I received an email from a friend yesterday that was so disturbing it made me stop what I was doing and think about how I could help her, and others like her who are mesmerized by this epidemic.
My friend is afraid to leave her house, afraid that her husband who is working will bring the virus home on his clothes, and afraid to play a game of pickleball, something she loves to do, because she worries that another player might infect her.
As you all know, I am a stress management expert and teach folks how to relax their bodies and slow down their runaway minds. What you might not know is that I worked for the NJ State Department of Health in their Communicable Disease Control Division for 12 years and taught Epidemiology for the Department of Public Health at William Paterson University for over 20 years.
I know a little bit about infectious diseases and how to control them.
Let me give you a few facts about COVID-19 and some tips about how to use this information to reduce your fears, worries, and anxiety and get back to being yourself again.
Fact # 1: COVID-19 Can Live Outside the Human Body
Although a virus like COVID-19 can live outside the human body on inanimate objects for varying lengths of time, transmitting the virus from these objects isn’t very efficient—a term used by epidemiologists when describing how easy it is to transmit germs.
The most efficient way for a person to spread COVID-19 to you if they are infected is to have active symptoms and cough directly into your face from less than 6 feet away.
The reason this is the MOST efficient way to spread the disease is because it is direct contact—you are inhaling the virus in the droplets of their cough and getting it in your eyes and on your face—of the most virulent viral particles.
The virulence—severity or harmfulness—of a virus changes over the course of a person’s infection. A person could spread COVID-19 to you at the very beginning of their infection—just prior to noticing symptoms—and at the very end, when their symptoms start to disappear, and they are feeling better, but transmission at these times is much LESS EFFICIENT.
Fact # 2: COVID-19 is Not Motile
The COVID-19 virus is not motile. It does not move, swim or jump through the air. It gets from one person to another by attaching to “droplets” in a person’s saliva and riding these through the air by the force of their cough.
Once it hits wherever it lands (your face, a table, a chair, eating utensils, a shopping cart handle, etc.), it stays there. It cannot move elsewhere on its own. The ONLY WAY it will get from the initial place it is deposited to a new location is if another person touches the initial landing spot, gets a portion—not all will be transferred—of the viral particles on their hands or clothing and then deposits it on another inanimate object or human.
Each time this happens, the likelihood that any live virus gets transferred is less and less. The longer the virus is exposed to air, it starts to die and makes transferring to another person less efficient.
Fact # 3: Transmission and Infection are Automatic
Just because you are exposed to a disease does not mean that you will become infected. Your body’s immune system and your overall level of health can protect you from becoming infected if you are exposed.
One way to understand the effectiveness of your own immune system is to look at how often you get sick. Do you get sick often? Did you get the flu last year? Do your chronic diseases like Genital Herpes t frequently reoccur? The answers to these questions will give you some insight into your overall health and the strength of your immune system.
The second part of this is that it takes time for germs to take hold and start to incubate. For example, if you did go food shopping and happened to use a shopping cart of a person infected with COVID-19, you would have time to prevent the spread to your own body. You have time to use hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes to kill the germs before they entered your body.
Fact # 4: COVID-19 Likes Crowded, Confined Spaces
Like all viruses, COVID-19 spreads most efficiently in crowded, closed spaces that are not ventilated well. For example, a person with an active infection who is coughing and sneezing in a crowded room would be an efficient transmitter. This person could cough or sneeze in three different directions and easily infect a dozen people in such a crowded space.
COVID-19 would spread much less efficiently if that same person was walking on the beach coughing and sneezing. Unless the person got within 6 feet of others and coughed directly at them, the likelihood of their germs ever reaching another person would be small. The germs would fall to the sand or in the saltwater where they would dissipate and die.
Fact # 5: You are Much More Likely to Die or be Injured by Driving Your Car than by COVID-19
The simple fact is that 8.7 people (I love those .7 people) die in car crashes every day in Florida. About 2,400 dies in car accidents every year. If you’ve been following the statistics, you will see that the mortality from COVID-19 isn’t anywhere near those numbers yet if you listen to the news every day it seems just the opposite. The 24/7 non-stop news coverage from around the world throws numbers and red dots out at you all day scaring the heck out of you.
How to Use This Information
The following tips will follow the order of my facts.
1) Keep reminding yourself that even though the COVID-19 virus can live outside the body, it does not do well out there.
- Tell yourself: “Lots of germs can survive outside of the body. There is a big difference from this germ living outside the body and me catching it from inanimate objects. I can accept and coexist with the anxiety I feel about this.”
2) The first thing you should do is AVOID PEOPLE who are coughing. Keep your “social distance” (at least 6 feet) from them.
- Better yet, avoid them completely. Leave the room, cross the street, turn away from folks who are coughing, and you GREATLY REDUCE the likelihood that their germs will reach your body.
3) Stop touching your face, especially your mouth, eyes, and nose.
- Tell yourself: “These germs can jump through the air, swim in water, or crawl on my skin. The only way I am going to get infected is if someone coughs on me or if I put the germs in my body by touching myself after getting them on my hands. I can accept and coexist with the anxiety I feel about this.”
- Tell yourself: “I can train myself to stop touching my face, especially if I am not in my own home. I can accept and coexist with the discomfort I feel about having to train myself to do this.”
4) Wash your hands and sanitize often.
- Carry sanitizer and sanitizing wipes with you. Don’t leave home without them.
- Sanitize your car door handles and steering wheel when entering and leaving your car.
- Sanitize your home’s doorknobs and handles upon returning home.
5) Avoid crowded places and practice social distancing.
- Tell yourself: “I can still go outside and walk, bike, canoe, kayak, or do other things to get exercise and keep from going stir crazy. I can accept and coexist with the anxiety I feel about having to do this.”
- Tell yourself: “Although it is not the same as in-person contact, being ‘social’ online and on the phone will keep me connected to the others I care about. I can accept the difference and coexist with the discomfort I feel about having to socialize this way.”
6) Remember that you currently do things that put you at greater risk for morbidity (illness) and mortality (death) than COVID-19.
- Tell yourself: “Every day I do things like driving that are risky and pose threats to my wellbeing that I cannot control. I can accept and coexist with the discomfort I feel about this.”
I hope these simple facts and tips for managing them brings you some relief from the stress that COVID-19 is creating in your life. We will get through COVID-19 like we did Hurricane Irma and a hundred other personal and societal crises.