How to Avoid COVID-19 When on the Road


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By now we all recognise the need to practice social (spatial) distancing. And, where possible or mandated, self-isolation to stop the COVID-19 spread. But what if you have no choice but to drive somewhere and get out of the car. It raises the question – how to avoid COVID-19 when on the road?

And how do you help protect others who also need to take trips outside their home? People you come into contact with as you race around to do what you need to do?

We’re all in this together and the more pre-emptive measures we take now will make a big difference in continuing to flatten the curve. Let’s take the time now to go through some simple strategies.

How to Manage COVID-19 Exposure When Away from Home

Taking a lengthy road trip isn’t at the top of everyone’s minds at the moment. Ideally, we’d all stay at home until the crisis is over. But that’s not always possible and as restrictions ease in most areas we’re slowly venturing out into the new normal.

Make sure you are up to date on activities banned by the Australian government or your state/territory government, and plan ahead for any trips. Prepare beforehand to keep yourself and your car as germ-free as possible.

1. Only make essential trips

None of us are sure how long Australia will experience restricted travel to some extent. Planning ahead while keeping a calm head is essential. Think about what shopping, appointments and contact with other people are absolutely necessary for you.

Make an effort to not duck out every few days to top up your home store… if you are doing so regularly then you’ve had significant exposure to unsanitised surfaces and people.

And if you’re not practicing healthy hygiene then you’ve put all those people you’ve met with at risk too.

2. Wash your hands before and after

Before you leave, remove all the germs from your hands. Be as clean as possible before you venture out into the world, where other people may be more vulnerable to illness than you.

Then do the same as soon as you return. See if you can open the door to your home and turn on the tap with a tissue or elbow, before heading straight to the sink.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has created this great video that demonstrates how to wash your hands effectively. It says regular safe, effective hand hygiene using soap and water or alcohol-based sanitiser (at least 60% alcohol) is a must.

How do you wash your hands well? The WHO’s big tips are:

  • Wet your hands
  • Apply enough soap to cover all surfaces of your hands
  • Rub your hands palm to palm
  • Rub your right palm over your left hand with interlaced fingers
  • Do the same with the left
  • Rub palm to palm with fingers interlaced
  • Rub the back of fingers onto opposing palms with your fingers interlocked
  • Perform rotational rubbing of left and right thumbs
  • Perform rotational rubbing with clasped fingers
  • Dry your hands thoroughly with a towel
  • Make sure you do this for as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’, or 20 to 30 seconds

Under and around fingernails are especially difficult to get squeaky clean, so apply good focus here.

And of course, if you need to touch a doorknob on the way out then do so with a paper towel or tissue.

Once you’re on the road, you likely won’t have easy access to soap and water. In this case, rubbing with hand sanitiser is the go, again for 20 to 30 seconds every time.

You’ll need to buy one with 60% to 95% alcohol content as that is the most effective at killing microbes. Interestingly, anything with a higher alcohol concentration is less potent because ‘proteins are not denatured easily in the absence of water’.

This second great video from WHO explains how to sanitise your hands correctly using an alcohol-based solution:

3. Drive through where possible

Using services such as drive through or stop-and-grab chemists and other shops will help limit your exposure. Businesses offering these services may be more common than you think, especially now.

Before you head out on the road, call the businesses you need to visit ahead of time to see what assistance they can provide in this regard. And if they do offer the service, be sure to cleanse your hands thoroughly before and after reaching your arms out the window. You should also thoroughly clean the item purchased before setting it down in your car.

Better yet – can what you need be delivered? We know a lot of businesses have halted delivery services for the moment but on the flipside many have begun offering it. A lot of them are doing so without a delivery fee, to encourage more customers.

Can you swap your provider and take advantage of this?

When it comes to refuelling at petrol stations while you’re out, exercise caution. The handle can easily be a source of infection, just like any surface.

Use a paper towel or tissues to hold the pump handle or keep disposable gloves in your car so you can use them for this activity.

4. Keep your car well sanitised

Keeping your car environment clean is a vital part of the hygiene puzzle. Think about what body parts – hands, arms, legs, side etc – have come into contact with potentially unclean surfaces and rub them down before entering your car.

Areas such as the door handle, steering wheel, gear stick, air conditioning and radio buttons can also contain a significant number of germs.

Clean these surfaces with surface disinfecting wipes every time you get into the car, or some kind of washable wipe covered in an EPA-recommended cleaning solution.

The EPA has recommended these cleaning products as being effective in protecting against COVID-19. Also, the Centres for Disease Control clearly state that “diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.”

Make sure you don’t reuse wipes on multiple surfaces. This can transfer germs from one surface to another. Keep a bag or bin in the car so you can carefully dispose of each used wipe without it contaminating another surface.

If you’re using some kind of washable material as a wipe, make sure it remains in the bag until you pop it into your washing machine. There, you’ll need to wash on the hottest cycle possible.

Need more information on how to clean properly? NSW Health provides these Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Principles and QLD Health provides these Cleaning and Disinfection Guidelines.

5. Keep an arsenal of sanitisation products

Every responsible car owner has a first aid kit in their vehicle. It’s time to add a hand and car sanitisation kit. This should at least contain tissues, alcohol-based hand sanitiser, cleaning products and soap.

Why soap? You might find yourself in a public bathroom that’s run out. Don’t be caught unawares.

It would also be prudent to carry these items around in your pocket or a bag.

6. Cover your nose and mouth

Always cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If using a tissue dispose of it carefully, dropping it far into a bin and making sure it doesn’t touch the top in any way.

It is crucial to not touch your face if your hands aren’t clean. The virus can enter through your eyes, nose and mouth.

Wearing a mask is advised for your and others’ protection, and in some places mandatory. The world-renowned Mayo Clinic says “Yes, face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus.”

Here’s more information on the usage of face masks, from Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services.

7. Reconsider all trips and stay informed

Has this article been enough to give you the information you need on how to avoid COVID-19 when on the road?

If you’re still umming and ahhing about whether it’s essential to practice social distancing then read our first point again.

If you have cold or flu-like symptoms then stay at home, seriously.

And if you’re considering dropping your car insurance because you’re driving less or not at all then reconsider. Before you do anything, read our reasons why it’s important to stay insured.

Want to keep learning how to avoid COVID-19 and stay in touch with news updates? Check out this great ABC podcast, which is updated daily: Coronacast. The ABC is also posting news updates here, as is here. Also, the Department of Health is updating this ‘confirmed cases and statuses’ page fairly regularly.

*Disclaimer: this information was accurate at 4 May 2020, however it is checked regularly. Please refer to the WHO website here for the latest accurate information.

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