Writing about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), or any new health risk for that matter, involves a delicate balance; on the one hand, you don’t want to cause unnecessary anxiety or fear and, on the other hand, you want to share the facts, even when they are unpleasant.

So, even after dozens of women emailed me about the coronavirus, I hesitated to share my thoughts. After all, I’m not a medical professional. Like you, I am just an older woman trying her best to keep herself and her family healthy.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had a responsibility to help get the word out about the simple steps that we can take to protect ourselves. Over the next few weeks, I will be producing a series of articles and videos to help the women in our community. And, today, I’d like to start with the basics – what can we do to protect ourselves from the Coronavirus as older adults.

What is the Novel Coronavirus and Who is Most at Risk?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.”

Much is still unknown about the novel coronavirus, but, the picture that is emerging is of a virus that has a mortality rate several times higher than the common flu. In addition, because many contagious people experience only mild symptoms, it is proving difficult to contain, even in developed countries like the United States.

So far, it seems that people over the age of 65, particularly those with underlying health conditions are at an increased risk for complications from the novel coronavirus and many countries around the world are encouraging us to be especially careful in the weeks and months ahead.

If all this leaves you feeling a little powerless, or even anxious, you’re not alone. People are not particularly good at dealing with unknown risks and the novel coronavirus is no exception. But, the good news is that there are simple things that each of us can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Here are a few ideas from around the world.

Wash Your Hands the Right Way to Fight Back Against the Coronavirus

The first recommendation that almost every government around the world is making is to wash your hands regularly with plenty of soap and warm water. This sounds simple, but, many of us aren’t washing our hands for nearly long enough.

Did you know that many health organizations, including the CDC in the United States, recommend washing your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds? To put this in perspective, here are a few songs that you can sing in 20 seconds.

I Will Survive, by Gloria Gaynor

Happy Birthday

Staying Alive, by the Bee Gees

I Can Feel it Coming in the Air Tonight, by Phil Colins

Fever, by Peggie Lee

Personally, I love to sing I Will Survive, but, when I’m with my 3-year-old grandson, Max, I switch to Happy Birthday. It always makes us giggle.

Keep Your Distance in Social Situations 

Recently, the CDC in the U.S. updated its coronavirus recommendations to say that older adults should “stay at home as much as possible.” But, what if you need to get out into the world, perhaps to go shopping for groceries or to pick up your medications?

The best advice that I have seen is to practice keeping your distance from others. This could include avoiding close physical contact, like giving a friend that you meet on the street a hug. Or, it could involve standing farther away from the other people in the line at the supermarket.

At the end of the day, if you have a support network, now is probably a good time to ask for some help with your daily tasks so that you can stay at home. But, if you do need to go out, a little “social distancing” will go a long way to reducing your coronavirus risk.

Stock up on a Few Essentials – Food, Medication and Household Items

By now, you have probably seen pictures on Facebook and Twitter of long lines at grocery stores and supermarkets. And, it is true that some people are going a bit over the top – no-one really needs 500 tins of baked beans and enough toilet paper to service a small army camp.

But, this doesn’t mean that stocking up on a few essentials – including food, medications and household items is irrational. In fact, the CDC recommends that each of us have basic supplies on hand.

Given the fact that supermarkets across the U.S. are likely to be busier than usual for the next few weeks, this would be a good time to ask someone in your family to add a few items onto their shopping list for you. This way, you can stay safe at home, while getting the things that you need.

When I went to the supermarket last week, I bought a 2-week supply of food, hygiene products, soap, toilet paper, bottled water, batteries, ibuprofen and other basics. I also asked my doctor for a refill on my medications. 

Of course, this is a fast-moving situation and I highly encourage you to check out the official recommendations from your government. Here are a few important links:

CDC’s Recommendations for People at Higher Risk for Coronavirus Complications

World Health Organization Coronavirus Information and Guidance

Now that I’ve provided a round-up of what most governments around the world are recommending, I wanted to add a couple of quick thoughts of my own.

Once again, I am not a medical professional and I am not providing specific medical advice. But, since these ideas fall into the “it couldn’t hurt and might actually help” category and I am personally adding them to my toolkit.

Let a Little Sunlight (and Humidity) Into Your House

You probably know that UV light is a powerful killer of bacteria and viruses. After all, it’s used in hospitals around the world to clean medical instruments. But, what about sunlight?

As it turns out, sunlight is surprisingly effective at killing viruses and bacteria, even when filtered through a window. According to a recent study, run by Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, “The major takeaway from this study is that even if the sunlight goes through conventional panes of glass, it retains a substantial capacity to kill bacteria and viruses. We did not know whether the sunlight passing through panes of glass would retain some of this capacity to disinfect, and it does. So that’s a great thing.”

So, why am I personally going out of my way to open my blinds? Two reasons…

First, I want to do everything in my power to stay out of the doctor’s office. So, if sunlight can help to clean the surfaces in my house, I’m all for that! Maybe it will give me a slight edge against the coronavirus… or, maybe it will just reduce my risk of getting the flu or a common cold.

Second, I don’t know about you, but, being stuck in my house isn’t great for my mood. Letting a little sunlight into my house is helping to keep me happy and sane.

When the warmer weather returns, I’ll probably give my skin a break and start filtering out some of the light. But, for now, I’m just enjoying a little more radiance in my life. It probably makes sense to ask your doctor of letting some more sun into your house makes sense for you.

And, while we’re on the subject of improving your home environment, did you know that humidity levels above 40% can help to kill viruses. Specifically, a recent review of 40 scientific studies found that rooms with relative humidity levels in the 40-60% range have significantly fewer flu viruses floating around and on surfaces.

So, maybe it’s time to invest in a humidifier. I did and I actually sleep much better!

Practice Good Dental Hygiene

For the most part, our bodies are efficient at keeping bacteria and viruses out. Our skin is a veritable fortress and there are only a few places that we are exposed to the outside world – most importantly our noses and mouths.

So, perhaps it won’t surprise you that a recent Yale study found that people who practice poor dental hygiene are at a higher risk of contracting pneumonia. Now, we obviously don’t know if there is a connection between dental hygiene and the coronavirus, but, I say, “what have we got to lose.”

Why not be extra dutiful with our brushing, flossing and mouthwash?

Finding the Golden Mean and Staying Healthy in the Time of the Novel Coronavirus

The coronavirus is real. No, it’s not “just like the flu.” And, we really should take it seriously. This means washing out hands regularly (and properly!), keeping our distance from others and stocking up to a reasonable degree on supplies.

At the same time, we should not succumb to fear or a sense of hopelessness. We may not be able to control everything related to the coronavirus, but, we can control some things. And, even simple steps can go a long way to keeping us safe.

I hope that the resources in this article were useful to you. I highly encourage you to check the CDC’s website every few days to see if there are any new recommendations. And, in the meantime, try to spend a bit more time at home, enjoying a good book or diving into your Netflix recommendations list.

Are you concerned about the coronavirus? Why or why not? What are you doing to protect yourself? Let’s have a conversation.

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