COVID-19 Basics + Health Tips

Sahra Pak March 27, 2020
Sahra Pak
As a registered dietitian, Sahra brings her extensive experience in health care and public health to Lighter to improve the health of the population through effective communication, sustainable behavior modification approaches and upstream intervention strategies. Through her work with Los Angeles and Solano County Departments of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente, and partnering with health advocacy organizations such as CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), Sahra has helped create sustainable food systems, adapted public policy, implemented environmental change, and health education programs.

Life as we know it has changed in an incredibly short period of time. COVID-19 has touched every person and every area of our lives. There are those of us who are now working from home and there are those of us who are homeschooling our children while juggling a tremendous amount of responsibilities. There are also many that are working on the front lines supporting patients in our healthcare systems or working overtime at the grocery stores. If this is you or your loved ones - we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

For some, you may be feeling alone and confined at home, struggling to find a way to find stability and security amidst the life altering changes that have occurred virtually overnight. We want you to know, we are thinking of you - and we are all in this together.    

For the next few months, we will be sharing helpful facts and tips to shop and eat safely in the current circumstances. Many are wondering, “Is my food safe?” “How do I best protect my family from the food purchased at the store?” Although there are many things that we still do not know about this ‘novel’ coronavirus, there are basic steps we can take to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission as we continue to shop, cook, and order food from our local businesses and vendors.

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COVID-19 basics 

The key information for your patients to know is that COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, which is spread through the respiratory system and as far as we know, it is not transmitted through our digestive system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infection occurs when the aerosolized saliva or mucus carrying a viral load from others with the virus enters our respiratory system (through inhalation, or droplets landing in the mouth or nose). Although it may be possible for someone to get COVID-19 by touching an object or a surface that has the virus on it and then touch their mouth, nose or possibly their eyes, this is not the main pathway for the virus to spread. 

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Reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission 

So far, hand washing with soap and water is considered to be most effective at reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Many feel the need to use antibacterial soap, wipes, and hand sanitizers but regular soap is just fine and best. Soap dissolves lipids - and viruses are protected by a protein and lipid membrane so antibacterial soap isn’t effective against viruses. If using hand sanitizers, the CDC recommends that it contain at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. Although most brands may fall within this range, hand washing with regular soap and water is most effective. If you’re outside and don’t have access to water and soap, then hand sanitizer may be useful when touching door handles, basket handles, etc. 

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How long does coronavirus stay on surfaces and packages? 

A recent study found that COVID-19 can be detected on cardboard for up to 24 hours, on copper for up to four hours, and on stainless steel or plastic for up to three days. Technically, this means that packages that were handled by someone with the virus, depending on the materials used, may remain contaminated for up to a few days. However, the viral load on any surface decreases with time (logarithmically - hence decreases rapidly at the start then approaches zero over time) and currently, there is no consensus on the minimum viral load needed for infection. 

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What can I do to reduce the risk of infection from food packages and grocery items? 

There are a couple of effective ways to reduce the risk of infection. According to an infectious disease specialist, transferring purchased (or home delivered) items to clean containers, then washing your hands after swapping the containers, may help. Second, wash your hands thoroughly after shopping, putting items away, checking the mail, and anytime when you return from being outside of your home. 

Transmission risk from COVID-19 is greatest from those that are infected - therefore, social (physical) distancing and washing our hands, especially after handling packages at the store or unpacking groceries is effective and necessary.  The great news about this virus (if there is any) is that it’s fragile and easily destroyed by hand soap, cleaning sprays, and disinfectant wipes. However, bleach has not been found to be effective at killing viruses. No hand sanitizers or wipes at the store? Don’t be afraid - hand washing is highly effective in reducing the risk of infection from the virus and COVID-19 cannot be absorbed through the skin. 

(Data and information on COVID-19 is changing frequently. For the most up-to-date information visit the WHO and CDC websites, and check with your local health organization.)

With all that is happening in the world and in our lives, you may be worried about how best to protect your family, friends, and patients. However, with proper hygiene, social (physical) distancing, avoiding touching our faces when we are out and about, and by maintaining adequate self-care to protect your immunity, mental health, and physical health, we can get through this - one day at a time.

Stay well, stay safe and...let’s wash our hands!