Protecting your loved ones amid the coronavirus pandemic

From what needs deep cleaning to what to stock in your medicine cabinet

‘WE’VE ALL heard that we need to wash our hands to help hamper the spread of coronavirus, but the exact precautionary measures can be confusing at best and conflicting at worst.’  (photo credit: BRANCH BASICS)
‘WE’VE ALL heard that we need to wash our hands to help hamper the spread of coronavirus, but the exact precautionary measures can be confusing at best and conflicting at worst.’
(photo credit: BRANCH BASICS)
It’s starting to get hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t help matters that there’s so much conflicting information going around, which is why we turned to leading experts to find out exactly how and what we should be cleaning, what to look for when shopping for disinfecting products (did you know hormone disruptors are lurking in many household products?), how to stock your medicine cabinet, tips for warding off the blues, and more.
Cleaning in the age of coronavirus
We’ve all heard that we need to wash our hands to help hamper the spread of coronavirus, but the exact precautionary measures can be confusing at best and conflicting at worst.
“The first thing you’ll want to know is that cleaning and disinfecting are two very different things,” says health and wellness expert Dr. Roger Sahoury. “Cleaning is about removing contaminants from a surface, while disinfecting is about killing pathogens. Transmission from person to person is a much greater risk than transmission via surfaces.”
He goes on to underline that it’s nonetheless important to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in our homes at least once daily, assuming we have had contact with the outside world, either a person leaving and returning or goods coming in. These surfaces include doorknobs, tables, kitchen counters, sinks, faucets, toilets seats, light switches, and remotes.
“We must be vigilant. Anything you touch should be cleaned.”
Clean air is critical right now, so if you have an air purifier, use it.
“As for handwashing, you’ve heard it a million times, but the best way to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19 is to wash your hands after you cough, sneeze, touch your face, use the restroom, or are about to leave one place for another.”
The mechanical act of scrubbing breaks the virus apart. The rule of thumb is to wash for 20 seconds. But it doesn’t end there. The virus can live on your clothing for hours, so washing your clothing with regular laundry soap and drying it at a slightly higher temperature than you might otherwise is critical.
Bottom line: If you’re in contact with anyone or any deliveries, wash your hands and remove and wash clothing.
Harmful ingredients in cleaning and disinfecting materials
While cleaning and disinfecting are on everybody’s mind, the products available are not all created equally.
“We have to remember that disinfectants are made with a purpose of killing organisms and are therefore inherently made to be toxic,” says Kimia Arounian, an echocardiographer and the voice behind @labels_matter. “There are many active ingredients that can do this, but some are safer than others.”
As a rule of thumb, when it comes to both cleaning and disinfecting products, you’ll want to avoid anything with fragrances, as these are usually proprietary meaning they don’t need to be listed on labels.
“Many products can contain thousands of chemicals that create a certain scent, but because we have no way of knowing what those chemicals are, we have no way of knowing if they’re safe,” says Arounian. “Phthalates, for example, are often used in fragrances, but they’re considered endocrine disruptors and research indicates that they increase the risk of allergies and asthma and can affect children’s neurodevelopment and thyroid function.”
But it doesn’t end there.
“Chlorine bleach is highly irritating and corrosive to the skin, lungs, and eyes,” says Marilee Nelson, environmental and building materials expert and the co-founder of Branch Basics. “Fumes from bleach can cause DNA damage, cancer, asthma and a host of other illnesses.
You’ll also want to dig into your products and find out what surfactants are used as many are known carcinogens, have toxic byproducts, and are skin irritants.
“The exceptions are coco glucoside, lauryl glucoside, and decyl glucoside.”
 Also try to avoid products with ingredients endings of “ol” or “ene,” which Nelson says are likely an indication of potentially harmful petroleum-based ingredients. Lastly, some of the most popular products have antibacterial ingredients that are pesticides such as methylisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone, which are known skin irritants and are considered neurotoxic.
If you’re not up to deciphering labels, a quick method is to look for products with the shortest ingredients list and to use disinfecting products only when absolutely necessary.
“Cleaning products remove dirt and germs, but don’t kill germs,” says Dr. Aly Cohen, co-author of Non-Toxic: Guide to Living Healthy in a Chemical World. “This can be done with products that are a lot less harmful than stronger chemicals used to remove infectious bacteria and viruses.”
For hand washing, we can use simple cleaning products.
“Use hand sanitizer only If soap and water are not available because of the danger of creating resistant bacteria with too-frequent use,” says Nelson. “With COVID-19, however, disinfection is critical for the home, especially on handles, switches, and surfaces like tables. In this case, I suggest using disinfectants made with essential oils or products with at least 70% alcohol after cleaning with plain soap and water, as otherwise the dirt and grease will interfere with the germ-killing abilities of disinfectants.”
Medicine cabinet essentials
Try as you may to avoid it, you might get sick while quarantined. Dr. Tzvi Doron, the SVP of clinical practice and education at telehealth company Ro and Dr. Lynette Charity, an anesthesiologist, outline the essentials you’ll want to make sure to have stocked in your medicine cabinet.
Tylenol/Acamol: “Although there’s a lot going around the Internet about not taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Motrin or Aleve if you have COVID-19, there is no clear science to support this,” says Doron. “Still, Tylenol can be used instead.”
Pepto-Bismol: “This will help with diarrhea, nausea, or upset stomach,” says Doron.
Thermometer: “Fever is the most common sign of COVID-19. You’ll want to know what your temperature is in the event that you need to reach out to a medical professional or if you think you’re sick,” says Doron.
• Bandages and antibiotic ointment: “Use these for common cuts and scrapes,” says Doron.
Prescription medication: “Stock your regular life-saving medications, whether they be for high blood pressure, depression, or any other chronic condition; COVID-19 doesn’t make those problems disappear,” says Doron.
Gatorade: “Keep this on hand to stay hydrated in case of fever,” Doron notes.
Antihistamine: “Seasonal allergies causing itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing, and wheezing are very common,” says Charity. “Antihistamines stop your body from making histamine, whose release during an allergic reaction causes the symptoms mentioned.
Decongestant: “If you’re all stuffed up and sneezing, a decongestant reduces the swelling in the nasal passages and improves the flow of air so you can breathe better,” says Charity.
Regaining energy after being sick
Whether recovering from COVID-19, the flu, or the common cold, there are key things you can do to regain your energy more swiftly after being sick.
“Some 80% of our immune cells are located in our gut, so we need to make sure our friendly bacteria is replenished after being sick,” says inflammation expert and nutritionist Dr. Daryl Gioffre, “Probiotic supplements are the most effective way to replace good bacteria in the gut, but you should also consume prebiotic foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, and dark green leafy vegetables that feed the healthy bacteria.”
Speaking of leafy greens, Gioffre recommends a daily green juice to energize and protect immunity. The chlorophyll in these vegetables, he explains, is a great source of vitamin A, C, E, and K, antioxidants, and important immune boosting minerals like iron and calcium.
“Chlorophyll increases the flow of oxygen throughout the body, which will help restore energy fast and cleanse toxins from the liver, which prevents our bodies from absorbing harmful pollutants while reducing inflammation and improving respiratory function,” says Gioffre. “Chlorophyll also slows the rate at which harmful bacteria and viruses reproduce, making it beneficial for preventing infections and protecting immune function moving forward.”
Staying positive during tough times
Even if you’re not on the frontline fighting COVID-19, this can be a triggering and very stressful time. “It’s important to continuously remind yourself that this, too, shall pass,” says psychotherapist, Dr. Kathryn Smerling. The below tactics, outlined by Smerling, can be helpful for staying positive, particularly for people who are prone to depression, but please remember to reach out for professional help if you’re unable to do the below.
Find joy in the Internet: “There are many possibilities for group chats on the Internet, so social isolation doesn’t have to mean isolation from people,” says Smerling. “Also, watch funny YouTube videos or movies.”
Connect with nature: While you might not be able to leave your home, order plants, get some fresh air by opening your windows or sitting outside if you have a balcony. Walk out and stand in front of your home for a few minutes if that’s an option.
Help others: “Often the best antidote for depression is helping someone less fortunate than you are,” says Smerling. If you’re able to leave your home, volunteer to bring food to an elderly person or bake cookies and drop them off at a shelter. “Call community organizations to see what you can do to help.”
Set goals: Set small goals and reward yourself when you accomplish them. “Small goals might be cleaning your bathroom, calling someone you haven’t spoken with in a year, doing a home workout, or baking a new recipe,” says Smerling.
Make a daily gratitude list: Anything can be on it – from small things, like I had a great breakfast, to big things like my loved ones are home and healthy. Get into the habit of writing down three things when you wake up and three things before you go to bed.
As tough as these times are, it’s more important than ever to be a dutiful citizen: stay at home, practice social distancing if you must leave for one of the approved circumstances, and make cleaning and disinfecting a priority.