COVID-19 Protective and Preventive Tips to Share with Your Patients

Help prevent the spread of the virus

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Read condensed version of this article from the Dec. 12 Kansas City Star

By Keith Jantz, MD

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the public thirst for useful information regarding how to deal with this virus and protect oneself and family remains unsatisfied. Sure, the daily news provides numbers like case rates, new cases and even numbers of deaths locally, nationally and worldwide. But this information in the presence of a well-recognized pandemic is useless to the individual even though such numbers appear on our phones and on TV multiple times a day. What the public and our patients need is useful information about how to protect themselves from the ravages of this virus.

Awaiting prospective randomized trials to determine best practices in these areas would be ideal in the strictest scientific and medical sense, but unrealistic in the middle of a pandemic producing daily deaths in high numbers. Instead we must rely on “natural experiments” as Anopam Jena, MD, PhD, professor of health care and policy at Harvard University has stated.1,2 Natural experiments are retrospective observations resulting in useful data gleaned from public experiences with this virus, which provides a better method to answer individuals’ many questions surrounding management of this pandemic.

Regarding daily approaches to protecting oneself, the concepts fall into several categories: 1) preventing exposure to the virus; 2) mitigating the effects of COVID-19 infection if acquired; 3) preventing spread to others; and 4) managing pre-existing chronic personal health problems in the midst of this pandemic.

Of course, preventing exposure to the virus involves two areas: aerosol contamination and contact contamination. Experience in many different areas of the country reveals that case numbers are lower in states where public adherence to mask wearing is higher, either voluntarily or by government mandate.

HOW TO MASK EFFECTIVELY

While health experts repeatedly advocate mask wearing, little is reported about the efficacy of various mask techniques.

  • N-95 non-vented masks provide the best protection. Such masks are readily available at numerous retail stores in the metropolitan area. They are no longer in short supply, nor do they need to be reserved only for frontline health care workers.
  • The next best option would be any surgical mask or medical paper mask, which can be made more efficient by utilizing a double thickness of two masks stapled together.
  • More popular among the public are cloth masks, which provide less protection; or bandanas and gaiters, which provide the least protection and should be avoided.

In the event of potential contamination of a cloth mask, washing is recommended, but this weakens the safety of the mask as the fibrous pores enlarge with repeated washings. To avoid this problem with cloth masks, a person should own at least three cloth masks and rotate these every two days. Should a cloth mask become contaminated with COVID-19, the virus can be destroyed by simply allowing the mask to dry out for two days. This process can be accelerated by placing the mask in sunlight to allow the UV rays to kill the virus more rapidly.

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