With so much news circulating about the coronavirus outbreak, it can be hard to know what to trust, and how to protect yourself and your employees. At Pro Housekeepers, we understand how important it is to maintain a clean, healthy environment at work and home. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide to teach you everything you need to know about the COVID-19 outbreak, based on all the latest advice and information from reputable sources. Get informed now.
Pro Tip: While we’ve compiled this guide using the most reliable sources and up-to-date information, we’re learning more about the coronavirus outbreak every day. Always check the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization websites for the latest news and advice.
What is the coronavirus?
Coronavirus (CoV) is the family name for a type of virus that causes a range of respiratory infections in humans. Most coronaviruses are very benign and are responsible for mild symptoms like those associated with the common cold. A few coronaviruses, however, are much more dangerous and cause severe symptoms, including death. Some more serious coronaviruses include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and SARS-CoV.
The coronavirus currently in the news is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), and it first emerged in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019. The disease it causes is known as COVID-19.
At any given time, there are countless active cases of human coronaviruses around the world. Coronaviruses are responsible for 10-15 percent of cases of the common cold, for example. What makes COVID-19 so worrying is how infectious it is, and the fact it can cause lethal symptoms.
Why is COVID-19 so dangerous?
A lot of the concern about this coronavirus outbreak comes from the fact it’s brand new. Scientists simply don’t yet know how dangerous it is, what its overall fatality rate will be, or the extent of its symptoms.
As more cases are diagnosed, we’re building a better picture every day of how the virus is transmitted and what it does to humans. Staying informed about these factors will help you keep yourself, your family, and your coworkers safe.
SARS-CoV-2 is classed as a novel coronavirus, meaning it’s new to humans. This makes it especially dangerous because nobody has prior immunity, and so we’re all potentially susceptible to infection.
At the time of writing, there are over 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, and 3,460 confirmed deaths. The death rate might seem to be constantly changing because right now, we don’t have a complete picture of the outbreak to know how many cases truly exist and how many deaths COVID-19 has caused.
Pro Tip: You might have seen news reports talking about the morbidity, mortality, and fatality rates of coronavirus. Morbidity means how many people in a population will be affected, while fatality means how many infected people will die. Another measure, the mortality rate, means how many people in the general population (infected or not) will die from the disease.
For example, if Disease A had a morbidity rate of 10 percent, then there would be 10,000 cases for every 100,000 people. If its fatality rate were 2 percent, then 200 people of those 10,000 infected would die. That would give it an overall mortality rate of just 0.002 percent (200 people in every 100,000). Fatality rates are always several factors higher than mortality rates because mortality takes into account the entire population, not just those who are infected.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
For the majority of people, symptoms of COVID-19 will be mild, cold or flu-like coughs and fevers. Some will experience respiratory distress, while a minority will suffer pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), kidney failure, and death.
According to the latest data, COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to 14 days, although, on average most people start to show symptoms after 5-6 days. What that means is you can be infected with the virus but show no signs (known as being asymptomatic). The first symptoms to appear will be coughing and fever, sometimes worsening to more serious upper respiratory tract (URT) symptoms as the illness progresses.
According to research by the World Health Organization, based on studies of over 55,000 laboratory-confirmed cases, the most common symptoms are:
- fever (88 percent)
- dry cough (68 percent)
- fatigue (38 percent)
- sputum production (33 percent)
- shortness of breath (19 percent)
- muscle pain (15 percent)
- sore throat (14 percent)
- headaches (14 percent)
- muscle or joint pain (15 percent)
- chills (11 percent)
Telling COVID-19 apart from common infections can be difficult because there are so many similarities in symptoms. However, people who develop a fever in tandem with a dry, scratchy cough should contact their doctor.
While the thought of contracting a new and potentially deadly virus is scary, approximately 80 percent of the cases the WHO studied were classed as mild to moderate. Almost 14 percent of cases were considered severe, causing breathing difficulties and associated low blood oxygen saturation. Just 6 percent were classed as critical, with patients suffering from respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or multiple organ dysfunction or failure.
Those at highest risk from COVID-19 are people over 60, and anyone who has an underlying condition that leaves them immunocompromised, such as cancer patients, people with diabetes, and those with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.
The chances of dying from COVID-19 increase sharply with age and the presence of other medical conditions. In the WHO study, patients over 80 had a confirmed fatality rate (CFR) of 21.9 percent, and those with comorbid conditions had a CFR of up to 13.2 percent. Patients with no underlying conditions had a CFR of just 1.4 percent, and those under 59 have a fatality rate of 1.3 percent or lower.
FATALITY RATE (all cases)
Source [correct as of March 8]
How is COVID-19 transmitted?
Despite the sudden demand for surgical masks, this strain of coronavirus is not airborne. It is transmitted via droplets and fomites (inanimate objects) that have been in close contact with an infected person. That means you’re unlikely to catch COVID-19 from a dry cough, or it merely being around in your area. However, if you come into close contact with an infected person (about 6 feet), share food, or touch a rail or door handle that an infected person has used, the chances of transmission increase.
During its studies of the virus in China, the WHO discovered that the most common place that human-to-human transmission occurred was in the home. More detailed studies are still ongoing, but the WHO estimates that household transmission rates range from 3 to 10 percent, meaning if someone in your home is infected with COVID-19, it’s more likely that you will be too.
How to prevent the spread of COVID-19
The steps to limit your exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 are very straightforward:
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
- Use hand sanitizer with 60-95 percent alcohol if soap and water is unavailable
- Don’t touch your mouth or face when out in public
- Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or sneezing
Because COVID-19 isn’t airborne, preventing transmission is mostly a matter of good hygiene practices. In particular, regularly washing your hands is the single most effective way of limiting the spread of this coronavirus.
Studies of the virus show that it has a lipid envelope, meaning its outer layer is made up of fat. Household soap is designed to dissolve fats, breaking them apart and making them water-soluble. This means that when the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 comes into contact with soap and water, it breaks down, and the virus is effectively destroyed.
It’s especially important to wash your hands after being out in public and touching surfaces that may have been touched by others. This includes door handles, handrails, shopping carts, shared pens, and credit card processing machines. While the virus has a low survival rate on inanimate surfaces, it is possible that some cases of COVID-19 have been contracted that way.
Because it’s sometimes difficult to access soap and water when out and about, you can use hand sanitizer as an alternative. Sanitizier is less effective than soap, and not all hand sanitizers are the same. The CDC says you must use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol in order to be effective at removing microbes. Even so, the CDC cautions that no hand sanitizer is as effective as washing properly with soap and water.
Pro Tip: You don’t need to use specialist antimicrobial soap to combat this coronavirus. The reason soap is so effective is that it breaks down the virus’s lipid envelope, destroying it. In viral terms, SARS-CoV-2 is incredibly easy to destroy because of this weakness, and that means plain old hand soap really is the most effective cleaner you can use.
Using a DIY hand sanitizer against COVID-19
You’ve probably seen a lot of recipes for DIY hand sanitizers available online since panic buying began, and many stores sold out. Most DIY recipes suggest combining 91% or 99% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) with aloe vera gel. The alcohol provides the antimicrobial properties needed to protect you from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, while the gel prevents your hands from being dried out by the alcohol.
While this works in theory, the problem with all of these recipes is accuracy. Calculate the percentages wrong and you could create a hand sanitizer that’s too strong and will damage your skin, or too weak, in which case it will be completely ineffective. And because these are DIY solutions, there’s no easy way to test them and know if your homemade hand sanitizer is helpful or harmful. There’s also the risk of contaminating your DIY sanitizer if you don’t use sterile equipment when you make it.
You might have seen the recipe for hand sanitizer the WHO published and think that means DIY solutions are being recommended for personal use, but the World Health Organization intended its guide to be used by medical practitioners who have access to sterile equipment and alcohol meters that measure the concentration of alcohol in the final mixture.
Finding the ingredients for a DIY hand sanitizer might also be difficult at this point. Many stores have already sold out of rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel as people turn to Pinterest recipes to protect their families. Vodka manufacturer Tito’s even had to take to social media to tell people not to use their product in DIY hand sanitizers—not least because an 80-proof vodka doesn’t provide enough alcohol to meet the CDC’s minimum guidelines for effectiveness. Instead, stick with soap and water.
How to wash your hands effectively to kill SARS-CoV-2
While the hand-washing message is getting out, many people are failing to wash their hands effectively enough to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. You should always use soap and water and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. That’s about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” all the way through twice.
Pro Tip: Sick of Happy Birthday? Try the chorus of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” or Beyonce’s “Love on Top” instead.
Step 1: Wet your hands thoroughly with water
Step 2: Add enough soap to cover your hands in a lather—about 1 standard pump of foam soap, 2 pumps of liquid soap
Step 3: Rub your palms together to lather the soap
Step 4: Place your left palm over the back of your right hand, interlace fingers, and rub back and forth
Step 5: Repeat with the right palm over the left hand
Step 6: Place palms together, interlace fingers, and rub back and forth
Step 7: Make a fist, press your knuckles against your palm and rub the back of your fingers. Repeat for each hand
Step 8: Clasp your hands and rub from the side of your pointer fingers down, enclosing your thumbs
Step 9: Rinse your hands thoroughly with running water
Step 10: Dry your hands thoroughly using a paper towel
Remember to conserve water by turning off the faucet between rinsing your hands. Before washing, you can use your hand to turn off the faucet. After washing, use the used paper towel to touch the faucet. This will minimize the risk of re-contaminating your hands.
When you should wash your hands
There’s very little risk attached to excessive hand washing beyond the risk of drying out your skin, so you can feel free to wash your hands as often as makes you comfortable. However, the CDC recommends you wash your hands after these particular circumstances:
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After using the restroom
- Before eating or preparing food
- Before and after providing care for others
- After touching public surfaces with high contact, such as door handles and shopping carts
How to properly disinfect and sanitize to avoid COVID-19
Transmission of COVID-19 is most likely between people in close proximity to each other, which means keeping your workplace clean is the most important thing you can do to prevent community spread. At Pro Housekeepers, we’ve investigated all the claims about what works and what doesn’t to bring you the latest information on what cleaning methods and solutions are the most effective at destroying this coronavirus.
What cleaning products kill coronavirus?
Because this coronavirus has a lipid envelope, any cleaner that’s designed to destroy fats is going to be highly effective at killing any viruses in your home or workplace.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a list of antimicrobial products that are suitable for use against SARS-CoV-2. These include:
- Clorox Multi-Surface Cleaner + Bleach
- Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
- Lysol Heavy-Duty Cleaner Disinfectant Concentrate
- Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover Mist
- Lysol Clean & Fresh Multi-Surface Cleaner
- Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Wipes
- Sani-Prime Germicidal Spray
There’s no need to use any of these detergents more often or for longer than they recommend on the label. Although none have yet been tested on this strain of coronavirus, they are all tested to kill more robust organisms and should have no trouble taking out any viral cells lurking around your office.
How to disinfect surfaces against coronavirus
If you don’t have any of these brand cleaners handy, you can still effectively clean your home and workplace against SARS-CoV-2 using household cleaners. The CDC says that “diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective” at preventing COVID-19 infections.
Step 1: Put on a pair of disposable rubber gloves
Step 2: Clean any visibly dirty surfaces using detergent or soap and water
Step 3: Make a bleach solution by adding 5 tablespoons (⅓ cup) of bleach to 1 gallon water
Step 4: Wash down surfaces using the bleach solution
Step 5: Rinse surfaces with clean water and dry thoroughly using a microfiber cloth or paper towels
Step 6: Dispose of the cloths, paper towels, and gloves used for cleaning
Step 7: Wash hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water
Pro Tip: To avoid waste, you can wash your microfiber cloths, reusable gloves, and cleaning tools using soap and water in order to kill any viruses, but for best practice, use disposable cleaning equipment and discard after each use. If you do stick with reusable tools, ensure you only use them for cleaning for SARS-CoV-2 and discard once your cleaning routine returns to normal.
How to clean soft surfaces to kill coronavirus
Although SARS-CoV-2 is unlikely to survive long on soft surfaces, it’s still a good idea to maintain a thorough cleaning routine during the outbreak to minimize the risk of transmission. The CDC recommends cleaning porous surfaces such as carpets, curtains, and clothes using appropriate cleaning solutions according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Many detergents are designed to work effectively on lipids and will be suitable for breaking down the virus that causes COVID-19.
Where possible, use water that’s as warm as possible for the materials you’re cleaning, and ensure you completely dry all items. Don’t forget to clean your washing machine after using it to clean any items that might have been contaminated.
How to clean the laundry of an infected person
If you’re cleaning clothes, towels, and linens used by a person who might be infected with COVID-19, there are some simple steps to take to ensure you stay safe.
Step 1: Use disposable gloves when handling laundry and discard them after you’re done
Step 2: Avoid shaking clothes to prevent scattering any droplets containing the virus
Step 3: Wash fabrics using a detergent and the hottest water suitable for the material
Step 4: Ensure all items are dried thoroughly
Step 5: Clean the liner of any laundry hampers they may have used, or consider switching to plastic bags and dispose of them after use
Step 6: Clean the washing machine and dryer
Step 7: Discard gloves and wash your hands immediately using soap and water
How often to clean to protect against coronavirus
Frequent cleaning is most effective at eliminating any SARS-CoV-2 pathogens that might be in your workplace. Encourage your staff to use household cleaners or disinfectants registered with the EPA to clean high-touch surfaces such as door handles, light switches, desk surfaces, toilets, faucets, and sinks, as often as they are used, especially if your workplace admits the public and it’s harder to control who touches what surface.
At home, clean high-touch surfaces after new contaminants have been potentially introduced. For example, after family members return from work or running errands. Encourage all members of your household to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds upon reentering the home and wipe down any surfaces they might have touched before doing so.
To prevent community spread, try to clean all the major surfaces of your home and workplace on a daily basis. This should minimize the risk of accidental transmission if you came into contact with a person shedding COVID-19 in public.
If there has been a known exposure to COVID-19, immediately clean all surfaces using EPA-approved disinfectants. If the exposure is ongoing, for instance, a member of your family is sick with COVID-19, consider reducing the frequency of cleaning in the sick person’s room in order to minimize exposure to the virus.
Encourage the ill person to remain in one area of the house and provide them with personal cleaning supplies. If isolation within the home isn’t possible, other members of the household should wait as long as possible before touching any surface the sick person has used. This will increase the chances of the virus dying on the surface before it has a chance to infect somebody else.
The CDC has also provided a detailed home care guide for keeping you and your family safe.
The most at-risk places for contracting COVID-19
Unless a member of your household or workforce is already exhibiting symptoms, the most likely place for transmission is out in public. Human-to-human transmission remains the most common way people are becoming infected, so try to avoid any areas where you’ll be in close proximity to lots of other people. Public transport systems such as subways are an obvious location where your proximity to a lot of strangers is high. However, that doesn’t mean we all need to start telecommuting or walking to the office.
Most infections occur between people less than six feet apart, so simply by maintaining distance from others, you’re protecting yourself from contracting COVID-19. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of anyone who is coughing or sneezing because the virus is transmitted most commonly through respiratory droplets.
Although some companies are suspending travel and encouraging employees to work from home, and a number of high-profile events such as SXSW have been canceled, most people don’t have to avoid going outdoors or changing their usual routines if they take the proper precautions of washing their hands regularly and avoiding touching their mouth or face.
Those who should take extra precautions right now are people over 65, and those who are suffering from preexisting conditions including respiratory diseases such as COPD, emphysema, and asthma, cancer patients, and the immunocompromised.
How to clean your workplace to protect against COVID-19
Staying on top of regular cleaning is important to keep your workplace safe from the risk of infection from any virus or bacteria, not just COVID-19. By following this guide, you can play a part in protecting your employees and coworkers from common causes of exposure:
Cleaning entry and reception areas
The areas where the most people come and go are at most risk of viral contamination. You’re less likely to be able to control who enters your workplace, or what they touch. Therefore these areas should be cleaned regularly in order to minimize the risk to your workforce.
Door handles will be the most frequently touched objects in the room. Try to wipe them down with an EPA-approved disinfecting solution between uses, or on a regular schedule depending on how busy your workplace is. Don’t forget to clean the door or window beside the handle, as more people will touch there instead of the handle itself if they’re also trying to avoid possible exposure to the virus.
The front of reception desks are often leaned on or touched by visitors, and also need to be regularly wiped down. If possible, use a disinfecting wipe after each contact. If that isn’t possible, either because your workplace is very busy, or to avoid being seen by and upsetting visitors, try to wipe down the desk at regularly scheduled intervals.
Consider putting away any pens that you usually make available for public use. Instead, offer visitors a pen if they need one, and ensure it’s cleaned before being reused. If you usually display business cards for visitors to take, consider removing the cardholder and offering visitors a card instead.
Clean point-of-sale card readers according to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid damaging the machine.
If you have a waiting area with chairs and tables, try to wipe them down using EPA-approved disinfectants after each use. If your waiting area is usually busy, take advantage of lunch hour if your workplace is closed to the public or quiet periods in the day when you can clean. Pay attention to armrests and other places where people most usually rest their hands.
Remove any magazines, toys, and other distractions you might put out to distract waiting visitors. These items are often too difficult to clean effectively. If you do choose to keep some distractions available, particularly toys, choose ones with surfaces that are easy to access for cleaning.
If your staff members have individual, wired telephones, clean them with disinfectant wipes before the start of each shift, and before and after any other person uses the phone. Pay particular attention to the handset and the dial pad. Consider removing shared telephones, as they’re harder to keep track of cleaning and more likely to result in any sickness spreading rapidly through your company.
Cleaning desks and conference rooms
For the most effective containment of any type of virus or infection in the workplace, it’s best if your staff have their own desks and chairs. If this isn’t possible, ensure that everything is wiped down between changes.
Desk surfaces should be cleaned with EPA-approved solutions when new staff members begin to use them, and after anyone has eaten at the desk.
You should also encourage employees to clean telephones and computer mice and keyboards at the start of each shift, and before and after changing users.
Cleaning break rooms and kitchens
COVID-19 is most commonly transmitted through close contact, so having many employees eating in the same area could increase the risk of the virus being transmitted through your workforce. Encourage all employees to clean tables and chairs before and after each use with disinfectant wipes.
Wash shared plates and utensils with warm, soapy water, and dry thoroughly using disposable paper towels. If you have a shared microwave, coffee maker, cooking facilities, or water dispenser, make sure they are all wiped down before and after each use. Charge one employee with the responsibility of cleaning the handles and buttons of the most commonly used appliances to ensure they are all disinfected on a regular basis.
While it isn’t your employees’ duty to clean the bathrooms in your workplace, they can take precautions to minimize the spread of all diseases in this area. Encourage them to avoid touching door handles, toilet handles, and faucets with bare skin, and to wash their hands thoroughly after using the restroom. Make sure the soap dispensers are filled, you provide plenty of disposable paper towels and have your cleaning company pay extra attention to high-touch areas during nightly cleans.
After hours cleaning
When your workplace is closed is the best time for intensive cleaning. Your regular cleaning company probably already takes most of the necessary precautions to minimize the risk of disease transmission, but ask them to use EPA-approved cleaners, and to focus on high-touch areas such as telephones, keyboards, and door handles.
How to clean your home to protect against COVID-19
At home, you’re the most protected against SARS-CoV-2. Providing nobody in your household is showing symptoms, your main concern should be in minimizing the risk of introducing the virus into the house. You can do this by encouraging everybody to wash their hands as soon as they enter, and regularly wiping down high-touch areas such as door handles, light switches, TV remotes, and faucets, using EPA-approved disinfectants.
Maintaining a clean home is always a good idea to protect against all kinds of infections and viruses. A clean home can help you stay healthier and live longer. COVID-19 isn’t the only organism that can make you and your family sick, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of infection at home.
For more assistance, follow Pro Housekeepers’ simple checklist to stay on top of keeping your home clean.
While the news might be full of horror stories about COVID-19, there’s no need to panic. The steps you need to take to minimize your risk of contracting the virus are straightforward and simple. Maintaining good cleaning habits and regular hand washing are the best things you can do to keep yourself, your workplace, and your family safe.
At Pro Housekeepers, we know a thing or two about keeping your home and business germ-free. Our cleaning pros are trained to get the spots that other cleaners miss, and they know the best cleaning solutions to use on every surface. Whether you’d like to have your home or workplace cleaned to minimize the risk from COVID-19, or just enjoy the results of a visit from a professional cleaning service, Pro Housekeepers is here to help.
Contact us today to see how we can help you protect your workforce and household from germs all year round.