Coronavirus is wreaking havoc across China, spreading to other countries and escalating anxieties across the globe. In the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 99 confirmed cases of Coronavirus and 10 individuals have died as of Friday March 6th. It makes sense that a lot of people are concerned about how best to keep themselves healthy — especially when they still have to commute to offices, perform jobs and carry on with their lives.
While public transportation and crammed offices might sound scary these days, the sun continues to rise every morning, and many of us have to do the same. And, as a gentle reminder, despite all of the news about disease outbreaks, it's important to do your best to keep calm. Stress doesn't help anyone's immune system, and the last thing you want to do is literally make yourself sick with worry.
Rest assured that the CDC and other global health institutions are working hard to keep track of Coronavirus and stop it in its tracks. In the meantime, here are five ways to help safeguard your own health at work — both in the office and during your commute.
1. Encourage your sick colleagues to stay home.
If your subordinate or teammate, for example, is sick — showing signs of a fever, coughing or experiencing shortness of breath or difficulty breathing (the symptoms of Coronavirus, which are also symptoms of the common cold!) — encourage them to take a day or a few days off to rest and recuperate. You can help them do so by offering to lend them a hand with their workload or cover their shifts, as well.
Remember that not all symptoms associated with Coronavirus mean that your colleague has Coronavirus. They may very well just have a fever or a cough. But, regardless, it's important that they feel allowed and encouraged to take the time off to get well.
2. Routinely clean and disinfect your workspace.
The CDC recommends that you routinely clean and disinfect your workspace — countertops, desks, doorknobs, etc. — so as to keep germs at bay. The CDC does not deem it necessary to take additional measures of disinfecting the office beyond routine cleaning. So keep some cleaning products handy and give your desk and keyboard a wipe down every now and again. It'll be good for you regardless of Coronavirus!
3. Be cautious of work-related travels.
If you're supposed to go on a business trip or have work-related travels in the books, make sure that you keep an eye on the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices to check the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you have to travel.
If you can postpone work-related travel, you may want to do so in order to avoid spending too much time in airports, where people from all over the world are passing through. Besides, work travel can be exhausting, and you don't want to run yourself down — a strong immune system is going to help keep you healthy in the event of a Coronavirus outbreak.
4. Wash your hands with soap and water.
As always, make sure that you're regularly washing your hands with soap and water.
"Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them, [and they] can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick," according to the CDC. "Germs from unwashed hands can [also] be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands."
Washing with soap and water for 20 seconds helps to kill germs and prevent infections of the respiratory system, which Coronavirus also attacks.
5. Avoid contact with people who are sick.
Do your best to steer clear of colleagues who are sick and have still chosen to come to work. While it's important not to discriminate against anyone in the office (or on your commute!), you can try to distance yourself. Whatever kind of sickness they're battling, you don't want to come into contact with them anyway.
One thing that actually won't help protect you? Wearing a mask.
As an increasing number of people stockpile surgical and dust masks, many health professionals are releasing statements encouraging individuals not to do this.
“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.”
The one scenario in which wearing a mask is beneficial, Perencevich continued, is if you yourself are sick.
“The one time you would want a mask is if you’re sick and you have to leave the house,” he said. “If you have the flu or think you have COVID, that’s when you’d put on a mask to protect others. In your house, if you feel like you’re sick, you should wear a mask to protect your family members.”
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.