Updated: Mar 14, 2020
Typical infection prevention measures like washing hands and sanitizing surfaces are important to be used at all times, but in the event you are living in an outbreak area there are additional precautions you can take to help prevent infection for yourself and for your family members. This is the first article in a series that will deal with Covid-19 in your home and community. It is important to note that even with the best plans and precautions, nothing can completely eliminate the risk of infection, however each precaution taken helps to add another layer of defense making it harder to become infected.
Some of these precautions will be very difficult and inconvenient. It is not necessary for you to use these unless you are in or near a local outbreak of covid-19
The first and most important defense you have is social distancing. If you had not been practicing it before you must do so if there is an outbreak in your local community. Social distancing means not going to public gatherings such as concerts, parties or meetings. It also means limiting the time you spend outside the home. For example this could mean buying groceries for several weeks at once instead of more frequent smaller trips. Ordering supplies online can also help reduce exposure. In the event of a local outbreak most schools and athletics activities will be canceled. Make sure to keep your child home from other activities as well. Many jobs allow you to work from home during an outbreak and should be done if at all possible.
Regardless of how hard you try to avoid going out, there will be times that it is unavoidable such as those with essential jobs that must be done in person and getting supplies, etc. The person going out should always do so with the appropriate infection prevention gear and using all personal precautions to avoid infection. It is important to have a system in place to prevent the virus being brought in to the rest of the home.
First you need to designate a "contaminated" area vs "noncontaminated" in the rest of the home. This area should ideally be a garage, porch or mudroom but can also be created by hanging a plastic sheet up in an area around the front door. This is done to prevent particles that may have the virus on them from being spread around the home when an individual is decontaminating.
In the contaminated space you will need some form of spray disinfectant like Lysol or 70% rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle, paper towels, a trashcan lined with a garbage bag and fitted with a lid as well as a laundry hamper with a lid. Pre disinfected grocery bags should be hung up out of the way so that they don't become contaminated to be used to carry disinfected supplies into the house. There should also be clean cloths for the person to change into right on the other side of this area.
When you come into the contaminated area from the outside you should leave your protection gear on until a later step in decontamination. First put any outerwear such as a jacket back up on it's hook and spray it with disinfectant. The jacket should not be brought into the house unless you need to wash it, in which case place it in the laundry bin in your contaminated area. Place everything you will want to bring in the house onto the floor or a table for that purpose. Disinfect hands and put on gloves. Next, being spraying down or wiping everything with disinfectant. Make sure to get disinfectant onto the gloves as you disinfect supplies to minimize cross contamination. Place used wipes or paper towels in the trash can and close the lid. Make sure that you disinfected the surface that your now disinfected items are being placed on. Take the pre-sanitized grocery bags and place the disinfected items inside.
Take off footwear and spray with disinfectant. Take your contaminated clothing off and place it in the laundry bin and close the lid. Next you will remove your personal protective gear such as gloves or masks and put them into the trash can and close the lid. Take a spray bottle filled with 70% alcohol and thorough spray hands, arms and feet. You may now put on clean cloths and bring the disinfected supplies into the house. Some may prefer to go straight to the shower and skip the clean cloths until then. You may need to modify the routine depending on your home and family.
When the trash is full put on gloves, tie the bag tightly and take it out to wherever you dispose of trash. When the laundry hamper is full, place on gloves and a mask. Make sure the lid is tightly closed and spray down the outside of the bin with disinfectant. Take the bin to wherever you do laundry and carefully place contaminated laundry into the washing machine. Add a 1/4 of chlorine bleach to the load after the water fills or into the compartment for bleach in a front load washer. This amount may fade darker colors over time but overall is safe on all but delicate clothing. Wash delicate clothing on the hot water setting instead. Close the lid on the laundry bin, and bring it back to the contaminated area. Spray the inside and outside with disinfectant and remove gloves and mask and dispose of in the contaminated trash. Wash hands and remember to spray down the outside of the washing machine with disinfectant just incase the contaminated laundry touched it.
In some possible scenarios a family might need to decide who goes out for supplies and want to know who is at the most/least risk if exposed. These charts show mortality rates by age and medical condition. You will want the adult with the lowest risk going out, and those more vulnerable to stay protected at home.
Again, there is no way to make sure that your home is completely sterile but by taking these extra precautions you can help reduce the risk. In the next article we will go into caring for infected family members and reducing the risk of spreading covid-19 to others in the house. Stay safe.