Thousands of additional deaths from this disease have been estimated, but not been counted in the official tallies, because most of the early deaths, before the pandemic was recognized, were recorded as pneumonia or influenza. Many other people died at home, and their deaths were not listed in the official numbers. Some nursing homes still do not list the cause of death for their residents as Covid-19, when the deceased person also had other serious illnesses. As a result, we may never know how many people actually died of Covid-19. By the time the pandemic is over and a vaccine has been distributed, deaths are likely to exceed one million worldwide and at least a quarter of a million in the United States.
Of course, Covid-19 is not the only contagious disease we need to worry about. We humans are also highly susceptible to other common communicable diseases including influenza, norovirus (the stomach flu), meningitis, whooping cough, MRSA, tuberculosis, strep throat, and the common cold. The good news is that the steps we take to protect ourselves from Covid-19 may also protect us from some of these other illnesses. What are some actions we can take to keep ourselves safe?
How to Lower Your Risk of Covid-19 and Other Infectious Diseases
Stay home and Stay Safe - This is the best policy for anyone who is over the age of 70, or is immune compromised, or who is already fighting a chronic disease. This could include a child fighting cancer, a young adult who is a smoker, a middle aged man with diabetes, or a senior citizen with chronic kidney disease or a history of heart attacks. If you fall into a high risk group, you should stay home as often as possible and, in particular, avoid large indoor gatherings, which is where you are the most vulnerable. This means avoiding bars, houses of worship, weddings, funerals, parties in a private home, concerts, sporting events, movie theaters, indoor restaurants and other places where it may be difficult to maintain a comfortable distance between you and everyone else.
Whenever possible, any gathering you choose to attend should be held outside, with only a few people, and the ability for individuals or couples to stay six feet or further from others attending the same event. For example, a family barbecue could be arranged with separate tables, separate food, and separate utensils. Ideally, people should sit much more than six feet apart, when possible.
Maintain at least a six foot distance from other people, and further, when possible - Most of us cannot stay home all the time. We may have to go to work, shop for food, get our car repaired, see a doctor, or handle other business. We may also occasionally go to an event we cannot avoid. As much as possible, we want to avoid inhaling the air being expelled from other people. If you are around people who are speaking, yelling, coughing or sneezing, you will want to stay as far away from them as possible, especially if you are indoors. When people are excited and speaking loudly, coughing, or singing, they can expel large amounts of air. A virus can travel 10 to 25 feet, especially after a sneeze, and hang in the air indoors for hours. Air conditioning can further circulate it. This can happen even when the person carrying a disease does not know they are sick. They could be a "super-carrier," despite appearing to be perfectly healthy. In order to minimize your exposure, you have to assume that everyone you pass could be carrying either Covid-19, influenza, tuberculosis, or another contagious disease.
Stop Shaking Hands and Hugging People - Of course, you can still hug and cuddle with someone you live with. However, stop touching people who do not live with you, including grandchildren and other relatives. It is far better to keep some distance between you. Greet your friends and neighbors with a smile, a nod and a friendly wave.
Wear a face mask when in public - Wearing face masks reduces the distance the virus can travel in a conversation, cough, or sneeze. A variety of styles and colors are available. If you wear a mask and the other people around you are also wearing masks, everyone has dramatically decreased the risk that any of you could spread a respiratory disease to one another. Wearing a face mask is a compassionate, thoughtful way to treat other people.
Another option is to wear a face shield. They may be a more comfortable option when walking outdoors, especially if you avoid being near other people. You can even find hats with face shields attached, like the one I am wearing in this photo, while walking on a nearly deserted beach. They come in a variety of styles and colors. When I am outdoors and no one else is nearby, I feel safe with just this hat with the detachable face shield. Indoors, I always add a face mask. (Ad)
Cover your mouth with your elbow when you sneeze or cough - This simple move will decrease the risk that you are spreading a virus. It reduces the distance a virus can travel, and you will not be coughing into your hand and then touching doorknobs, handrails, elevator buttons, and similar items other people may touch.
Wash your hands often - Although most people get Covid-19 from inhaling particles containing the virus, researchers believe it is also possible to touch something with the virus on it, and then transfer it to your nose, mouth or eyes, giving it a foothold in your body. When you cannot wash your hands, use hand sanitizer to kill any virus you may have picked up. It is a good idea to always carry some with you in a small container. Make sure it contains at least 65% alcohol, and do not leave it in a hot car. (Ad)
Try not to touch your face - That may seem like an impossible habit to break, because most of us touch our faces several times a minute. However, the less you touch your face, the lower your risk of accidentally infecting yourself.
Disinfect everything you touch frequently - Since it is so hard to avoid touching our faces, it is also wise to keep the things we touch as clean as possible. Use alcohol wipes to clean electronic items we touch frequently, such as our cell phone and computer keyboard. Use disinfectant cleaner on other items such as doorknobs, refrigerator handles, and similar items. If the items you touch are clean, and you also wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face, you will have sharply decreased your risk of picking up any infectious diseases with your hands. (Ad)
If you take the above actions, you may not completely avoid getting Covid-19 or another infectious disease, but you will have substantially lowered your risk and, hopefully, will enjoy a generally healthier life.
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