By: Paul Anderson
COVID-19 is scary because we don’t know much about it. We know it is caused by the novel coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. But we don’t know how bad things will get. We don’t know how long this will last.
But thanks to the heroic work being done by our doctors and nurses, we are learning how to protect ourselves and our families from it.
Dr. David Price is a critical care pulmonologist (aka lung doctor) at Weill Cornell Hospital in New York City. NYC is the current epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.
And when COVID-19 patients in NYC need critical care, there’s a good chance Dr. Price is taking care of them.
As a critical-care lung doctor in the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, very few people in the country are as qualified as Dr. Price to discuss COVID-19.
Because of that, Dr. Price hosted a video chat with his family and friends. He told them three important things you can use to take care of yourself and your family:
- How COVID-19 is actually spread
- How you can protect yourself and your family
- What to do if your or a family member contracts COVID-19
Everyone in the world needs to watch the video.
But it’s 60 minutes long and not edited. So if you want the Cliff Notes, here you go.
How COVID-19 is actually spread
This novel coronavirus has been circulating in humans for about 4 months now. As awareness was building in the first 2–3 months, there was a lot of confusion and misinformation circulating.
In the past month, COVID-19 has grown significantly in the U.S. While that’s scary, the good news is that we are learning more about it every day.
Dr. Price told his family three important things to know about how COVID-19 is spread.
COVID-19 is spread through sustained contact with someone who has the disease or is about to get the disease.
According to Dr. Price, the main theme of how COVID-19 is spread is “sustained contact with someone who has the disease (is showing symptoms) or is about to have the disease (about to start showing symptoms).”
Dr. Price said “sustained contact” likely means spending at least 15–30 minutes close to an infected person — touching them, touching the same surfaces, breathing the same air.
COVID-19 is spread almost exclusively by touching your infected hands to your face.
“The vast, vast, vast majority of COVID-19 transmission is droplet-based,” according to Dr. Price. This means touching your face with infected hands that likely picked up the virus on a dirty surface.
Dr. Price emphasized this several times. It is transmitted, “almost-exclusively from hands to your face —[from putting your infected hands] into your eyes, into your nose, or into your mouth.”
Aerosol transmission of COVID-19 (through the air) does happen — but it’s rarer.
Aerosol transmission of COVID-19 (ie. a healthy person just breathing the air near a sick person) does happen.
But Dr. Price said this is where the distinction of “sustained contact” is important. Aerosol transmission likely happens happens by spending extended time in a confined space with someone who is “aerosolizing” the virus (ex. coughing, sneezing, etc.)
[Edit/Author Note: Studies are investigating the degree to which aerosol/airborne spread happens. Many “non-airborne” pathogens can behave like “airborne” pathogens given the right environment].
How to Protect Yourself and Your Family from COVID-19
With the knowledge of how COVID-19 is spread, Dr. Price gave his family 4 instructions for how to protect themselves.
1. “Become a Hand-Nazi”
“We know that if you keep your hands clean, you’re not going to get this,” Dr. Price said.
“Keep your hands clean, and you will not get this disease.”
Dr. Price says to always be aware of your hands and what they’re touching — especially in public.
He carries hand sanitizer with him everywhere.
He said he WILL touch elevator buttons and grocery carts. That’s fine as long as you have hand-sanitizer and clean your hands right away. If you don’t have hand sanitizer, bump the elevator button with your elbow. You don’t need to worry about washing your clothes right away when you get home.
You don’t need to live in a bubble.
But you should obsess about keeping your hands clean all the time.
2. Stop Touching Your Face
You can wear a mask, but not for the reason you think…
According to researchers, all of us unconsciously touch our faces more than 20 times every hour.
According to Dr. Price, the coronavirus takes advantage of this exact behavior.
Become aware of how much you’re touching your face and STOP IT.
Surprisingly, this is the one reason Dr. Price says you can wear a surgical mask. It won’t do much to shield you from the virus directly, but it will train you to stop touching your face.
But Dr. Price is very clear — you only need a general cloth surgical mask…
3. You Have Zero Need for an N95 Mask
“The general community has zero need for N95 masks.”
Again, “The general community has zero need for N95 masks.”
Dr. Price and his team wear no masks when walking around the hospital hallways.
When they’re walking into a room to talk to a patient, they’ll wear a basic cloth surgical mask.
Only when they are going to perform what is known as an Aerosol Generating Procedure — ex. hooking someone up to a ventilator or doing anything where a patient is likely to spit, sneeze, or cough in their faces — will Dr. Price and his team wear N95 masks.
According to Dr. Price, when healthcare providers are following these steps, zero of them are getting sick.
He did acknowledge that some doctors and nurses are getting sick, but only because they were interacting with COVID-19 patients several weeks ago and didn’t realize what they were dealing with and how to protect themselves
Dr. Price reiterated that all over the world, as long as doctors and nurses are keeping their hands clean, not touching their faces, and wearing N95 masks only when up close with patients performing Aerosol Generating Procedures, none of them are getting sick.
That’s a long way of reiterating that there is no need for the general public to wear an N95 mask when walking around.
4. Social Distance
This is nothing that we haven’t been hearing for the last three weeks.
Stay 3–6 feet away from people in general to avoid breathing their air if they cough or sneeze.
Don’t hug or shake hands with someone because you don’t know if they have dirty hands.
Keep your social circle small for now so you know that you’re only interacting with people that are following the same hygienic procedures that you are.
Again, you don’t need to be scared of the outside world.
Just keep your hands clean, avoid close sustained contact with people, and be smart.
What to do if you get COVID-19
When should I go to the hospital?
You should only go to the hospital if you are short of breath.
If you get up to walk to the bathroom and find yourself out of breath — it’s time to go to the hospital.
Don’t go to the hospital if you just have a fever and cough.
Should I get tested for COVID-19?
If tests are readily available in your area, sure.
Otherwise, save them for sick people who really need them until more are available in your area.
If you have any respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, sore throat, fever, etc.), behave as if you have COVID-19.
How should I isolate myself from my family?
If you are living with someone who is older and more at risk (hypertension, diabetes, cancer, etc.), you should try to find somewhere else to stay or find somewhere else for them to stay.
Otherwise, keep in mind the rules discussed above.
Stick to your own bathroom and bedroom if you can to avoid touching surfaces that your family is like to touch.
If you want to come out to eat, that’s fine. Wipe things down afterwards.
Keep the 3–6 feet rule.
Make sure everyone obsesses about keeping their hands and surfaces clean and avoids touching their face.
In Conclusion (or I can go out in public?)
From a legal perspective, follow the rules if your local government has any special orders in place.
But from a medical perspective, yes, it is safe to go out in public — AS LONG AS YOU FOLLOW THE RULES.
- Keep your hands clean
- You can touch things in public as long as you clean them immediately afterwards — Purell is fine.
- Don’t touch your face — wear a basic mask to train yourself if you need to.
- Keep a reasonable distance. There’s never a good reason to get up in a stranger’s face anyways. But as long as you’re a few feet away from people, you’re not going to get COVID-19 from them.
These rules will be our new normal for at least the next few months, if not a year or more.
Learn them now, and feel empowered that you know how to protect yourself from COVID-19.
EDIT: Since I wrote this post, it has been shared a lot. I’m happy about that. Knowledge is empowering.
But I feel compelled to clarify that I am not a doctor and do not pretend to play one on the Internet. I simply summarized my subjective interpretation of what a doctor said.
Talk with your doctor about your health. Pay attention to guidelines provided by your state’s health department and the CDC.