ROCKFORD – If some pundits sound like they believe the world will never be the same because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s because they’re likely right.
But for most people, the main concern is how to avoid infection. According to one New York doctor who treats nothing but covid patients these days, there is hope in knowing that more than 90% of the time, the disease is spread through touch.
“The way you get this virus is almost exclusively from your hands,” Dr. David Price from Weill Cornell Medical Center said during a Zoom call to family and friends back in March. “From your hands to your face–either into your eyes, into your nose or into your mouth.”
While Price said that it is possible for COVID-19 to spread through the air, that it is usually only the case when there is long, sustained contact with an infected person who is sneezing or coughing in close proximity. Such occurrences could occur in elevators, offices and crowds. But they are more common in clinical settings when doctors prompt patients to create reactive responses like coughs. And during the early fight against COVID-19 in hospitals, health-care providers were not all using protective equipment.
“I am talking about 15 to 30 minutes, and you’re in an unprotected environment,” he said, “meaning you’re in a closed room without any type of mask. You can get it that way, but the overwhelming majority of people are getting this by touching someone who has this disease or will develop (symptoms) within the next one to two days and then touching their face.”
As national and world experts have warned, the novel coronavirus can survive on countertops, doorknobs, elevator buttons and other publicly touched things. Price said because the virus cannot penetrate skin, it is OK to touch those items when necessary with one caveat.
“The first step is incredibly clear, and this is to become a ‘hand Nazi,'” he said. “Know where your hands are and know that they are clean at all times.”
Price recommends using hand sanitizer often, before and after touching anything that’s not in our home.
“When I leave my apartment and I go to the elevator, it’s OK that I touch it with my hand,” he said. “But then I Purell (them). We know that this is not a disease where someone who is sick touches something and then an entire community of 10 people get it because they touched it. It’s mostly from sustained contact with people who have COVID-19. Out of an abundance of caution, we make sure that after everything we touch, we are cleaning our hands.”
Break the connection
It is far from uncommon for people to touch their faces and for numerous reasons. Some touches are unconscious. Price said part of being a successful “hand Nazi” is being aware of those times, even the ones we otherwise wouldn’t lend a second thought.
“You have to start psychologically working the connection between your hands and your face,” he said. “You don’t even realize it. You move your hand (across your forehead). You scratch your nose. And the virus has taken advantage of this. This is why everyone is getting this disease.”
A good example of a typical hand-to-face transmission, Price said, would be contact with an infected person at a party.
“You shake their hand. Then you touch your face. It’s that simple.”
Price said two things will help break the connection. The first is to wear a non-medical mask or other face covering. It will serve as a reminder when the hands get too close.
The doctor’s “know your hands are clean and do not touch your face” rules will prevent COVID-19 transmission in 99% of situations.
“Now, there are going to be an obscure, like 0.01% of patients who get it, and we’ll just never know how they got it,” he said. “But for you, that is an incredibly important way to protect yourself. Always know where your hands are, and become aware when you are touching stuff that is not from your protected home environment.”
Price added that in most areas of the world, the majority of COVID-19 spread is through home and family transmission, a worrying thought but an opportunity to protect loved ones. And when symptoms do arise, simple precautions are usually all a family needs.
“If you develop a fever and you are otherwise fine, go home and isolate yourself from your family,” he said. “It’s about the same rules about the hands and touching your face. You don’t want sustained contact with a person who’s sick to the point where you will pick this up off of surfaces or off their person and then touch your face.”
Although coronavirus disease is expected to kill upwards of 200,000 people in the United States and President Donald Trump calls it an “invisible enemy,” its characteristics are predictable, and it’s not difficult to kill before it enters the body.
“This disease is a wimp,” Price said. “Coronavirus is a wimp. It dies as soon as you disinfect it. (Use) any type of disinfectant. If you are going out and you don’t have Purell, push the elevator with your elbow. Open the door with your shoulder. That’s not going to get you covid. And, ideally if you have Purell, all you need is a small drop and you’re going to kill this thing. This thing doesn’t violate the rules. It’s not a mystery disease.”
Public health officials recommend washing hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer to prevent infection.
Price added: “Covid is in your community. Whether you live in Texas, whether you live Tennessee, or you live in Florida, it is in your community right now. That is not to scare you. It’s to get you to take the steps that I am talking about.”