With everything that’s going on surrounding the recent COVID-19 outbreak, many are left asking:

 

What can I do to stay well? 

How do I avoid unnecessary exposure in a living environment? 


These are important questions that deserve a professional's response.

In this piece, the team tapped in Naomi Walski, who has a Masters in Public Health (MPH) and Environmental Health and is currently an Industrial Hygienist at the County of San Diego.

Naomi was kind enough to share best practices during this time, which are also helpful for the common cold and flu that so many still face.


The Bad News

COVID-19 is a novel virus with much still unknown, and unfortunately, the number of new cases continues to rise currently. 


The Good News

There is great value in what can be done both individually and collectively to reduce the risk of infection. Efforts to reduce your risk may only be as good as the people in your circle, so it's all the more important to look out for your the others you live with as well as yourself. 


The Power of Perspective

While in the thick of new cases reported, maintaining a sense of perspective is also key. As with the flu, there are certain groups in the community that tend to be more vulnerable. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) identifies older adults and those with serious chronic health issues such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. As more data becomes available, it is possible that the vulnerable groups will expand to include those who are immunocompromised, pregnant and children under five years of age. To put things in perspective, if you are not in any of these groups or spend time with anyone who is, you can expect your risk of contracting a complicated COVID-19 case to be reduced. 

 

What if we had a vaccine? And if we did have a vaccine... nothing is perfect. Do what you can to reduce your own risk and that of others when it comes to COVID-19. Proper and frequent handwashing will go a long way.


Bonus: Most strategies or tips discussed here may also reduce the risk of other usual bugs such as the pesky common cold and flu viruses.  


What can I do to stay well?

Western medicine has us conditioned to believe that there is a single prescription tablet, or a less-than-delicious tonic that will magically cure any infection. We have been taught to expect a single “magic bullet” cure while neglecting some of the most basic necessities: quality sleep, whole nutrition and overall wellness. These truly cannot be emphasized enough, especially with the current public health challenge. If you expect your body to run efficiently, it needs quality fuel. If you expect your immune system to keep you well, you must allow for regular and good quality (not wine-induced) sleep. Sleep is your body’s repair time. 


Tips for Shared Living Spaces

In larger areas, reduce group sizes for gatherings and start/end all events with handwashing. 
In shared rooms, consider spacing beds several meters apart with consideration for the distance cough/sneeze droplets travel (cough droplets ~6 meters, sneeze droplets ~8 meters) and organizing in an alternating head to foot sequence (head-to-toe sleeping) to reduce potential disease transmission and increase a person’s breathing zone. This practice is often seen in emergency shelters and with some military personnel living in close quarters. Visuals on potential arrangements can be found here.


If bathrooms are shared, keep shower/toiletry/toothbrush items away from shared spaces.
Consider designating a separate room or space as a temporary isolation area for those who might need it within the living space. 
Avoid prematurely stopping these measures. During the 1918 Flu pandemic, cities that lifted control measures just after the pandemic’s peak often experienced infection re-emergence. Out of an abundance of caution, implement controls early and continue longer than you think needed.  

As of now, quarantine periods are set at 14 days, but extending may be beneficial. What we know about this bug might evolve along the way. 


How do I avoid unnecessary exposure in a living environment with other people?


Reduce Travel-Related Exposures

  • Consider collaborating on a house agreement related to travel, advance notice and including extended self-quarantine measures upon return. This may protect some while making others think twice about the necessity of the travel in relation to their responsibility to the group.
  • Postpone or eliminate unnecessary travel. 
  • Consider substituting someone local to attend an event/meeting who can ask questions for you and/or record the meeting in your absence.
    Conduct/opt for virtual meetings (e.g., Zoom, Skype, etc.)


Reduce Social Event Related Exposures

  • Maintain safe distances of more than 2 meters (i.e., distance cough/sneeze droplets travel).
  • Avoid crowded places/events, especially those that are not well ventilated (skip the indoor concerts for now).
  • Opt to connect with friends and family for virtual catch-ups via online tools and apps (e.g., Skype, FaceTime, Marco Polo, WeChat, etc.)
  • For group activities & games, consider virtual trivia or video challenges where housemates can use their own phones to participate and eliminate the need for hand contact, close proximity or disinfecting game pieces.

 

More Risk Reduction Strategies


General Housekeeping

  • Assess current housekeeping activities, cleaning frequency and training of cleaning staff related to Coronavirus and COVID-19.
  • Consider developing a standardized protocol for cleaning/sanitizing all coliving spaces including specifications related to approved sanitizing agents, appropriate use. One of the greatest mistakes when it comes to disinfection and housekeeping in general is meeting the required contact time between the disinfectant and the surface being cleaned (e.g., Clorox wipes requires three minutes of contact time, fully wet). 
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a list of antimicrobial products for use against the virus. A few are included below. Again, it’s worth mentioning that most surfaces need to remain wet with the disinfectant for a period of time to be effective. Refer to the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and use according to manufacturer's instructions. 
  • Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
  • Clorox Commercial Solutions® Disinfecting Spray
  • Lysol Heavy-Duty Cleaner Disinfectant Concentrate
  • Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover Mist
  • Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Wipes
  • Sani-Prime Germicidal Spray

Full list available here


Note: Effective handwashing with soap and water is still the most effective way to prevent transmitting of the virus. More info on cleaning and disinfection here.


Technology

  • Items such as laptops, touch screens, cell phones, cell phone cases, door handles, and common work spaces are often overlooked (e.g., shared keyboards, tablets, meeting tables, etc.). Cell phones go everywhere we go, including the bathroom for many. And after the bathroom it may end up on the restaurant table during dinner. 
  • Shared equipment in coliving spaces should be included in housekeeping protocols for disinfecting surfaces. 
  • Consider investing in a PhoneSoap or UV disinfecting/sanitizing gadget and place in a visible, user-friendly spot within each coliving space. While it’s not yet proven to tackle this novel virus specifically, the company reported PhoneSoap kills Influenza A (H1N1) another type of enveloped virus. The technology is promising and reasonably priced as a proactive measure. 


If PhoneSoap or a similar device is not possible use a damp cloth with a small amount of dish soap, alcohol pads, or even hand sanitizer among others may do the job. More info on cleaning up your tech here and don’t forget your keyboards.  


House/Community Pact: 


While this may be easier to accomplish within a smaller space than in a larger group; the value may be more than worth the time and effort. Consider creating collaborative task lists and control measures for each living space. 


Task lists and control measures should be comprised of responsibilities at both the individual and group level, should be signed and committed to by all coliving participants and implemented for the duration of the infection risk. 


The pact would be subject to updating when needed based on emerging data (e.g., AM and PM temperature checks using individual digital or infrared thermometers (individual or one per shared room) and have temperatures reported to a designated health and safety person (6-person space) or health and safety committee (100-person space), protocols such as mandatory 2+-week self-isolation and abstaining from social house events for any housemate with temperatures in excess of  ___ (e.g., a fever can be anything above normal 98.6 F (37 C); however, keep in mind some people can run slightly higher or lower than the definition of “normal”, so best to consult up-to-date COVID-19 data on related fevers and decide the most protective fever cut-off for the sake of the group). 


If housekeeping is a shared responsibility, it may be beneficial to do a standardized training/activity as not everyone cleans the same way and a few may need a little guidance. 


Rules and agreements may vary slightly due to house dynamics, but should share the same core control measures such as temperature checks, cut-offs and protocols for self-isolation if elevated temperatures detected, and travel notifications to housemates with a return-to-house protocol for quarantine. Having coliving participants contribute to and sign the pact may increase buy-in and achieve better compliance rates while reducing overall risks.

 

A special thank you to Naomi Walski for these tips.

 

Stay healthy and happy out there!

We're sending healing love and support to you.

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