worldwide Article Originally Printed in Coastal Breeze Online; Thursday, April 4, 2020
I received an email from a friend yesterday that was so disturbing it made me stop what I was doing and think about how I could help her, and others like her, who are mesmerized by this epidemic.
My friend is afraid to leave her house, afraid that her husband who is working will bring the virus home on his clothes, and afraid to play a game of pickleball, something she loves to do, because she worries that another player might infect her.
As you might know, I am a stress management expert and I teach folks how to relax their bodies and slow down their runaway minds.
What you might not know is that I worked for the NJ State Department of Health in their Communicable Disease Control Division for 12 years and taught Epidemiology for the Department of Public Health at William Paterson University for over 20 years.
I know a little bit about infectious diseases and how to control them.
Let me give you a few facts about COVID19 and some tips about how to use this information to reduce your fears, worries, and anxiety and get back to being yourself again.
Fact # 1: COVID19 Can Live Outside of the Human Body
Although a virus like COVID19 can live outside of the human body on inanimate objects for varying lengths of time, transmitting the virus from these objects isn’t very efficient (a term used by epidemiologists when describing how easy it is to transmit germs).
The most efficient way for a person to spread COVID19 to you is for them to have active symptoms and cough directly into your face from less than 6 feet away.
The reason this is the most efficient way to spread the disease is because it exposes you to direct contact of the most virulent viral particles.
The virulence (severity or harmfulness) of a virus changes over the course of a person’s infection.
A person could spread COVID19 to you at the very beginning of their infection (just prior to noticing symptoms) and at the very end (when their symptoms start to disappear and they are feeling better) but transmission at these times is much less efficient.
Fact # 2: COVID19 is Not Motile
The COVID19 virus is not motile. It does not move, swim or jump through the air.
Once a person who is infected deposits viral particles on an inanimate object (a table, a chair, eating utensils, a shopping cart handle etc.), they stay there. They cannot move elsewhere on their own.
The only way they get from the initial place they were deposited to a new location is if someone gets some of the viral particles on their hands or clothing and then transfers them to a new person or inanimate object.
When this happens, only a portion of the live viral particles get picked up and transferred.
Each time this happens, the number of live viral particles that get transferred diminishes. The longer the viral particles are exposed to air, the greater the likelihood is that they will die, making transfer to another person less efficient
Fact # 3: Transmission and Infection are Not Automatic
Just because you are exposed to a disease does not mean that you will become infected. The virulence of the germs, your body’s immune system, and your overall level of health all play a part in whether or not you become infected if you are exposed. We talked about virulence in previous emails.
One way to understand the effectiveness of your own immune system is to look at how often you are sick. Do you suffer from colds often? Did you get the flu last year? Are your chronic diseases like Asthma, Genital Herpes, etc. under control or do you suffer from recurrent symptoms?
Another way is to look at medications you are on and the treatments that you recently completed. Has your doctor explained to you how these might affect your immune system?
The answers to these questions will give you some insight into your overall health and the strength of your immune system and its ability to fight off COVID19 should you become exposed.
Fact # 4: COVID19 Likes Crowded, Confined Spaces
Like all viruses, COVID19 spreads most efficiently in crowded, closed spaces that are not ventilated well. These conditions allow the viral particles to disperse and reach as many people as possible before falling onto the ground and other inanimate objects.
For example, a person with an active infection who is coughing and sneezing in a crowded room would be an efficient transmitter. This person could cough or sneeze in 3 different directions and easily infect several people in such a crowded space.
COVID19 would spread much less efficiently if that same person was walking on the beach coughing and sneezing.
Unless the person got within close proximity of others and coughed or sneezed directly at them, the likelihood of his germs ever reaching them would be small. The germs would fall to the sand or in the salt water where they would dissipate and die.
Fact # 5: You are Much More Likely To Die or be Injured by Driving Your Car than by COVID19
The simple fact is that 1,250,000 people die in car accidents worldwide every year.
Despite these staggering numbers you continue to drive your car. You do what you can do to reduce your risks of getting into an accident and you get on with your life.
If you’ve been following the statistics you will see that the morbidity and mortality from COVID19 isn’t anywhere near the numbers associated with automobile accidents and deaths.
If you listen to the news every day it seems just the opposite. The 24/7 non-stop news coverage from around the world throws numbers and red dots out at you all day scaring the heck out of you and blowing the risk out of proportion.
How to Use This Information
The following tips will follow the order of my facts:
Keep reminding yourself that even though the COVID19 virus can live outside the body it does not do well out there.
Tell yourself: “Lots of germs can survive outside of the body. There is a big difference from this germ living outside the body and me catching it from inanimate objects. I can accept and coexist with the anxiety I feel about this.
The first thing you should do is AVOID PEOPLE who are coughing. Keep your “social distance” (at least 6 feet) from them.
Better yet, avoid them completely. Leave the room, cross the street, turn away from folks who are coughing and you GREATLY REDUCE the likelihood that their germs will reach your body.
Stop touching your face, especially your mouth, eyes, and nose.
Tell yourself: “These germs can’ jump through the air, swim in water, or crawl on my skin. The only way I am going to get infected is if someone coughs on me or if I put the germs in my body by touching myself after getting them on my hands. I can accept and coexist with the anxiety I feel about this.”
Tell yourself: “I can train myself to stop touching my face, especially if I am not in my own home. I can accept and coexist with the discomfort I feel about having to train myself to do this.”
Wash your hands and sanitize often.
Carry sanitizer and sanitizing wipes with you. Don’t leave home without them.
Sanitize your car door handles and steering wheel when entering and leaving your car.
Sanitize your home’s door knobs and handles upon returning home.
Avoid crowded places and practice social distancing.
Tell yourself: “I can still go outside and walk, bike, canoe, kayak, or do other things to get exercise and keep from going stir crazy. I can accept and coexist with the anxiety I feel about having to do this.”
Tell yourself: “Although it is not the same as in-person contact, being “social” online and on the phone will keep me connected to the others I care about. I can accept the difference and coexist with the discomfort I feel about having to socialize this way.”
Remember that you currently do things that put you at greater risk for morbidity (illness) and mortality (death) that COVID19.
Tell yourself; “Every day I do things like driving that are risky and pose threats to my wellbeing that I cannot control. I can accept and coexist with the discomfort I feel about this.”
I hope these simple facts and tips for managing them brings you some relief from the stress that COVID19 is creating in your life. We will get through COVID19 like we did Hurricane Irma and a hundred other personal and societal crises.
Stress Less and Live More,