August 3, 2020
Just a few months ago, the thought of wearing a mask to run in to pick up a gallon of milk at the grocery store may have seemed completely foreign. Now, for many, it's become second nature. In fact, nowadays you likely carry your mask around with you wherever you go – just like your wallet or driver's license.
And there's good reason for that. Recent studies have shown that the use of face masks in combination with physical distancing practices can effectively manage the spread of COVID-19 from person to person.1 That means that just this one, small lifestyle change can make a really big impact on the health and safety of the rest of the world.
If you're feeling helpless or even a little bit lost these days, we understand. But we have really good news. There are ways you (yes, you!) can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses by simply adopting a few small healthy habits – just like wearing a mask – and we're here to share them with you.
1. Think about the Things You Touch
Just think about it for a second – from the moment you wake up to the time you lay your head on the pillow at night, you spend your days touching, well…everything. The coffee pot, the faucet, your car keys, door handles – and that's all before you even leave the house! And we bet you're not washing your hands every time you touch something new (because that would be a lot of handwashing).
The good news is that you don't have to wash your hands 9,553 times a day to keep germs at bay (though you should wash them frequently). Instead, it's just important to be mindful of the things you touch throughout the day, like the key pad at the grocery store or the nozzle at the gas pump, and take necessary precautions, like using hand sanitizer (more on that below), to avoid spreading germs further.
Now, there is one thing we can almost always avoid touching, but many of us don't. Can you guess what it is? If you guessed "your face," you're exactly right. It's incredibly important to always avoid touching your face – but especially after touching germ "hot spots" like the cart at the grocery store or the pen at the bank. Don't get us wrong. We know it's hard. Heck, sometimes our eyes itch or we get dog fur in our mouths, but practice really does make perfect. And if you absolutely need to touch your face, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer before doing so.
2. Carry (and Use!) Hand Sanitizer
Let's be honest. We all have that bottle of travel-size hand sanitizer that's been rolling around in our backpacks since that trip to Europe last year. Well, guess what. We're here to tell you that there's no better time to actually use it than right now.
While handwashing with soap and water almost always trumps the use of hand sanitizer, there are situations where hand sanitizer reigns supreme. When you're in a pinch, though, hand sanitizer is great to have on hand; just pull that small, but mighty bottle out of your purse or pocket after your friend walks away and you're good to go until you can find a sink and some soap.
It's important to remember, though, that not all hand sanitizers are created equal. Look for hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol. Anything less than that and you may not be effectively killing all of the germs – just reducing them. Also, keep an eye out for sanitizers that contain benzalkonium chloride, which is not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Instead, always opt for alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
3. Wash Your Mask
Masks: your favorite new fashion accessory. We joke, but it's a little bit true! Cloth masks, which are recommended by the CDC to be worn in public settings where other social distancing measures might not be possible, now come in all shapes, sizes and colors to fit your style. 2 You can get them almost anywhere, and you can even make your own.
If you've already got the whole wearing your mask thing down, give yourself a pat on the back. But don't get too excited, because you may be missing a really important step to safe masking: washing it.
The good news is that washing your mask is really, really easy. We mean it. First of all, you can throw your cloth mask in with the rest of your regular laundry. Simple, right? And you don't have to use any special soap – just your favorite laundry detergent and warm or hot water depending on your type of face covering. If you're feeling extra fancy, go ahead and wash your mask by hand with a bleach solution (click here for specific measurements) and soak for at least five minutes. Then, rinse. And drying is just as easy. If you're air drying, just lay it flat. If you can, throw it in your dryer on the highest heat setting.
How often you wash your face mask really depends on how many times you wear it, but to play it safe, we recommend washing your mask after each day you wear it.
4. Wipe Down High-Touch Surfaces
Okay, so we've talked about taking hand sanitizer with you and using it frequently – and now it's time to add one more thing to your "things-to-grab-before-you-leave-the-house" list. We recommend getting into the habit of leaving a container of antibacterial wipes in your car for those "oh, crap" moments, like when you come face-to-face with a dirty gas station pump.
Wiping down those high-touch surfaces, like the gas station pump, the pen at the bank (or better yet, carry around a pen of your own!), door handles, television remotes, and more can be a great way to stop germs in their tracks. Not only can it help you avoid picking up unwanted germs, it can also help the next person avoid taking germs with them, too.
5. Embrace the No-Contact Greeting
While handshakes are probably not completely a thing of the past just yet, it's a good idea to avoid them for now. It might feel strange at first, but next time you go in for a polite greeting, try an elbow bump or wave instead. Better yet, take a page from Kate Middleton's book and curtsy next time you're around friends and family. While it sounds a little goofy, it's a safe greeting, and it's a sure-fire way to make people smile.
For many, healthy habits like handwashing have always been part of our daily routines. But by incorporating these small steps into your lifestyle, you can help take your healthy habits from good to great in no time.
1 Royal Society of Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences: A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Accessed July 28, 2020.
2 CDC: Considerations for Wearing Cloth Face Coverings. Accessed July 28, 2020.