A Doctor Answers Your Daily COVID-19 Concerns

Living in such turbulent times, with a global pandemic looming on our mind, body and soul, there is currently no aspect of life that doesn’t have a corona concern attached to it. If you, like us, have precautionary doubts in your mind about every little step you take these days, scroll down for Dr. Asmara Malik answering our not-so-frequently-answered FAQ for COVID-19.


Are gloves and masks necessary for grocery runs?

No, they are not!

The WHO only recommends the usage of masks if you are taking care of someone sick at home with COVID-19 or you are a healthcare worker facing daily interactions with COVID-19 patients. Gloves aren’t required as well because, unlike our hands, they can’t be washed repeatedly, and must be discarded after each use.

The best precaution is to maintain social distancing from other people in the store, don’t touch your face while picking up items from the store and wash your hands as soon as you come home.

However, if you are immunocompromised or suffer from a chronic disease, like hypertension, diabetes, or cancer, you can wear a mask in crowded places to minimize your chances of picking up bugs other than COVID-19

Is being in the back seat of your car or taxi a safe distance from the driver if the driver is wearing a mask?

It is less than the recommended 1 meter or 6 feet distance but as long as you wash your hands immediately after leaving the car and don’t touch your face while you’re in the car, you should be fine. Sanitize your hands with an alcohol based rub if you tend to touch your face a lot.

Crack a window open to ensure good ventilation and if you do feel the urge to cough or sneeze, do it into your bent elbow so you don’t spread the bug to anyone else.

Some people don’t follow social distancing protocols at grocery stores. Is it possible to catch the virus through someone just passing by you?

Highly unlikely, especially if you don’t have any predisposing conditions! Have a chat with the store management and show them any number of viral videos on the internet regarding social distancing in check-out lines implemented by such simple measures as simply standing on a sticker placed the required 1 meter apart. If you suffer from any condition that suppresses your immune system, are predisposes you to develop COVID-19, you should wear a mask before going outside.

Does ventilation in a grocery store matter? Should people avoid grocery sections in basements or with poor ventilation?

Yes, it does, but not for COVID-19 transmission. As the virus is too heavy to remain suspended in the air, it will settle on stationary objects and transfer once a person touches that object and then directly touches their face. So, while it’s okay to shop for your items in basements, make sure you’re not touching your face while doing so and that you immediately wash or sanitize your hands as soon as you’re done.

How do we disinfect fruits and vegetables? How should we disinfect groceries?

For regular fruits and vegetables, soap and warm water is ideal! But cooking all food items thoroughly is also effective at killing the virus. For external packaging, discard the outer casing then wash your hands. For packaging that cannot be discarded, wipe down with an alcohol based wipe or spray, ensuring that you get all sides of the package.

As long as you’re washing your hands with soap and water, you cannot spread the virus around and the chain of transmission is broken.

Should outside clothes be taken off and thrown in the laundry as soon as you’re back from a grocery run?

No! Not unless your grocery run takes you through a busy ward or hospital full of COVID-19 patients, and someone actively coughed or sneezed enough for you to see the droplets land on your clothing. Gross but highly unlikely. Your skin can only transmit the virus to you through your mouth, nose or eyes, so as long as that portal of entry is closed by regular hand washing, no need to run so many rounds of laundry.

Do we need to disinfect the bottom of our shoes before entering our homes?

Nope! It’s always good, even in times of no pandemic, to keep your outside shoes separate from your inside shoes as the soles shoes are known to transmit fecal contaminations like E. Coli and other nasty bugs. But as long as you’re using a regular detergent or soap to wipe down your floor, no need to worry. If you want to be extra cautious, keep machine-safe rubber shoes for your outside errands and wash them with detergent as soon you’re back.

Is getting takeout or ordering food a good idea?

If you’re sure that the food is hygienically cooked, and delivered in packaging that can be easily discarded, there shouldn’t be a problem. However, you must give your food an extra round in the microwave just to ensure you’re zapping all the bugs dead. Typhoid-endemic areas like Pakistan often have issues in restaurant-based deliveries, even without the looming threat of pandemics. Caution is preferred!

What precautionary protocol should one take with food deliveries?

Wash your hands as soon as you’ve received and paid for it. Discard the outer packaging and re-heat in a microwave. Wash your hands before eating. Bon apetit!

How safe is it to shop online for clothes and recreational things and what protocol should be followed?

It’s pretty safe! As long as you’re discarding the packaging appropriately and washing your hands frequently, you’ll be breaking the virus’s chain of transmission. If you’re feeling symptomatic, you should let someone else in your family collect the packages as you might put the delivery person at risk of contracting an infection.

Is soap and water good to clean packaging for food and other deliveries?

It absolutely is! But only in cases where you cannot discard the packaging like milk boxes. For disposable packaging, it is recommended that you discard it and wash your hands immediately after.

Do we need to sanitise beauty products?

Yes, you do! And no just when there’s a pandemic around. Anything that is meant to be on your face, eyes or mouth can be safely sanitized with 60-70% isopropyl alcohol. Ensure that the spray has dried fully before you apply your products to your skin. Minimize sharing between family members to decrease the risk of infection. Safely sanitize the outer casing of your products with a wipe or a soap and water based solution.

What to do with skincare and makeup items left open or suspected to be contaminated?

If you suspect contamination and it’s expired, feel free to discard. If not, a 60-70% isopropyl alcohol spray should safely decontaminate it. No virus can live on a surface for more than a couple of days, so if you’re feeling really shady, drop that product in a locked drawer and forget about it for a week.

How often should we wash our hair? Can hair become a carrier?

Wash as often or as little as is suitable for your hair-type. Unless you’re prone to chewing on your hair, you don’t need to worry about it. People with bangs should ideally pin them back from their eyes and face, especially if they have frequent contact with patients infected with COVID-19.

If a room is disinfected once and no one’s going in and out again and again, do surfaces in the room still need daily disinfecting?

Nope, a thorough wipe-down and zero contact with anyone means the chain of transmission is pretty effectively broken. It is critical that high-touch surfaces in your home do get wiped down daily, especially if someone comes home from the outside. These include tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks—anything that gets touched by different people frequently over the course of the day.

Is vinegar really a good substitute for alcohol to disinfect surfaces?

No, unfortunately, it is not. There isn’t enough evidence to suggest that it is as effective as alcohol or bleach in killing the virus which is why it is not recommended as a disinfecting agent for homes.

What disinfectants really work against viruses?

The CDC has a very extensive list of approved cleaning agents for various viruses but in general, regular household use, warm water and soap or detergent, anything with an alcohol content of 60-70% and diluted household bleach.

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