The coronavirus is now spreading through multiple communities, and while there isn't yet evidence of it in Boston I expect there will be soon. Because of the long incubation period and large testing delays it may already be here. Here are things I've started doing differently:

  • Washing hands a lot. I'm now washing my hands before eating, after riding public transit, after touching shared surfaces at work, and on getting home.

  • Not shaking hands. At work I've been saying a lot of "I'm not shaking hands right now, sorry!" with a smile and a wave.

  • Avoiding touching shared surfaces with hands. Pushing elevator buttons with my elbow, using door-opening buttons when present or awkwardly trying to use my sleeved arm, using napkins on the tongs in the cafeteria at work.

  • Bicycling to work instead of taking the subway. I live close enough to work that biking would make a lot of sense, and it's something I've been meaning to do for exercise. I had stopped biking several years ago because I was hurting my knees, but I think if I take it easy they'll be ok. Today I biked there and back for the first time, and it was pretty nice!

  • Requiring guests to clean hands on arrival. We're keeping hand sanitizer by the front door, and asking everyone to either use it or wash their hands when they get here.

  • Not putting candles on cakes. Blowing out candles on birthday cakes isn't all that sanitary at the best of times. At Anna's birthday yesterday I made a pretend cake by mixing flour, water, and red food coloring:

    This lets us still have candles, and Anna can still blow them out, but without blowing all over food everyone is about to eat.

  • Putting copper tape on shared surfaces. Copper kills viruses, and Julia has put copper tape on doorknobs and other shared surfaces around the house:

On the other hand, there are major things I/we aren't doing, at least not yet.

  • Working from home: I can work remotely if I absolutely have to, but I feel isolated and get sad and lonely after a day or so. This is a big constraint for me in general, and I haven't figured out any good solution. At some point with this I may need to work remotely for a while, and I'm really not looking forward to it.

  • Taking the kids out of school: Lily (5y) is in kindergarten, and while it looks like Covid-19 is relatively safe for children they could still spread it. We are lucky to have an au pair, and if we needed to keep Lily home we would still be able to work remotely. Still, she's learning a lot in school, it's good for her socially to have time with other kids, and f we're going to have a long period of school closures I'd rather not start sooner than we need to. Plus I'm not sure what the school's view on preemptive absence is.

  • Cancelling events: I'm still helping organize Beantown Stomp and the regular BIDA dances, and we have an EA dinner scheduled for Sunday. At the most recent contra dance we implemented mandatory hand washing, but the CDC recommends people stay 6ft apart to avoid spread. I think there's a good chance we'll need to cancel some things, but we'll probably have a much clearer picture in a week once the ramped-up testing starts paying off.

There's still a lot of variability here, and it could be both much better or much worse than we're expecting. I'm interested in thoughts from others about places where this is under- or over-cautious, and about other ideas for how to help reduce spread.


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9 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:01 AM

I have a lot of overlap with you—washing hands at the times you mention (my routine), not shaking hands, not touching shared surfaces in public. I also finally quit biting my nails and am doing intense cardio workouts like my life depends on it (interspersed with rest days), and got a UV cellphone sterilization thingie, and am taking Vitamin D, which my physician told me to do a while ago anyway. And I bought some supplies to make it easier to work from home.

I think preventing disease transmission within my family is a lost cause; my 1yo sneezes at my face all the time, my 5yo is unable to stop touching his face and then everything else. (In the other direction, reducing adult-to-kid transmission is lower-priority because COVID-19 appears to be roughly zero risk for kids their ages. Still, I wouldn't cough in their faces!) So within the house, we're just doing little things like changing clothes & hand-towels more frequently, and washing hands before meals. We're not copper-taping doorknobs or bleaching surfaces or anything like that. (NB: I don't have a lot of house guests like you.)

I'm also continuing to go to work and send kids to school. The decision-relevant consideration for me is whether we're within 3 weeks of the local hospitals getting overwhelmed—I figure that's when my personal demographic-adjusted fatality risk shoots up from a reasonable 0.1%ish to a pretty scary 2%ish. I don't know when we're going to cross that threshold, but I don't think we're there yet. (As of this writing, March 5.) (Note that exponential growth means I shouldn't trust my intuitions; I need to think about this more carefully...) For my high-risk-factor family and friends, I've been encouraging them to avoid crowded public places etc. starting now; even with a functioning hospital system, I'm not happy about their risk.

(ETA: First-cut analysis here; I think I'm not going to go too crazy with social distancing at least until there are 100 people in my state being hospitalized for COVID-19 ... by which point the schools may well be closed etc. anyway.)

Is there any minimally-weird, non-awkward way to handle public door handles and buttons? Using your sleeve is terrible, because you don't wash your sleeve several times a day, and the virus can survive until your next clothing wash. Some sort of small but sturdy copper/bronze manipulator that could be put in a copper-lined case in your pocket, maybe?

*Follow-up edit 2y later*: It turned out that surfaces weren't a big infection danger, just like EGI said. I also found a kickstarted L-shaped brass manipulator. I put it on my lanyard for work, and have been using it to push publicly-used buttons and open doors. I haven't gotten covid yet.

I wrapped copper tape around a 15 cm wood stick for this purpose. Gloves are also useful.

You can use a paper towel (in the bathroom) or a tissue if you have a nearby source of them. I think using your sleeve (for door handles) or your knuckle (for buttons) is still better than using your hand, because you are much less likely to use your knuckle/sleeve to later touch your face / keyboard / phone. (However, using your hand seems better than using your sleeve if you are about to wash or sanitize your hands.)

I feel pretty OK pushing buttons with my knuckles.

I considered that, but I touch all kinds of surfaces that are 0-2 degrees separate from my mucous membranes with my knuckles: the insides of my pockets, the palm of my other hand, my chin, etc.

You could just use your hands and wash/desinfect afterwards before touching your face. The virus cannot penetrate your skin and even lacerations are probably safe, since the target cells are in your nose/lungs.

[+][comment deleted]3y 8

Not much to add, just wanted to say thanks for sharing, and I have a lot of overlap with you too (washing hands often, copper on doorknobs/fridge handles/back of phone/other surfaces, not shaking hands in public and more).