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What really works to keep coronavirus away? 4 questions answered by a public health professional


 


Editor’s note: The World Health Organization has declared that COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has a higher fatality rate than the flu. As of March 4, 2020, nine deaths have been reported in the U.S. Brian Labus, a professor of public health, provides essential safety information for you, from disinfectants to storing food and supplies.


1. What can I do to prevent becoming infected?

When people are sick with a respiratory disease like COVID-19, they cough or sneeze particles into the air. If someone is coughing near you, the virus could easily land on your eyes, nose or mouth. These particles travel only about six feet and fall out of the air rather quickly. However, they do land on surfaces that you touch all the time, such as railings, doorknobs, elevator buttons or subway poles. The average person also touches their face 23 times per hour, and about half of these touches are to the mouth, eyes, and nose, which are the mucosal surfaces that the COVID-19 virus infects.


We public health professionals can’t stress this enough: Proper hand-washing is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from a number of diseases including COVID-19. While hand-washing is preferred, hand sanitizers with at least a 60% alcohol concentration can be an effective alternative to always using soap and water, but only if your hands are not visibly soiled.


2. Wouldn’t it be easier just to clean surfaces?

Not really. Public health experts don’t fully understand the role these surfaces play in the transmission of disease, and you could still be infected by a virus that landed directly on you. We also don’t know how long the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can survive on hard surfaces, although other coronaviruses can survive for up to nine days on hard surfaces like stair railings.



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