By now, we all recognise the need to practice social (spatial) distancing and, where possible, self-isolation to stop the COVID-19 spread. 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 that 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 quickly?
We’re all in this together and the more pre-emptive measures we take now will make a big difference to the spread of the disease. Let’s take the time now to go through some simple strategies.
How to Manage COVID-19 Exposure When Away from Home
It goes without saying that taking a road trip is on very few people’s agenda right now. Ideally, we’d all stay at home until the crisis is over. But that’s just not possible for many of us.
It’s worrying when you need to leave the house in order to buy food, obtain chemist goods, go to work or attend a crucial health appointment. Or, you might need to make essential visits to provide care and support to someone.
Think long and hard about going out for other reasons, and make sure you are up to date on activities now banned by the Australian government.
If a trip isn’t avoidable then plan ahead and prepare to keep yourself and your car as germ-free as possible.
Only make essential trips
None of us are sure how long Australia will be in near-lockdown, or when we will all be sent into full lockdown. Planning ahead while keeping a calm head is essential. Think about what household items, medicines and contact with other people are absolutely necessary for you.
Then think again – are you sure it’s essential?
Make an effort to not duck out every few days to top up your home store… if you duck out three times in two weeks then you’ve had significant exposure to un-sanitised 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.
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnSjFr6J9HI.
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 business.
Can you swap your provider and take advantage of this?
When it comes to refuelling at petrol stations while you’re out, exercise caution. Although claims that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly through petrol pumps has been exposed as a hoax, 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.
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.
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.
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 won’t necessarily protect you. Not all are effective at filtering small particles and viruses can still enter the body through our eyes.
Besides, the WHO says you only need to wear one if you are taking care of someone with COVID-19, or if you are coughing and sneezing while out. Apparently there’s little evidence of widespread benefit of the general public wearing face masks.
Plus – importantly – if public stockpiling occurs then health professionals and people who really need it won’t be able to acquire them!
Here’s more information on the usage of face masks, from the Department of Health.
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 and self-isolation then read our first point again.
And if you have cold or flu-like symptoms then stay at home, seriously.
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 news.com.au here. Also, the Department of Health appears to be updating this ‘confirmed cases and statuses’ page fairly regularly.
Over to You – How to Avoid COVID-19
Is there anything you would like to add about how to avoid COVID-19 when you’re out of the house? Any links you think might be useful to others?
*Disclaimer: this information was accurate at the time of publishing (25 March 2020). Please refer to the WHO website here for the latest accurate information.