As we learn more and more about the new coronavirus, it appears that most infections come from contact with an infected person. The risk of infection from contaminated surfaces is real, but much lower than the risk from other people.

If you are sheltered at home and controlling your interpersonal contacts (as discussed in Your House Is Your Fortress), your risk of infection has already dropped astronomically. Your statistical odds of staying healthy are quite high—as long as you continue to avoid outside contact.

But some precautions against hitchhiking virus might still be appropriate, particularly if you are at higher risk of serious illness because of age or underlying medical conditions. The most important precaution is still the most basic:

WASH YOUR HANDS – do it well, do it often.

Coronavirus and the environment

We know the coronavirus can still be detected on smooth surfaces like plastic or stainless steel for at least three days. The amount of virus drops markedly over this time, but it’s not completely gone.

One study also looked at coronavirus on cardboard and found it was undetectable after 24 hours. It hasn’t been tested on other types of fibers or paper, but it’s a reasonable guess they would be equally inhospitable.

So far, there is no evidence of the virus being “food-borne” (catching it from food), although food packaging could be contaminated.

As for temperature, the refrigerator—and even the freezer—may not kill this virus (new information for me). It likes the cold! However, it is killed by cooking, with a current recommendation of 149 F for three minutes.

The Hot Zone approach

If you keep “outside” from getting “inside” your house, you can relax much more about daily life and not feel the need to constantly clean and disinfect.

Hot zone is a term commonly used in disaster response, and simply means the “most dangerous area”. If you create a “hot zone” at the entrance to your house (mine is just inside my garage door), everything that could be contaminated stops there, leaving the rest of your house “clean”. You must always wash your hands after touching something in the hot zone.

  • Hot zone
    • Located at most commonly used house entrance
    • Anything touched by the “outside” world gets dropped in the hot zone
      •  Shoes, purses, backpacks, grocery bags, packages, mail
    • Clothes do not need to be removed UNLESS:
      • Two or more hours in a high-risk environment (lots of Covid Cloud contact)
      • Clothes rubbed many “high-touch” objects
    • Wash hands immediately after unloading stuff in the hot zone
      •  Before touching other household surfaces
  • Putting things away from the hot zone
    • Mail, packages, groceries, and other things wrapped in cardboard or paper8674381574_27279ffbe9_w
      • Leave in hot zone for 24 hours
        • After 24 hours, you can handle them “safely”
      • Newspapers are tricky – who wants a day-old paper?
        •  Choose a single reading location
        • After reading, dispose of newspaper or put it back in the hot zone
        • Wash hands
        • Disinfect house surfaces that came in contact with the newspaper
    • Glass, metal, plastic, or other smooth surfaced objects
      • Remove from grocery bag or package in the hot zone
      • Wipe item with disinfectant.
      • Place immediately in cupboard or refrigerator
      • Do not set on other surfaces
      • Wash hands
      • Disinfect refrigerator and cupboard handles
    • Produce32257730023_8d2b2e802b_c
      • Remove “outside” bags or plastic
      • Rinse well in running water
      • Store as appropriate in your own bags or containers
    •  Restaurant delivery or take-out
      • Leave delivery bags in the hot zone until discarded outside
      • Spoon/pour/dump food from restaurant container directly into dish
        •  Do not set container on counter or table
      • Dispose of container
      • Can also wipe plastic containers with disinfectant
      • Wash hands and pat yourself on the back
        • You helped keep your local restaurant industry alive!

Sound like a lot of work? It definitely feels that way at first because it’s a new routine. But after a few weeks, it becomes second nature. And for neat freaks (like me), there’s an extra benefit of less clutter. Everything has to be put away! In fact, I might keep my hot zone going even after we return to the real world.

Stay healthy.