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What You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus

Posted By Amy Long, RN, Monday, February 3, 2020

Headlines are hopping with news about the coronavirus outbreak in China this month. With the ease of international travel in our modern world, it is no surprise that cases of coronavirus are appearing in the United States. Understanding this virus and taking preventative actions are your two best measures to protect yourself from coronavirus.

What is Coronavirus?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the current outbreak is of 2019 Novel Coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV for short. Symptoms may appear two days to two weeks after exposure to the virus, and people are contagious prior to becoming symptomatic.

2019-nCoV has a reported range from zero symptoms to severe illness and death. Common pneumonia-like symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Passengers wearing respiratory masks during their commute on a subway in China.

How is Coronavirus Transmitted?

This particular virus does not seem to have animal transmission like many other coronaviruses. Person-to-person transmission likely occurs through respiratory droplets. Coughing, sneezing, and exhalation carry a virus in the tiny droplets that are expelled. While people may not be breathing directly on one another, they may leave these carrier droplets on surfaces that others touch. In short, it spreads like the flu.

Take Action to Protect Yourself and Loved Ones

While it may sound too simple, your first, best defense against coronavirus and other viruses is to wash your hands.

Consider everything your hands touch in a day. Desks, pens, shared computer surfaces, telephones, conference tables, printers, door handles—the list of potentially contaminated surfaces in an office is too numerous to list in full. Instead of wrapping everything in paper or wearing nitrile gloves at work, just wash your hands.

person washing their hands in bathroom sink

Review the CDC’s recommendations for handwashing. Wet your hands with clean water. Lather long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, scrubbing under the nails and cleaning the backs of your hands as well. Rinse with clean water. Use a clean towel to dry, or air dry. Viruses seek admittance to your body through your mucous membranes. Don’t touch your face unless your hands have been washed. Wash your hands before eating. Don’t put a pen to your lips or nose to help you think. If you regularly need to brush your hair out of your face, wear it up or back to eliminate possible transmission. Hand sanitizer is no substitute for good handwashing.

Be considerate toward others and stay home if you feel sick. If someone in your office seems to be sick, avoid physical contact completely. Keep a distance of at least three feet when you must be in the same room.

If you do rely on mass transit as part of your commute, wear nitrile gloves and avoid touching yourself above the shoulders until your trip is complete and you can discard the gloves. A thick respiratory mask may help you protect yourself from viruses in a cramped subway car, but a surgical mask won’t offer much protection from flying respiratory particles. You might also consider driving for a few weeks.

Practice Daily Wellness Habits

Because there is no vaccine to protect yourself from coronavirus, it is imperative that you bolster your immune system. Sleep deprivation makes people more susceptible to illness, therefore it is imperative to get adequate high-quality sleep. Good nutrition is essential to maintaining optimal immunity to the germs we are exposed to every day. Choose fresh fruit and vegetables and a lean protein at every meal. Regular exercise such as 30 minutes of brisk walking stimulates the immune system.

Since coronavirus is a lot like the flu, practice standard flu safety. And don’t underestimate the power of handwashing.


Amy Long, RNRegistered Nurse Amy Long has been helping businesses promote work-health balance for 24 years. In 2010, co-founded Orchard At The Office to positively impact the health and wellness of the workforce. 

Tags:  CDC  Coronavirus  flu  virus 

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