Keeping the virus outside – zoning your home

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Keeping the virus outside

Easier said than done. COVID-19 is a pernicious virus that carries through the air and can live on surfaces (including packages) for up to 72 hours. If one or more people in your household continues to work, goes shopping or even takes a stroll – how do you stop the virus entering you home? It’s all about zones and probabilities.

This is a guide for the highly concerned and motivated. Few will want to follow every step, I don’t always myself. I will walk into the bathroom only to realise I am still wearing my shoes, or open a door before washing my hands – argghhh! Before we start, here is the official NHS Guidance on protecting yourself.

It cannot be stressed enough that for most people the virus is no worse than the flu. I have tried to cover everything to be as cautious as possible. Take from it what you want, rather than feel you need to cover every step. Now let’s break it down and provide some suggestions for you and your family to increase the probability of keeping you all virus free.

Medical experts working with infectious agents define zones to protect themselves:

  • Hot (Red) Zone – is out there, outside, it’s unsafe, where you may easily encounter the virus.
  • Warm (Yellow) Zone – a buffer where you rid yourself of any virus and clean anything that might be giving it a free ride.
  • Cool (Green) Zone – is where you can feel safe, away from risk and finally able to scratch your nose without fear.

Life time of virus data is from the New England Journal of Medicine 17th March 2020. If you prefer video, you can see a clear explanation of this research from British nurse, John Campbell on YouTube.

Hot Zone Dangers

Unfortunately the virus is both hardy and pervasive.  SARS-CoV-2 (virus name) survival times are:

  • In the air – up to 3 hours
    • “SARS-CoV-2 remained viable in aerosols throughout the duration of our experiment (3 hours), with a reduction in infectious titer from 103.5 to 102.7 TCID50 per liter of air.” from NeJM
  • On plastic and steel – up to 72 hours
    • “SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces, although the virus titer was greatly reduced.” from NeJM
  • On cardboard – up to 24 hours
    • “On cardboard, no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 24 hours” from NeJM

Most people who get the virus are fine and may not even realise they have it, but some will. The best defence is to be as healthy as you can, try not to drink, get a good nights sleep, eat healthily, wash your hands and take Vitamin D. Below are some thoughts on how to reduce the possibility that you or someone you care for will get infected. They are not rules, but some ideas for you to incorporate into our new “locked-down” lives.

Why enter the Hot Zone?

With severe movement restrictions in place, why might you need to enter the Hot Zone?

  1. To buy essential items such as food or medicine
  2. To go to work if you cannot work from home and your work is essential
  3. To help an aged friend or relative
  4. To walk or exercise alone of with another household member
  5. To briefly collect delivered items such as Amazon or food deliveries

Where might you pick up the virus?

There are several ways you might encounter the virus:

  1. Breathing too close to someone else, whether on a walk, shopping or sitting
    •  Treat all other people as infected,  stay clear. Stay at least 2 metres (6′) apart from other people. Cross the road to the other side, change your direction whilst walking, shop when stores are emptiest. Wear a mask if possible, despite government misdirection any kind of mask will reduce the probability of breathing in virus (particularly droplets), touching your face and potentially breathing it onto others (if you are infected without knowing it). Problem is masks are in short supply at moment but sure to improve, even a bandana will help a little. Just be sure to follow the decontamination in the Warm Zone.
  2. On your shoes from the ground
    • Leave your shoes outside the front door, don’t bring them into the Warm Zone. Kick them off if you can and place in a plastic bag outside.
  3. From your pet on a walk
    •  Treat you dog as if it is infected – very hard I know – but it can easily be a vector. Wear gloves. Sterilise paws before entering warm zone with disinfectant/tissue.
  4. Touching anything from door handle, lift button, waste disposal, entry buzzer, opening gate, petrol pump, cash, credit card machine, touch screen, pen, trolleys to foods in supermarket
    • Simplest option is carry tissues and use one to open doors and press buttons. You can wear gloves and remove as you enter Warm Zone and spray with steriliser, place in heat/sunshine to help decontaminate. Take a disinfectant spray for the trolley!
  5. Using a public toilet as virus is carried in urine and faeces, flushing sends particles into air
    • Make sure to go before you leave home. Avoid using a toilet immediately after anyone else.
  6. From a delivery or package
    • Distressingly the virus survives on cardboard for a day and plastic for up to three days. An asymptomatic (someone who is infected but doesn’t yet know it) packer or delivery driver may have touched the outer parcel or the inner wrapping inside. If you can, have them leave the parcel outside your door and wait at least three hours before collecting it with gloves on. Get rid of outer packaging outside if possible (not practical in a flat like me) and then move into the Warm zone for further decontamination.

Okay so you have been really super careful out in the Hot Zone but who knows? You could have picked up the virus anywhere, so let’s enter the Warm Zone where you can decontaminate yourself before entering the safe Cool Zone!

Warm Zone Setup

The Warm Zone is where you shed your contaminated gear and clear the virus from yourself and anything you intend to bring into the Cool Zone. This is tricky in a house or flat because it’s unlikely you have a seperate space for this. You may be lucky and have a porch or a small entrance lobby but most houses and apartments will have some kind of entrance possibly with a coat rack, radiator, shoe rack etc. Your front door or back door is a clear break between the Hot and Warm Zones but you will have to to find a way to draw a “line” between this small Warm Zone and the rest of your place (the Cool Zone).

  • Find a way to conceptually separate this area from the rest of your apartment/house. You could use a chair, a board or even a plastic sheet taped to the ceiling and wall. You aren’t going to have an airtight seal but then this is about reducing the possibility of accidentally bringing the virus into the Cool Zone not absolutely guaranteeing it.
  • Put an old rug or plastic on the floor so you know to keep yourself in the Warm Zone.
  • Have a disinfectant spray bottle there to spray anything that might be “live” like the soles of your shoes, your gloves and mask
  • You might buy a cheap LCD UVB light (still available from Amazon) to hang in this area to help destroy any stray virus
  • You could also use a human-safe virus killing fan that uses UV or Ozone to kill the virus here
  • A few plastic bags and some tissues will also help

Decontaminating yourself

As you enter your place from the Hot Zone, you need to stand in this Warm Zone area and remove anything that may have come into contact with the virus.

  1. Remove your coat. The virus life is shorter the warmer it is, so hanging your coat/hat by or over a radiator or heat source (as long as this is not going to melt anything!) will help kill the virus more quickly
  2. Remove your shoes (if you haven’t removed them outside already). This is tricky, try to remove each with your other shoe but you will probably have to use your hands! If you have gloves that’s fine, if not take a tissue and use that.
  3. Take your gloves off, trying not to touch them too much in the process, yes I know this is all very tricky!
  4. Walk straight to the nearest tap, open any doors with a tissue. Wash your hands, singing “Happy Virus Free me, Happy Virus Free me, Happy Virus Free Day, Happy Virus Free me” twice (or Happy Birthday if you prefer!) to give you twenty seconds of washing time. If you need a guide checkout this excellent guide to hand washing from Dr John Campbell.
  5. If you have been at work or public transport or just generally feel you are still possibly contaminated, put your clothes into a bin bag and wash them immediately at high heat 60C, and tumble dry to knock the virus dead and have a quick shower with plenty of soap (soap is better than alcohol it rips the virus to bits).

Decontaminating food and packages

Packages are the worst. I’m ADHD so I’m great at creating processes for other people to follow but I hate following them myself. It seems so unreal to be treating the Amazon parcel as if it could kill you, but it might! Not just the cardboard outer box, but the boxes inside the box and the plastic covers inside that are even worse – the virus lives 72 hours on plastic remember. So here is a through approach to decontaminate shopping and deliveries – be warned you may well not want to do this or be able to do this all! Don’t worry, there are no absolutes here, no guarantees of anything. There is no guarantee you won’t have an accident when you drive your car either. All we can do is to reduce the possibility of a crash by not driving tired or drunk. Same goes for decontamination, try your best to reduce the possibility of infection.

  1. Ask delivery person to leave package outside your door – they will probably do this now anyway – don’t collect it yet!
  2. Wait at least three hours if you can, before picking up parcel. Since the virus can linger in the air for up to 3 hours. Wear gloves (or use tissue) and mask and bring into the Warm Zone.
  3. Spray the box with one of the following – do not mix under any circumstance – the US CDC has good disinfectant info here:
    • Spray bottle – if you don’t have a commercial spray then make a spray bottle up from a kitchen cleaner spray bottle – clean thoroughly first
    • Bleach solution – be careful to follow instructions with bleach as strengths vary. According to CDC at 2% concentration use 1 CUP (240ml or 1/4 litre) per 4 litres water, use 1/2 CUP bleach (100ml) per 4 litres water, when bleach is 5%.
    • Isopropyl Alcohol – Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol are effective against coronavirus
    • Hydrogen Peroxide – Use 3% solution, dilute with water down to 3% if stronger solution
    • Disinfectant cloth – wipe with cloth and carefully dispose of cloth afterwards
  4. Wait ten minutes, better yet a day– hydrogen peroxide is slowest to work but the longer you leave it the more effective the sterilising will be. If you can, just leave the package alone unopened for at least 24 hours or longer. Make a label, or place in staging point, to remind you when to process next. Warmth and sunshine will help kill the virus too.
  5. Open the box, spray contents – so you thought it was all over, sadly not! Put on gloves again. Though the virus lives 24 hours on cardboard it can survive up to 3 days on shiny plastic and tape. Open box, place any padding stuff straight into a bin bag, tie bag and dispose of it. Spray contents thoroughly. To be extra sure just leave another 3-7 days if non-perishable or non-urgent contents. Again place in sunshine/warmth.The contents, particularly plastics, may have been touched recently so presume they are a risk for at least 3 days.
  6. Decontaminating food – surely not food too?! Afraid so, those tins may have been handled unknowingly by someone with the virus. Again the simplest approach with long life food is to put it somewhere away from everyone else – in a cupboard or spare room if you have one. Perhaps leave it in the porch or to the side. After three days any virus should be dead and you can then take it safely into your Cool Zone. If you can’t leave it then wipe/spray as normal and leave for at least ten minutes. You could also create a bleach bucket, based on solution above and chuck anything that needs disinfecting into it. It’s perfectly fine to put vegetables or fruit into this solution and leave for 10 mins of so, then bring into Cool Zone and rinse. Here’s a great YouTube video from US Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen MD showing recommended guidance on how to handle your food shopping. PS he warns that frozen food can harbour virus for 2 years!
  7. Unwrap box contents – if you have left contents for 3 days then you can finally move into Cool Zone (perhaps with a final spray). If not open inner packages with gloves on and spray/wipe. You can bring straight into the cool zone now or perhaps place somewhere that you can leave for three days if you haven’t already done so.

Good grief, what a lot of effort for something so small. Well done, now you and/or you package is clear, you are welcome to finally enter the Cool Zone, where you can feel safe and relax – well almost…

Cool Zone maintenance

At last, you have come in from the Hot Zone, cleaned yourself and any packages in the Warm Zone and finally you are safe in the Cool Zone. You are at liberty to touch your face, though you should probably be trying to train yourself not to do this – impossible I know.

If you live in a flat or shared accommodation you can remain healthy and keep out air creeping into your apartment from outside by keeping your windows open, even a small crack will allow outside air to flow in and keep up the pressure in your flat to keep air from other apartments and the external areas out.

You can help anyone living with you coming into the Green Zone by checking they have followed protocol – agree with everyone that this is the “right thing to do”.  Mistakes do happen, so periodic cleans with disinfectants can really help. Think about the areas that everyone touches:

  • Clean handles including doors handles, cupboards, dishwashers, fridges, clothes washers, dryers and toilet handles.
  • Clean taps often, it’s hard turning on a tap with potentially contaminated hands, so clean kitchen and bathroom taps often
  • Carefully (to avoid electrocution!) clean electric contacts like light switches, remote controls, your phone, toaster, oven, microwave, kettle….
  • Wipe surfaces like desks, kitchen sides and tables, materials don’t harbour the virus much but shiny surfaces like plastic and steel do
  • Clean floors often and in general keep your place spotless – or at least try your best

Cool Zone agreement

These procedures and elaborate protocols will slow you down. They are a drag. They may feel unreal, you cannot see the virus and for most getting the virus is no worse than the flu. But you have no guarantee, for some it is really bad. Though the old and unhealthy suffer the most, children and the super-fit also succumb to the virus. Everyone living together in the Green Zone will benefit from everyone taking it seriously.

Have a family meeting where you agree your protocols and how you will ensure they are followed. If one person brings in the virus and becomes infected, odds show they will usually infect everyone they live with. Remind each other of the rules and accept that more time needs to be spent on cleanliness than normal. Do note that praise is a more effective reinforcement than criticism. Keep your Cool Zone clean of the virus so that you can all relax safely in your virus free home.

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2020-03-26T19:33:49+00:00March 23rd, 2020|Pandemic|