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Maybe a polite nod and warm smile instead.


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The global outbreak of novel coronavirus and its resulting disease COVID-19 has already taught you how to cough into your inner elbow, thoroughly wash your hands and what kind of face masks will and won’t protect you best. But if you plan to go to work, dine out, shop in stores and ride public transportation, you’ll need practical tips to feel comfortable while keeping yourself — and others — safe.

I’m a tech journalist, not an infectious disease expert. But I want to share some practices I adopted during my recent trip to Portugal and England at a time when confirmed COVID-19 cases began spiking in Italy, Germany, France and Spain. I’ve continued to follow them since returning to Silicon Valley as well.

The day before my flight back, two baggage handlers at London’s Heathrow Airport, my departure hub, tested positive for the virus. But ironically, it’s my home in Santa Clara County that might put me at greater risk to exposure — there are currently 43 known cases and one death at a hospital just five miles away. For the time being, I intend to stay part of the world. Carefully.

Enough with the fingertips: Use your knees, feet, elbows and knuckles instead

If you’re still pressing elevator buttons with your fingertips, stop. Any time you have to open a door, push a button, pull a lever or digitally sign for something, use a different body part instead. You have plenty.

For example, I’ll often tap out a pin code with my knuckle instead of the pad of my finger, or push open a door with my shoulder, hip or foot instead of my hands.

You can usually flip on a light switch or sink faucet with your elbow or wrist, and you can wrap the sleeve of your sweater or jacket around the handle of doors you have to physically pull open. It’s easy enough to toss your clothing into the wash later rather than expose your skin now, especially if the chances you’ll use your hands to touch food items is high (e.g. you’re opening the door to a coffee shop).

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Automated door openers like this can keep your hands from touching common surfaces.


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Look for the automatic option

Most modern buildings have accessibility buttons to open doors for people with mobility concerns. You can easily touch this with your forearm, hip or foot (some are pretty low down) and wait the few seconds for the doors to open. 

Consider buying an automatic soap dispenser for home so you don’t have to worry about transferring germs to the pump.

Pay attention to where you put your phone down

While Apple now says you can use disinfecting wipes safely on its iPhones, another smart idea is to avoid placing your device on iffy surfaces to begin with. Do you really need to take your phone into the bathroom stall with you, or can you just leave it in a coat pocket or purse? 

When you’re at a restaurant or anywhere with a shared surface, lay down a napkin and set your phone on that. It’ll save you having to disinfect your phone quite so often. (You can also use napkins to pick up shared condiment bottles if you feel comfortable with that.) 

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If microfiber cloth doesn’t put your mind at ease, you can use disinfecting wipes on iPhones now.


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Limit those high-fives, handshakes and hugs

A cautionary tale: A Washington, DC priest who recently tested positive for coronavirus reportedly shook hands with over 500 people during church communion.

Even if you feel fine personally, social distancing is a compassionate way to protect people in vulnerable demographics, like your elderly relatives and those with health complications. It isn’t always apparent when someone has a compromised immune system or other invisible underlying health concern.

I won’t even think about the salad bar

For me, it isn’t worth the risk of projectile coughs and sneezes. While I haven’t read reports linking salad bars to coronavirus outbreaks, I have over the years witnessed people picking up food items with their bare hands and practicing questionable hygienic habits. If you’re worried about lots of hands touching serving spoons, it’s a good time to take a break.

However, some restaurants, like a Souplantation in Los Angeles, appear to be taking measures. A sign from management asks guests to “Please use hand sanitizer before going down the salad bar,” the LA Times reported.

Wash your hands every time you get home

As a contacts-wearer, I touch my eyes often. Making a beeline for the bathroom is now the first thing I do whenever I get home or to my hotel, office or wherever it is I’m going to be for awhile. That’s after being out, after going to the gym, even before using the restroom. I might wash the soap dispenser pump and faucet handles, too.

That helps me feel safe enough to adjust my contacts, blow my nose and pick that nagging something or other out of my teeth in the comfort of my own space.

Carry extra napkins, wet wipes and facial tissue

Packing extra tissues, wet wipes and other paper products in my purse is already part of my habit, but now I pay extra attention to how much paper I have on hand. 

Normally, I might use a spare napkin to wipe my hands after an impromptu snack (also in my bag). Today, these products could come in handy to clear away germs, or act as a barrier between you (or your phone) and a surface. For example, opening a door handle if you just saw someone cough into their hands before turning a knob.

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Try not to handle cash money

Cash is already considered dirty — you never know what kind of germs linger on its surface. If you can pay with a debit or credit card instead of handling bills and coins, you could reduce that icky feeling that you don’t know where your money’s been. 

A large number of payment terminals accept Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and credit cards with the contactless logo on them. And remember, if a digital signature is required, you can use your knuckle instead of your index finger. For a physical signature, start packing your own pen.

Banish questionable items to a 9-day time out

The novel coronavirus can cling to surfaces, such as your jacket or a tabletop, for up to nine days at room temperature, studies have found. After that, it’s thought to die and no longer be able to infect you. 

We know that a thorough cleaning with good ol’ soap and water will kill the virus’ structure, but if you’re not sure how to disinfect an item, like a dry-clean-only jacket or pair of boots, setting it aside for 10 days is another option. 

Since COVID-19 incubates in the body from one to 14 days, you can set it aside longer if you’re extra concerned.

Read on for global coronavirus updates, how to track the virus’ spread across Europe, Asia and the US, and how COVID-19 is affecting the entire tech industry.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.