The World Health Organization has categorized COVID-19 as a pandemic. It is a serious health threat and the situation is evolving daily.
In order to lessen the impacts of COVID-19, everyone has a role to play. It takes more than the government and action from the health sector to protect the health and safety of Filipinos. Each of us can help our country by understanding how the virus spreads and how to prevent illness.
In this article, we discuss the different health measures that you can observe to help protect yourself, your family, and your community against COVID-19.
COVID-19 Health Measures
Public health measures such as respiratory etiquette, hand hygiene, and environmental cleaning in the home are the key public measures to protect individuals, their loved ones, and others against seasonal influenza and other respiratory diseases. These same measures are also effective when COVID-19 is circulating in the community.
The application of these public health measures will help prevent and control the transmission of any respiratory infectious disease, including COVID-19.
Hand hygiene refers to hand washing using water and soap. It may also refer to sanitizing the hands using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to maintain clean hands and fingernails. Make sure to wash your hands frequently using water and soap for about 15-20 seconds, particularly:
- Before and after preparing food
- Before and after eating
- After sneezing or coughing
- Before and after using a procedure/surgical mask
- After using the toilet
- Whenever your hands look dirty
If water and soap are not readily available, you can clean your hands using an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains about 60% alcohol. When using an alcohol-based sanitizer, make sure that all surfaces of your hands are covered (i.e. between fingers and front and back of hands), and rub your hands together until they feel dry. For visibly dirty hands, dirt should first be removed using an alcohol-based hand wipe, followed by the use of an alcohol-based sanitizer.
Make sure to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Respiratory etiquette refers to the different measures implemented to minimize the dispersion of large particle respiratory droplets when a sick person is sneezing, coughing, and talking to lessen virus transmission.
Proper respiratory etiquette includes:
- Covering your sneezes and coughs with a tissue or procedure/surgical mask. If you use a tissue, make sure to dispose of it immediately in a lined waste container. Also, make sure to perform hand hygiene immediately after you sneeze or cough.
- Instead of coughing or sneezing on your hand, make sure to cough/sneeze into the bend of your arm.
Environmental cleaning refers to cleaning frequently used and touched objects and surfaces to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. It should also be done to help mitigate the risk of people becoming infected through self-inoculation after touching contaminated surfaces. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been shown to survive in the environment for up to several days. Cleaning, particularly frequently touched surface, can help kill the virus and effectively stop it from infecting people.
- Cleaning the home. Frequently touched areas and objects such as light switches, door handles, toilets, tables, remote controls, and chairs should be cleaned and disinfected daily with water and regular household cleaning products (or you may also use a diluted bleach solution). If they can withstand the use of liquids for disinfection, regularly touched electronics such as computers, cell phones, and other devices may be disinfected with 70% alcohol. All used disposable contaminated items should be disposed in a lined container before throwing them away with other household waste.
- Cleaning public areas. Cleaning and disinfecting high traffic public areas such as airports and malls should follow regular cleaning and disinfecting routines, both in terms of products used and surfaces targeted, as it is not likely sustainable or practical to increase cleaning frequency. Community settings are encouraged to develop protocols for cleaning public areas if they currently don’t have an established cleaning routine.
Offices and other similar community settings are encouraged to clean highly touched objects and surfaces such as phones, computers, washrooms, tables, elevators, etc. frequently. Furthermore, they are encouraged to recommend and facilitate increased hand hygiene. It is also recommended that items that cannot be easily cleaned such as magazines and newspapers be removed.
Social distancing measures are methods taken to minimize close contact with others in the community. Social distancing measures including self-quarantine and self-isolation at the individual level, as well as other community-based approaches such as workplace and school closures, avoiding crowded places, and cancelling large gatherings.
It is highly important that individuals follow self-quarantine and isolation recommendations properly to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to others in the home setting or in the community. It is suggested that all individuals in the community plan ahead by maintaining a supply of essential home supplies, medications, and non-perishable food in the even that they require voluntary self-quarantine or isolation.
- Home Quarantine. Home quarantine (self-quarantine) is recommended for an asymptomatic individual, when they have a high risk of exposure to COVID-19 (i.e. through close contact with a symptomatic individual). Asymptomatic individuals are asked to self-quarantine at home to avoid contact with others in order to prevent transmission and spread of the virus at the earliest stage of illness.
- Isolation. Isolation is recommended for a symptomatic person who is suspected of having, or known to have, COVID-19. They are instructed by health professionals to isolate themselves in the home-setting and avoid close contact with others until a health professional advises that they are no longer considered contagious. Isolation can take place in the home or in a hospital-setting and it includes:
- Not going out of your home.
- Not using public transportation (i.e. jeepneys, taxis, buses).
- Having supplies delivered to your home instead of running errands.
- If leaving the home cannot be avoided (i.e. going to a medical appointment), make sure to wear a mask. If a mask if unavailable, make sure to cover your mouth and nose with tissues and maintain a 6 feet distance from others.
Other social distancing measures include:
- Protective Self-Separation. Protective self-separation is recommended for individuals who are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 – this includes older adults, immunocompromised individuals, and individuals with chronic underlying medical conditions.
- Avoiding Crowded Places. Avoiding crowded places is recommended for asymptomatic individuals and those who are considered to have a medium risk of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This involves avoiding crowded public spaces and settings, such as malls, restaurants, and mass gatherings (i.e. concerts, sporting events).
Use of Masks
If available, masks should be used by a symptomatic person to provide a physical barrier that may help prevent the transmission of the virus by blocking the dispersion of large particle respiratory droplets propelled by talking, sneezing, and coughing. A face mask should always be combined with other measures such as hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. They can be worn by individuals suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19 when in close contact with other people at home or if they must leave the home for medical attention.
For people providing direct care for an individual confirmed to have COVID-19, the use of a mask must be combined with gloves, eye protection, and other contact/droplet prevention measures including hand hygiene and environmental cleaning.
There is no evidence on the efficacy of masks worn by health individuals as a mitigation measure, thus it is not recommended. Globally, masks are in short supply and the current demand for masks can’t be met, so the appropriate use of masks should be encouraged.
The Bottom Line
We all have a part to play in preventing the spread of this disease. Let’s all follow the health measures set by the government, observe proper hand hygiene, and always maintain social distancing when out.
Stay healthy and safe!