Commuting in the age of coronavirus adds a whole new layer of stress. Beyond frustrating rush-hour traffic and crowded subway cars or over-stuffed buses, how are you supposed to safely get to and from work without risking your health?
Coronavirus is inducing serious anxiety across all corners of the globe as the number of cases continues to rise with evermore testing. In the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 647 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 25 individuals have died as of Wednesday March 11th.
Because of the risk of contracting coronavirus and spreading it around the office, many companies are allowing — if not encouraging — their employees to work from home during these trying times. But, unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to do their jobs from the safer confines of their own four walls.
If you don't have a choice about commuting to work, here are some health safety precautions you can take along your ride.
1. Try to avoid touching public transportation surfaces.
The unfortunate reality is that you can easily collect germs by touching germ-infested surfaces. Think about it: If someone sneezes or coughs in their hand, and then they grab the subway pole, they transfer those germs to the pole. If you then grab hold of the pole during your subway ride, you make contact with their germs.
Of course, it's often impossible not to grab hold of a surface during a bumpy subway, bus or train ride, but try your best to hold your ground without having to touch too much. Carry some wet wipes with you to clean your hands after your ride, and make sure to thoroughly wash your hands when you get to the office, too.
2. If you're healthy, don't wear a mask.
Contrary to popular belief, wearing a surgical or dust mask can actually spread germs more, since you might end up touching your face more than you normally would.
“The average healthy person does not need to have a mask, and they shouldn’t be wearing masks,” infection prevention specialist Eli Perencevich, MD, told Forbes. “There’s no evidence that wearing masks on healthy people will protect them. They wear them incorrectly, and they can increase the risk of infection because they’re touching their face more often.”
Unless you are sick, there's really no need to stock up on masks.
“The one time you would want a mask is if you’re sick and you have to leave the house,” Perencevich continued. “If you have the flu or think you have COVID, that’s when you’d put on a mask to protect others.”
3. Wash your hands with soap and water.
As always, make sure that you're regularly washing your hands with soap and water before and after your commute. You don't want to be the person spreading germs on the commute and, likewise, you don't want to be contracting anyone else's germs by the end of it.
"Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands," according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends that you wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds to help kill germs and prevent infections of the respiratory system, which coronavirus attacks.
4. Avoid contact with people who are sick.
Do your best to steer clear of anyone who is visibly sick on your commute. If there's someone coughing up a storm in an empty row of seats, choose a different empty row of seats to sit or stand somewhere else instead.
While it's always important not to discriminate against anyone, you can try to distance yourself. Whether they have coronavirus or just a common cold, you don't want to come into contact with them anyway.
Just don't be rude about it.
5. Forgo public transportation when you can.
While taking public transportation is, of course, better for the environment and typically encouraged over driving, it may be a wiser option to drive yourself to work during the coronavirus outbreak — if you can. If everyone starts driving individually, however, the roads will be way more crowded (read: traffic) and the environment will take a hit; so try to carpool!
While not everyone has a car, you might reach out to other healthy colleagues or even friends and family who are heading in the same direction and ride together. This way, you're traveling with far fewer people who are perceivably healthy.
6. If forgoing public transit simply isn't an option, ask to modify your hours.
Some companies are letting employees modify their start and end times for the work day in order to avoid rush hour traffic. If coming in at 11 a.m. and leaving at 7 p.m. means you'll be commuting with significantly fewer people, it's an option worth considering.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.