Advice from Sunnybrook: How to protect yourself against COVID-19

You may be wondering how best to protect yourself from COVID-19 as you go about your daily life.

Here are some tips to help minimize your risk of catching COVID-19 and other viruses too.

Hint: it’s a great time to be a good community citizen, and think about not only about protecting ourselves but also protecting each other.

Stay at home if you are sick and stay away from others who are ill

This can be a difficult one. We have to work. Your child has a karate tournament. You promised Grandma that you’d visit.

But staying at home when you feel unwell is a very important way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses.

If you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms, please make arrangements to stay home.

“Think about the potential effects of passing something along to others, whether it’s COVID-19 virus or another one,” said Dr. Samira Mubareka, Sunnybrook infectious disease doctor and microbiologist. “It’s not worth the risk.”

So, send your regrets, defer your visit, or speak with your employer.

“This virus and other respiratory viruses are spread by contact and droplets,” Dr. Mubareka said. “Minimizing our contact with others who are unwell can help reduce our chance of catching it.

“And keeping to ourselves when we are sick helps minimize what’s going around in the community.”

Clean your hands

We’ve heard this reminder a lot lately, and for good reason.

Our hands are most viruses’ mode of transportation — the trucks on the highway, so to speak.

“The door for a virus is your eyes, nose and mouth,” said Dr. Mubareka. “And the virus gets a ride to those doors on our hands.”

Inside our nose, mouth and eyes are receptor cells. The virus latches on to these cells and starts replicating — dividing and multiplying and finding its way into your respiratory tract.

Washing our hands works in two ways: by physically washing way the virus that might be on our hands and also, if using soap, by altering the virus’s membrane so it can’t latch on to the waiting receptor cells.

“I like to imagine I’ve just been painting. Think of how hard it is to get all that paint off your hands,” Dr. Mubareka said. “That’s how we should be washing our hands each time.”

If you do not have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and get into all your hands’ nooks and under the fingernails.

And if you can’t wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, see the next point.

Keep your hands away from your face

Boy, this is hard. I’ve been trying this the past few weeks and it’s an uphill battle. (I’m getting a wee bit better. Nail biting has mostly ceased.)

As mentioned above, the virus needs help getting to your receptor cells. Cutting off that highway can help.

“We touch our faces multiple times an hour,” Dr. Mubareka said. “If your hands are contaminated, it’s important to keep them away from your face to stop that entry. Try your best to stop.”

Use a tissue if you have to touch your face (then put that tissue in the garbage). Do the sleeve sneeze if you have to sneeze. And keep eye drops nearby to moisten your eyes if you are an eye rubber.

(You could also try what we are trying in my household: shouting a loud “FACE!” when we see someone touching their face. Results TBD)

Get your flu shot

This is not because the flu shot protects against COVID-19.

“Getting the flu shot – and it’s not too late – helps reduce the burden and spread of other respiratory illnesses in the community,” Dr. Mubareka said. “Again, think of your neighbours, friends and family — how can we all work to reduce the spread of illness?”

Talk about this

Have a clear and honest conversation with your family and friends about all of the above. While it can be tough to get kids to wash their hands and keep their hands away from their face, try to model good behaviour.

“Talk about how we can all work together to minimize the spread of illness,” Dr. Mubareka said. “Tell your friends it’s OK to cancel plans if they feel unwell. Remind each other about hand-washing. Speak up for flu vaccination.”


Updated advice added March 16:

Practice social distancing

The federal government has asked Canadians to practice “social distancing.”  Social distancing can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

This means avoiding crowds and big gatherings, reducing your number of close contacts, and keeping a physical distance of two metres from others when possible.

Here are links to more information from Sunnybrook and Canada’s public health services on these matters.