This Q&A has been adapted from a social media thread from late February 2020 between Shanina Knighton, an instructor at KL2 Clinical Research School and the Frances Payne Bolton (FPB) School of Nursing’s Twitter and Instagram feeds. It has been updated to reflect Ohio’s recent Stay at Home order.
FPB: What do we need to know about getting sick and the circulation of viruses?
Knighton: Viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people cough, sneeze or talk. People can encounter spreadable germs by being in close contact (6 feet or less) with someone who is sick or by touching a surface or object that has virus droplets on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.
FPB: What results have come about from your previous and current research?
Knighton: My research shows that patients’ do not clean their hands as often as they should, and that they come in contact with common culprits both inside and outside hospital settings. These surfaces can include, but are not limited to, door handles, elevator buttons, pens, chairs, counters and phones. Most patients don’t understand the importance of their hand hygiene while they are sick.
FPB: What about the Coronavirus, or COVID-19—what’s the risk and how should people act?
Knighton: Without widespread testing, each person should assume that they are a carrier and that others around them are potential carriers. Because COVID-19 can be symptomatic or asymptomatic, anyone is capable of spreading it. I have seen many social media posts about not worrying about being asymptomatic, but I remind people to imagine giving it to someone who may not live through it—particularly vulnerable populations such as our older adults and those with compromised immune systems, though everyone is able to catch it.
Since this virus is new to us, there is no vaccine. Measures taken such as social distancing are intended to remedy what we don’t know about who is carrying COVID-19. As a scientist, I also caution those only thinking for now that we don’t know if studies 20 years from now will indicate higher risk of mortality or chronic conditions discovered or unheard of.
Practice prevention now to reduce potential consequences later. I recommend following guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization regarding hand hygiene and preventing illness. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. There is growing evidence that suggests a loss of smell and taste are common. The CDC has outlined the symptoms of COVID-19, including symptoms in the most severe cases that require medical attention.
FPB: Take us back to basics. How do we stop spreading this virus?
Wash your hands thoroughly. Washing hands is the most important and easiest way to avoid spreading viruses.
Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with you in case you can’t get to a sink, but soap and water is best.
Drying your hands is just as important as washing because wet hands can easily pick up germs.
Sanitize surfaces. While Ohio’s Stay at Home order has decreased the opportunities for people to come into contact with publicly shared items and surfaces, individuals need to be aware of what they touch. Grocery carts, door handles, elevator buttons, touch screens—any surface that is available to the public should be sanitized before and after you use it, and you should wash your hands frequently.
Clean your phone. I would also suggest cleaning your phone more frequently, especially if it is coming in contact with various surfaces in public places.