Now that the rapidly spreading (and apparently highly contagious?) coronavirus has reached the West Coast of the American continent (if not elsewhere), has your level of concern been elevated?
It has for me. I mean, there's no vaccine yet, and it could take up to a year or more to develop one. And what happens if the virus mutates?
I'm trying my best to glean the best possible information that I can – mixed in with what I consider to be a little logic – without making major lifestyle changes. So while there are no reported cases of coronavirus in North Carolina (that I know of), I'm making conscious efforts to protect myself and others.
Consider it practice.
For example, hands. I'm not going to shake your hand anytime soon. Handshaking is probably one of the most likely avenues of spreading germs. People cough into their hands. They sneeze into their hands. They do God knows what else with their hands. I recently went to a roundtable meeting where several of my friends extended their hands to me in greeting, which was especially gratifying after my recent return from gall bladder surgery. But I said, no, let's do this: elbow bumps. And guess what? Nobody laughed. One or two of my friends actually said that that was a better idea, so we elbow bumped.
As a corollary, I try to cough or sneeze into the crook of my left elbow (I elbow bump with my right elbow). As a child, I was taught to turn my head and cover my mouth whenever I sneezed, but that almost always meant reflexively using my hands. It's a lifelong habit that's hard to change. I started sneezing into my arm a few years ago, and I think I'm turning that corner now without having to think about it first.
I'm also washing my hands a lot more these days. I've been informed it's not using the hot water and soap that gets rid of the germs on your hands so much as it's the actual scrubbing, and that you should scrub for at least 20 seconds. My wife tells me to sing "Happy Birthday" while I scrub, since it takes about 20 seconds to complete the song. As for me, I silently count "one thousand one, one thousand two, etc" until I reach 20.
I'm thinking about carrying a few packets of hand wipes with me wherever I go. I've been told that the wipes should contain at least 60 percent alcohol.
So far, I haven't considered wearing a face mask in public. I've been told that the masks you see most people wearing on TV are probably not that effective, although I guess anything helps. What we should be wearing, if it comes to that, is something called an N95 mask, which filters out 95 percent of the particulates you inhale. I don't know how much they cost or how available they are.
I suppose it would be smart to avoid large crowds, although I'm not sure we're there yet. We ate in a restaurant yesterday. We're going grocery shopping today and we plan to go to a concert in an intimate venue in a couple of weeks. Until told otherwise, life pretty much continues on as usual.
I just turned 69 years old, so I'm already in an age group more susceptible to catching a virus than somebody 30 years or so younger. So every sneeze or cough – mine or yours – is going to raise red flags for me.
This is all basic hygiene, of course. It's stuff we should be doing on a regular cultural basis anyway.
It's just that now, it appears evident that we should be doing this more than ever.