronic Illness and is a four-time kidney transplant recipient.

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