Cleaning during the Pandemic

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Cases of COVID-19 are surging in Texas where I live, and in many other parts of the United States. Governors want to avoid lock-down orders and are depending on us to wear masks and practice social distancing. This is because the coronavirus spreads mainly through person-to-person contact and wearing masks has been shown to slow the spread of the virus. It is also possible to touch a contaminated surface and then touch our eyes, nose or mouth and pick up the virus that way. So many of us are trying to keep our homes clean and disinfected. Consumer Reports on Health has a helpful article on “The Best Steps for Cleaning and Disinfecting” in their July 2020 issue.

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Cleaning means removing dirt and germs by scrubbing with a cleaner or soap. Disinfecting means applying chemicals that will kill or deactivate germs directly. It’s important to clean surfaces first because that can physically remove many germs and because disinfectants work best on surfaces that aren’t visibly dirty. Places to clean and disinfect daily include anything that is touched frequently, such as tables, chairs, counter tops, light switches, water faucets, flush handles, refrigerator handles, drawer pulls, door knobs, cellphones, tablet screens, keyboards, your computer mouse, remote controls, steering wheels, gear shifts, car door handles, seat adjusters, and any high touch buttons or touch screens in your car. See more about disinfecting your electronics and car below. Disinfect everything else with an antibacterial wipe or spray. If you can’t find wipes, you can mix 4 teaspoons of bleach in a quart of purified water and soak some paper towels in the solution. Wring the paper towels out with clean hands, or wearing gloves, and store them in a sealed plastic bag. Don’t use “color safe” bleach as it is not suitable for disinfecting purposes. If you can’t find disinfectant spray, you can use 70% alcohol in a spray bottle. An article on the mdanderson.org website, says not to use an alcohol concentration higher than 70% because studies have shown that these products just freeze the outside of the virus instead of killing it. In any case, allow the disinfectant to remain on the surface for at least one minute. Do not combine different disinfectants because the chemical reaction can be dangerous.

Do not use bleach on your electronics. Instead wipe your cellphones, tablet screens, keyboards, your computer mouse and remote controls with an alcohol wipe. Alcohol wipes can be found in first aid kits or with the diabetes supplies in a drugstore. You can also wet a cotton ball or square, squeeze out any excess alcohol, and wipe with that. Remove the batteries before cleaning your remote control. Use alcohol on your car steering wheel, gear shift, door handles, seat adjusters, and any high touch buttons or touch screens as well. Bleach or hydrogen peroxide can damage your car’s upholstery. After disinfecting, use a leather conditioner on any leather surfaces to keep them in good shape.

There is no evidence that fruits and vegetables from the grocery store can transmit COVID-19. Still, it’s a good idea to thoroughly rinse produce before you eat it to help remove pesticides and dirt. You can even scrub hard-skinned items like apples with a soft-bristle produce brush. But don’t wash produce with bleach or another disinfectant because that could make you sick.

It is impossible to completely sanitize all surfaces. That’s why hand-washing is so critical. Scrub for at least 20 seconds, completely washing all parts of your hands. The second picture above shows areas that are sometimes missed in the palm and the back of the hand in purple. The areas in green are more frequently missed. Wash your hands after you’ve been out in public, after you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose; before preparing food and before eating food; and after using the bathroom.

This seems like a lot to keep up with, but during this pandemic it is important to stay safe!

Chris Alexander

COVID-19 and Swimming Pools

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Many states have loosened social distancing restrictions in order to get the economy going again. Now, however, we are seeing a rise in Corona virus cases. We would all like to know what to expect with this pandemic, but there is no way to know for sure how it will play out. My doctor’s practice, USMD Health System, has suggested three possible scenarios:

Scenario One — Begins with an initial wave in Spring 2020 followed by a series of smaller waves of infection that last up to two years.
Scenario Two — Begins in Spring 2020 and is followed by a second, larger wave this fall or winter and a smaller one in 2021. If this happens, communities will likely return to quarantines.
Scenario Three — Begins in Spring 2020 and is followed by what the Center for Infectious Disease Research And Policy (CIDRAP) describes as a “slow burn.” That means there’s no clear pattern. This scenario would likely not cause communities to return to quarantines, but infections and deaths would continue.

No matter the scenario, CIDRAP says we should prepare for another 18-24 months of COVID-19. That means we should continue to practice social distancing, wear face masks in public, and wash our hands often.

Our swimming pools have reopened. Lap swimming, swim lessons and water fitness classes are resuming. What should we know about the safety of returning to the pool and what kind of cautious response should we make? Sara Kooperman (the owner of SCW Mania Fitness conventions) and John Spannuth (the president of the US Water Fitness Association) have both asserted that chlorine used to disinfect pool water kills COVID-19. Craig Lord, the Swimming World Editor-in-Chief, agrees that disinfectants, including chlorine, act on viruses and it is reasonable to expect that would include COVID-19. He adds that pool operators also need to observe strict hygiene protocols, including correct maintenance of pool water and air in the facility, as well as heightened levels of cleaning of adjacent surfaces and environments, since the fundamental mode of transmission of COVID-19 is air and not water.

It is likely that if your favorite pool is reopening, the pool operator is aware of the necessary protocols and has trained the staff properly. Those of us who will be using the pool to teach or participate in a water fitness class also need to do our part. Yes Fitness Music has made the following suggestions:

  1. Outdoor pools are safer because air circulation outdoors is better than indoor air circulation.
  2. Our Texas sun and heat often makes an indoor pool preferable. Ask about the air ventilation. Fresh air is better. If the air is recycled, it should go through a filtration system.
  3. Wear a mask.
  4. Maintain social distancing, 6 feet away from the other swimmers or class participants.
  5. Wash your clothing, towels and masks directly after class.

We can all do our part to protect ourselves and those around us. Enjoy the pool safely!

Chris Alexander

Safe at Home

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The governor of Texas, where I live, has relaxed some stay-at-home and social distancing restrictions in order to get the economy going again. Other states are also loosening restrictions. Nevertheless, the risk and danger of getting COVID-19 still remains and it makes sense to continue to stay at home as much as possible, especially if you have a chronic condition or are age 60 or older. We have been doing this for more than 2 months now, so we probably feel like old hands at it. We may also be getting tired of it and are perhaps less diligent than we were at the beginning. So here are some reminders.

Hand washing is still the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves from the Coronavirus. Wash your hands for 20 seconds, or about as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. Click on this link to see a video of the WHO technique for washing hands. Wash your hands before you start to cook. Wash your hands again if you touch raw meat or eggs while preparing your meal and if you get raw batter on your hands. If you forget to wash your hands and open the refrigerator or oven, the bacteria transfers to the refrigerator or oven handle. Wash your hands after you finish cooking and before you eat.

Sponges

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Sponges can harbor bacteria. Microwaving, boiling and putting the sponges in the dishwasher does not kill the bacteria. Plan to use a new sponge every week. I prefer to use a dish rag that I toss into the hamper at the end of the day, and get a fresh one out in the morning. Cutting boards and the sink both harbor bacteria and should be scrubbed with a cleaning product containing bleach. You can make your own by mixing a tablespoon of bleach in a gallon of water. Wipe down your countertops and the faucet handles with the same solution at least once a day. If you use a spray cleaner, spray thoroughly and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping. Don’t add bleach to a store-bought cleaning product; mixing bleach with a citrus product can be harmful to you and your pets. Disinfectant wipes are another option, but Chlorox or Lysol wipes have not been available for months. To make your own wipes, cut a roll of good quality paper towels in half crosswise with an electric knife. Put the half roll in a round container with a lid. Mix 1 cup of boiling water and 3 tablespoons of bleach. Pour over the towels. Cover and let stand 20 minutes. Remove the cardboard from the center. The wipes can be used to sanitize not only your counters, but light switches, door knobs, faucet handles, toilet handles, stove knobs, washing machine and dryer knobs, and any other high touch surface. Do not use it on touch screens or cellphones though. The alcohol wipes used to clean glasses are safer for these items.

Other times to wash your hands are after bringing groceries into the house, after bringing the newspaper or mail into the house, after handling pets, after feeding the birds, and of course after coughing or sneezing. My favorite soft soap has disappeared from the shelves, including the online shelves. Hopefully I can find a substitute but I may have to use bar soap instead. After all that hand washing, your hands are sure to become dry and irritated, so don’t forget to use hand cream.

I recently learned that when you flush the toilet with the lid up, bacteria sprays 6 feet out. It can land on your toothbrush and towels. Yeah, that’s gross! So always flush the toilet with the lid closed! Even if you protect your towels from toilet spray, damp towels can harbor bacteria, so change the towels every three or four days. Be sure to wash them in hot water and make sure they get thoroughly dry in the dryer.

As long as we’re talking safety, check your home to make sure there are no tripping hazards that might cause a fall that sends you to the emergency room. Sheltering in place provides spare time to declutter your house. Make sure you have plenty of space to walk around. Wear good supportive shoes at home; slippers and flip flops may increase your risk for falls. Rugs should have anti-slipping pads. Electric cords should not lay across any walkways. Check to make sure the cords are not frayed, which is a fire hazard. Use handrails for all staircases. Put items that you use frequently in the kitchen within easy reach, not on a high shelf. Turn on a light if you have to get up during the night so you can see where you are going. Have your air conditioner serviced; seniors are at higher risk of adverse effects due to high temperatures.

We’ve heard it many times before: We are all in this together. So take precautions to safely make it through this pandemic.

Chris Alexander