How to be Safe at Home

It is entirely your choice how you deal with the threat of the virus in your own home. For instance, your family dynamic and layout of your home might allow one or more individuals to isolate themselves from the rest of the family if need be. If that’s the case, then great because it makes it a lot easier for you. However, while space will be a problem for many families, the bigger problem will be that of separation. You know your family and your circumstances, so only you can decide how far to take things by deciding which of the advice below you will follow and which you will ignore. But remember, the more precautions you take, the safe you and your loved ones will be.

You will find some of the suggestions below more appropriate than others, depending on whether:

  • you are actively self-isolating (covered in-depth later)
  • you are only able to restrict contact with people because, for example, you must still go to work
  • you are ill or one or more of your family is.

They are all worth reading, however, so you are pre-armed in case your situation changes or so you can simply take precautions to get ahead of the virus and stay ahead of it. The choice is yours.

A Sanctuary

Your home is your sanctuary. Even in normal everyday life, there’s nothing like your home for giving you a sense of well-being and security. However, for the foreseeable future, this is not going to be ‘normal everyday life’, so what can you do to ensure your sanctuary continues to provide you with the well-being and security you deserve?

Home Deliveries.

In most towns and cities these days, supermarkets and the larger grocery stores offer home delivery, either free for purchases over a set level, or for a small charge. Use one of these services, even if it means changing from your usual store to a different one and paying a little more, or not being able to get the exact products you like.

The more you go outside and interact with other people the more risk you put yourself and your loved ones at, so having things delivered to your home is one of the easiest ways of eliminating one considerable risk.

The number of things you can have delivered is also increasing. For example, there are services that now offer to deliver prescription drugs without any additional charge. This is of particular benefit to those who are most at risk: people with pre-existing health conditions and those 70 and over. These two categories of people are those who are the most likely to need regular prescription drugs, so would normally spend time going to a pharmacy, where they interact with other people, many of whom could be there because they are sick and are buying something to treat themselves – exactly the situation to be avoided.

(If you are self-isolating and have something delivered to your home, either inform the store at the time of ordering so that the delivery person knows not to carry the goods into your house, or when they arrive, either have a note on the door asking the delivery person to ring the doorbell and leave the goods on the doorstep or just open the door the tiniest of cracks and tell them in person what to do.)

Contaminated Goods.

When you have groceries or other goods delivered to your house, yes, you know where it’s come from, but you have absolutely no idea what chain of people it has passed through to reach you and how many of those people, if any, are infected and so have contaminated your goods.

This problem of contamination primarily affects food deliveries which arrive in a matter of hours, not days, or anything you get express delivered in under 24 hours.

At this point, you may think that it is safer to go to the store and choose the items yourself, but likewise, you have no idea how many warehouse staff or store staff have handled the goods and which, if any, were infected.

So, what can you do?

The virus can live on objects for only a certain length of time before perishing, with plastics and metal possibly being the most inhospitable to it. This gives you a number of options, depending on how cautious you want to be:

  1. By the time goods in metal and plastic containers reach your house, they should be safe to handle, because it is believed the virus can only survive for around two hours* on such material. If you prefer to play safe, you could leave such items for an extra hour. However, products in paper packaging (e.g. corn flakes) or where an element of the packaging is paper (e.g. canned products with a paper sleeve) are trickier, because the virus can live significantly longer on this kind of material. However, how long is unknown. You could always leave it a day or two and unpack only those goods that may perish.
  2. Unpack all the items, regardless of the materials the containers are made of but do not touch your face while doing so and wash your hands thoroughly immediately afterward. Anything contained in metal or plastic should be safe after an extra couple of hours, whereas anything contained in a porous material, such as paper or card, should be safe to touch in a day or two.
  3. Unpack all the items, regardless of the materials the containers are made of, and wherever appropriate, disinfect the item before putting in the cupboard. Obviously, disinfecting fresh fruit and vegetables is an issue. The best solution might simply be to give them a good wash, as you sometimes do when eating fruit abroad or are worried what pesticides may be present, and then simply set them aside for a day or so, as an extra safeguard.
*UPDATE: released in late March, another study has contradicted much of what the experts believed to be true. Now, they believe the virus may actually live LONGER on some metals and plastics than on things like paper and cloth. It is possible that the virus can live a full day on cardboard and up to a whopping three days on some metals, e.g. stainless steel, and polypropylene (a type of widely-used plastic). This obviously makes keeping yourself and your home clean all the more important.

Packaging.

One last thing to be wary of is the container in which the goods arrive. For example, if someone delivers groceries in plastic shopping bags, everything in the bags might be absolutely fine, while the handles of the bags could be a source of contamination, so don’t bring the bags in, put them down to deal with later, and then go about your day, touching countless things around your home. Wash your hands if you touch delivered goods at all.

Mail.

For goods you receive through the mail, contamination of the contents shouldn’t be an issue because outside the human body, the virus has a relatively short lifespan and then dies. If something has been in the mail for a few days, even if it was contaminated, the virus should be dead.
However, what if your mailman has the virus?
If you are concerned, you can wipe your mail to disinfect it, or open it while wearing gloves and then discard the packaging without it ever touching your skin.

Bathroom.

If one of your family is a potential risk to the others, your bathroom is a major hazard simply because it is the one room in your house where all the members of your family reveal the most skin and commit the most intimate acts, so leaving them vulnerable by giving the virus an unparalleled number of ‘access points’. If you normally clean your bathroom only once a week, adjust your cleaning schedule. This will obviously depend on how much time you have available, but the more you clean the room, the less likely it is that it will have contaminated surfaces.

You do not have to clean every single thing in the bathroom every day, but you should prioritize certain things, e.g. the toilet seat, flush mechanism, hot and cold taps, showerhead and heating control, light switch, door handle, etc.

Hand-Washing.

This is often touted as our front line of defense against the virus. It is important, so how can it be improved?

Celebrities such as actor Hugh Jackman and singer Gloria Gaynor have already joined the fight by creating fun videos that show people how to wash properly and for how long. I will not include links here, because we all know how one tiny glimpse of a cat video on YouTube can lead to an entire afternoon somehow disappearing!

One of the main stipulations about handwashing is that it should last for around 20 seconds. Experts have recommended that people sing Happy Birthday twice while washing, as this gives approximately the correct time period. I don’t know about you, but if I have to sing Happy Birthday six, eight, 10, 20 times per day, not only is that going to drive me nuts, but I’m going to absolutely loathe the song next time it crops up in its natural environment. So, what can be done about that?

  1. Choose your favorite song at the moment and sing as much of the verse or the chorus that fills 20 seconds (time it with your watch or phone). When you get sick of one song, you can just switch to another.
  2. (This is my preferred choice.) Invent your own song. It doesn’t have to make sense, in fact, it’s far more fun if it doesn’t. Here is my favorite made-up song right now. Feel free to use it to the tune of Happy Birthday.
    “I’m a tartan wombat,
    I’m a tartan wombat.
    You can spank me if you catch me,
    I’m a tartan wombat.”
    (I wonder what the psychiatrist would make of that!)

When you choose your own song, unless you’re going to choose your own tune as well, just make sure the number of syllables and the phrasing fits Happy Birthday properly. As an example, here is how the Wombat Song fits.

Ha—py—birth—day—to—you.
I’m—a—tar—tan—wom—bat.
Do you see how the tune fits when you break up the words? The third line works the same way:
Ha—py—birth—day—de—ar—Ste—ve,
You—can—spank—me—if—you—catch—me,

Now, it’s over to you. What mind-blowing lyrics can you come up with? (#WombatSong – share your greatest creations with the world!)

Toilet Seat Covers.

Buy some paper toilet seat covers (you may have seen these in some public restrooms). The virus can be spread through excrement and urine, so this is a simple and relatively cheap extra level of protection, should you need to ‘go’ when you are ‘on the go’.

Toothbrushes.

A lot of families stick all they toothbrushes in a glass next to the washbasin. If someone is infected and brushes their teeth, obviously their toothbrush will become contaminated and if it is lent against others, it will contaminate those, too. Without knowing it, the simple act of brushing their teeth could see your entire family infected with the virus. The solution is obvious – separate your toothbrushes.

Mouthwash.

If more than one person uses one of the kinds of mouthwash that uses its cap as a little cup, remove it from the bathroom. That cap touches your mouth, so if you are infected, a trace of your saliva will be on the rim to be passed to the next person to use the mouthwash.

Towels.

If you’re worried about infection within the family for whatever reason, give each person their own towel and, if you use them, their own face cloth. If possible, give each person a different color so they can see at a glance which is theirs.
If you don’t have enough to give each person a different color, give them whatever you have but insist they keep them in their bedroom. Then, remove all the towels and facecloths from the bathroom. (If you leave either in the bathroom, they will be used, even inadvertently, and so could be a source of infection.) Removing communal ones forces people to bring and use their own from their room.

Kitchen.

The kitchen is another area that is prone to contamination, so could benefit from a more regular and more thorough cleaning. Though it obviously won’t be necessary to scrub your cooker every day because the extreme heat should kill the virus, it will be wise to disinfect countertops and the most commonly used areas and equipment (e.g. coffee maker, toaster, microwave, etc., whatever is used most often)

Meals.

If you are infected, do not prepare meals for anyone else as the risk of infection is relatively high from such activity. It is much safer to keep an infected person out of the kitchen as it is very difficult to clean everything that someone touches when preparing meals. That might seem an odd statement, because I’m sure you always wipe the counters, clean any spills off the cooker, and wash the dishes after you’ve eaten. So how dirty can the kitchen be?
How about the cupboard handle when you opened it? Did you remember to wash that?
How about the salt cellar you used for seasoning and then put back in the cupboard? Did you remember to wash that?
How about the knives and forks and spoons you touched with your fingertips when you were taking only the ones you needed, leaving the rest in the drawer? Did you remember to wash those?
Do you see what I mean? It isn’t that the kitchen is filthy, but that it has tiny contaminants spread all over the place through the incidental items that you touched. So unless you want to keep a record of every single thing – literally – that you touch while in the kitchen, it is far better if only healthy people use this room.
Unfortunately, that might not always be possible, so do the best you can.

Preparing Hot Food.

When you’re preparing something, it’s not unusual to have a taste of whatever it. If that involves you dipping in a spoon, if you have the virus, doing that could contaminate whatever it is you are making the next time you dip that spoon in. Extreme heat should kill the virus, so take that into consideration, but do not rely on it because you don’t know how hot that food is and what temperature over what period of time is needed to kill the virus.
Further, if there is someone else in the kitchen with you and you want them to also taste what you are cooking, don’t share spoons.

Preparing Cold Food.

Extreme heat should kill the virus, so most cooked meals, as long as they are handled carefully after preparation, should be safe. Unfortunately, cold foods – sandwiches, salads, cereals, etc. – are susceptible to contamination very easily, if the person preparing the dish is infected.
If you are preparing any form of cold food for anyone other than yourself, you must:

  1. wash your hands thoroughly before preparation begins, with ‘preparation’ including touching any utensils or equipment you will be using
  2. wear a face mask to avoid breathing or coughing on the food
  3. take extreme care not to touch your face while you are preparing the food, which may allow you to transfer the virus to the food via your hands.

Use a Glass.

This is a source of a great irritation in many families, but some people just cannot help but drink straight from a bottle/carton in the refrigerator. Like extreme heat, extreme cold should kill the virus, but milk or fruit juices are not kept in extreme cold, but in relatively mild conditions which means a contaminated family member could contaminate others by taking drinks in this manner.

As a safeguard, absolutely insist that this practice stops and that everyone who wants to drink uses glass or cup. Or if possible, simply stop buying such drinks during the outbreak.

Delicious Meals.

If you are eating a meal with your partner and it is particularly nice, it’s great to share the experience by passing a spoonful or a forkful of food to them to try.

Your spoon and your fork have been in your mouth and the virus lives in saliva, so anyone sharing utensils, even for just the briefest of moments, risks infection.

Drinks.

If you buy a drink while out, maybe a can of Coke or a bottle of flavored water, it’s common to offer whoever is with you a drink, if they didn’t buy one at the same time. Many people who do this believe a quick wipe of their hand over the top of the bottle cleans it. It doesn’t. And it certainly won’t where coronavirus is concerned. If one of you is infected, saliva from your mouth will be passed to the other when they take a drink and so they too will become infected.

Living Room.

If you have enough seating in your living room, either sit on separate chairs, or at either end of the sofa so there is space between you. If you are a family that likes to snuggle up together, this is obviously going to test your relationships. The distance between you will help to prevent the virus from spreading from person-to-person, but that same distance that protects you could make you extremely unhappy. Only you can decide how far you want to take the protection of your family at the expense of family well-being through togetherness.

TV, Phone, Remote Control…

If one of your family is in isolation but you have decided they can spend some time with your family in the living room, by staying 6 feet (2 meters) away, be careful what they touch while in that room. When they leave, it would be prudent to disinfect certain things just to be safe, e.g., TV remote control, satellite/cable remote control, TV magazine, newspaper, landline telephone, lamp, light switch, tablet, etc. You live with them, so you should know the kind of things they regularly touch in the living room.

Also, don’t forget that the virus can survive on virtually any surface for a time, which is usually at least a few hours. When the person has left, either place something where they were sitting so that others know not to sit there until, say, the next day, or disinfect it. Obviously, the material from which the seat is made will determine how easy it is to disinfect it, for example, leather is easier to wipe clean than fabric.

Paper Tissues.

When you cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue that you can dispose of. Failing that, do it into your elbow, or turn your head and do it against your upper arm/shoulder. If you choose to use a handkerchief, change it for a fresh one more regularly than usual.

The virus can survive on paper and cloth longer than on metal and plastic*, so be sure to dispose of tissues responsibly, and put soiled handkerchiefs somewhere where others won’t come into contact with them.

*UPDATE: released in late March, another study has contradicted much of what the experts believed to be true. Now, they believe the virus may actually live LONGER on some metals and plastics than on things like paper and cloth. It is possible that the virus can live a full day on cardboard and up to a whopping three days on some metals, e.g. stainless steel, and polypropylene (a type of widely-used plastic). This obviously makes keeping yourself and your home clean all the more important.

Bedroom.

A person in isolation should have their own room. Even if that inconveniences other members of the family by changing the sleeping arrangements, e.g., making siblings who usually have their own room now share one, or moving one person to sleep in the living room, so freeing up their bedroom.

If that isn’t possible, as long as the person who is supposed to be in isolation stays a minimum of 6 feet from other people, it should be relatively safe for them to sleep in the same room as others.

However, it must be stressed that this isn’t ideal, not just because when moving about the room, they could accidentally breathe or cough on someone else, but they will consciously and subconsciously touch things in the room which could become contaminated and lead to other people being infected. It is so hard to keep track of such movements, especially at night when people are sleepy, or in the morning when people are groggy or rushing, so don’t rely on cleaning to make sharing a room a safe option.

Doors.

If a person in isolation is allowed to mingle with the family for part of the day (6 feet apart), it might be wise to leave doors open so they don’t need to touch the handle – it’s one less thing to have to wash. However, while that’s an easy solution, it isn’t the safest.

The best solution is to not just disinfect door handles but disinfect the edge of the door as well because people don’t always use the handle but invariably simply grab the wood to swing the door closed, or push it to swing it open. Obviously, that part of the door can easily become contaminated, so cleaning it as well as the handle is the safest option.