Conferences and concerts postponed. Entire sports seasons canceled. Your cousin’s birthday dinner? Highly suspect. As coronavirus (COVID-19) cases swell and more jurisdictions declare states of emergency, communal gatherings are increasingly banned or discouraged – not to mention socially unpopular amid concern over the virus’ spread.
Immunocompromised communities and a growing portion of the general public are practicing social distancing: foregoing events, avoiding public spaces, limiting face-to-face interactions, and staying home more than normal. This behavior, which is recommended by governments and health agencies, is designed to limit the possibility of contact between infected individuals and those who are not infected, and thus slow disease transmission. The more we are able to slow transmission, the less likely our healthcare centers are to become overwhelmed by a rapid spike in new cases.
The CDC recommends against holding in-person events of 50 people or more – including holiday celebrations and weddings – for the next 8 weeks, as we strive to stay safe in this rapidly changing situation.
But how can we properly practice social distancing in our daily lives? Here are some tips we’ve gleaned from health experts and members of our spondyloarthritis (SpA) community.
- Keep a distance of at least 6 feet from other people while in communal places. The CDC recommends avoiding “close contact” as a preventative measure.
- Work remotely if your employer gives you the option. If you do not have that option, try to avoid close contact with coworkers or customers.
- Consider using an online meeting platform to teleconference with others rather than meeting in person. (Many of SAA’s support groups have begun meeting virtually, for example.)
- Concerned about visiting a health clinic where you may be exposed to infected individuals? Try to speak with your doctor on the phone for non-emergency issues, unless you are told to come in for a visit.
- Refill prescriptions online or by phone if you can, to save a trip to the pharmacy. Have medications delivered to you by mail if that service is available to you.
- Call your insurance company to find out if you can refill a prescription early so you have extra medications to keep at home. (Some states are ordering insurers to provide this service. You can petition your representatives to advocate for this issue.)
- If you order food or other items at home, have the delivery person leave your items outside the door rather than handing them off face-to-face.
- Shop by mail rather than in-person when possible. Disinfect mail-order retail packages with an alcohol-based sanitizer spray or wipe as you bring them into your house. The coronavirus can live on a cardboard box for about 1 day, and can survive on plastic and stainless steel for up to three days. (Sources agree that is highly unlikely you can contract COVID-19 by mail, unless your mail carrier is ill. Maintain proper distance from delivery personnel, and know that the U.S. Postal Service is urging sick employees to stay home.)
- Instead of exercising at the gym, where germs linger on equipment and air doesn’t circulate well (some gyms are closed for the time being anyway), consider going for a walk or hike outside in the fresh air, away from others. Or, you can do stretching, cardio, or yoga exercises at home.
- Remember, keeping mentally and emotionally healthy is just as important as safeguarding your physical health during this pandemic. Establish good habits and routines, like going on short walks or spending time in nature. Turn to healthy coping methods, like engaging in an old hobby. And reduce your feelings of aloneness by keeping in touch with loved ones, virtually. Staying healthy while self-quarantining can lead to long-term wellness down the road.
Further Steps for Self-Quarantining:
If you suspect you may have contracted COVID-19 and are showing symptoms of illness, call your doctor and find out when and where you can get tested. Take extra safety precautions to prevent spreading the virus. If you are concerned you may have been exposed to someone infected, there are steps you can take to quarantine yourself to protect the health of those you live with. Remember that the incubation period of the virus may last up to 14 days.
- Pick one room in the house where you will spend your time, away from housemates or family members, and stock this room with essentials and items to keep you occupied (such as books, games, or electronics).
- When you have to leave the room to use the bathroom or go to the kitchen, wear an N95 mask, carry an alcohol-based disinfectant and disinfect all surfaces you touch (doorknobs, counters, etc.). Leave disinfectant spray on surfaces to dry rather than wiping off any residual spray.
- Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds (this doesn’t kill the virus like an alcohol-based disinfectant does, but clears germs away from your skin, to prevent spreading them).
- Wash your clothes in hot water when possible, as heat may shorten the lifespan of the virus.
- Do your best to rest, stay hydrated, and practice self-care steps such as meditation to relieve stress and get back on the path to wellness.
Have questions about how COVID-19 affects people with spondyloarthritis? Check out our comprehensive interview with rheumatologist Dr. John Reveille, “Coronavirus and Spondyloarthritis: Your Questions, Answered,” and our follow-up interview, “Does Having Spondyloarthritis Put You at Greater Risk For the Coronavirus?”