How to beat the odds of getting the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Everybody knows the saying, “there are only two things in life that are guaranteed — death and taxes.” But … protecting your family from the Coronavirus is a lot of like playing online blackjack.  If you don’t understand the rules and you don’t know what you are doing, you can lose and you can lose big time. But if you know the rules … and even “cheat” a bit by counting cards, statistics show, you can “beat the house” (the live versions of blackjack, not online versions).

Understand how the Coronavirus is the same and different than a “normal” cold or flu

First, how long the time between somebody being exposed to a virus before showing signs of infection.  For a regular cold, the time period is one to three days. For the flu, it is one to four days. For the Coronavirus, it is between two and 14 days.  To put it simply, the time between exposure and showing symptoms is a lot longer.

Second, how long does the virus remain contagious on surfaces outside of the body?   For cold and flu fluid droplets, they remain infectious for several hours (6 hours on surfaces, 30 to 45  minutes on clothing, and 20 minutes on the skin). Although the viruses can remain on surfaces for up to 7 days, they cannot cause infections beyond 24 hours.

On the other hand, the Coronavirus can stay on surfaces for 9 days.  But they don’t remain active as long at temperatures higher than 86 degrees F (30 degrees C).

It is the combination of those two facts that even if the Coronavirus is not as deadly as a cold or flu, it can spread very quickly.

Are face masks needed to protect from the Coronavirus?  

The Coronavirus, as with most viruses, travels through respiratory droplets.  A facemask can help with protecting droplets from getting in through your nose and mouth through regular breathing when you’re close to somebody who may be infected.

What about gloves?

Take a look at the pictures of people coming out of China.  Everybody is wearing face masks, but nobody is wearing gloves.  The virus can stay alive for up to 7 days. That includes the metal pole on the public bus, the turnstile to get into the subway, the button on the elevator, the handrail on the stairs, the candy vending machine … you get the idea.

It is best to assume all of those surfaces are contaminated.  So put on a pair of disposable gloves before you leave your house, and when you get to your destination, throw them away.

What about the fecal matter?

Yes, it is a disgusting topic to talk about, but it needs to be mentioned.  The Coronavirus has been found in fecal matter. Does fecal matter end up in the air?  Common sense tells us that there is less with solid poop and more with diarrhea poop.

But how much fecal matter is really in the air?  Episode 12 of the TV Series MythBusters tested if fecal coliform bacteria grow in toothbrushes.  Fecal coliform was found on all toothbrushes, including the control ones.

Some of the first signs of the Coronavirus are vomiting and diarrhea.  So if somebody in your family starts getting sick with these symptoms, throw out everybody’s toothbrush, and buy brand new ones.  On top of that, keep these new toothbrushes out of the bathroom — store them in the bedrooms. Maybe even have people brush their teeth in the kitchen sink instead of in the bathroom.

Open package foods and open package markets

Skip open-package food that cannot be easily washed or peeled.  Cooking foods will kill germs.

Is everybody using tongs and not touching the food?  In the open markets I have seen, it is the employees who are doing the most touching of the food without wearing gloves.  So do you think those workers, if they see a customer touching food without wearing gloves are going to say something? I wouldn’t risk my or my family’s health on that assumption.

Social etiquette (manners)

Watch MythBusters Episode 147: Flu Fiction.

“Nasal secretions from a person with a cold can spread so far and so quickly that anyone in the vicinity can become contaminated.”

I am just going to quote from the MythBuster’s website:

“Adam and Jamie consulted with an otolaryngologist and learned that a person with a cold may secrete up to 60 milliliters of mucus per hour. Jamie built a rig from a syringe and tubing to match that drip rate with a fluorescent dye, and Adam wore it by his nose as he did model-building work. After one hour, he and everything he had touched was stained with the dye.

“They then set up a party for Adam to host, with three “germaphobe” guests (Kari, Grant, and Tory, who were briefed to try to avoid contact with Adam) and three unsuspecting ones. Thirty minutes later, Adam, the whole table, and every guest except Kari – who admitted that she actually was a germaphobe – were heavily contaminated. In a second experiment in which Adam consciously did his best to avoid physical contact, all six guests came up clean.

“Adam and Jamie declared the myth confirmed at this point, commenting that a healthy person would find it very difficult to avoid being contaminated by a sick one who did not attempt to keep from spreading his/her germs.”

After seeing the image of the amount of fluorescent dye on the TV screen … it is not an image you will easily forget.  I don’t remember all of the details of what Adam consciously did to avoid physical contact and spread the germs, but I will always remember that image.  On the other hand, I remember it enough that I could easily rewatch that specific episode to refresh my memory.

Keep a container of Clorox wipes on you

In your home, once a day, wipe down door handles, light switches, etc.  And don’t forget about telephones, computer keyboards, computer mice, and TV remotes.  Even people who are “good” at keeping their house clean forget those items.

When shopping, wipe down shopping cart handles.

When at work, especially if you share a work area with others, wipe down your work area before the start of your shift.  Don’t trust that the cleaning person did that. Cleaning people empty trash cans, vacuum, etc. But they usually don’t wipe down desks, phones, computer keyboards, computer mice, etc.

Don’t forget the kitchen sponge

MythBusters Episode 135: Hidden Nasties

“Many objects that people touch every day are dirtier than a toilet seat.”

Count according to the number of microorganisms:

  1. Kitchen sponge (the worst, most colonies)
  2. Money
  3. Light switch
  4. Computer keyboard
  5. Hotel remote
  6. Shopping cart
  7. Cell phone
  8. toilet seat (fewest colonies)

Order according to the harmfulness of the microorganisms:

  1. Kitchen sponge (most nasty)
  2. Money
  3. Light switch
  4. Computer keyboard
  5. Toilet seat
  6. Cell phone
  7. Shopping cart
  8. Hotel remote (least nasty)

Random real-life testing from the homes of biology students at the University of Berkeley:

  1. Kitchen sponge (most dirty)
  2. Money
  3. Computer keyboard
  4. Toilet seat
  5. Light switch (least dirty)


There are no guarantees about anything, but even with “just the cold and flu”, being aware of your surroundings, plain old common sense, and taking responsibility for things that you can take responsibility for, you can go a long way in “beating the house” in protecting yourself and your family from the Coronavirus and even a regular common cold or flu.

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