Tips to Stay Healthy from a Biologist
By: Dr. Maia Larios-Sanz, Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences; Department Chair, Biology
So life has dramatically and suddenly changed. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that it kinda sucks. It does. Some of you might have had big plans over spring break that were cancelled. Or you might have put a lot of work into studying for that midterm before break and the test was cancelled. Or you were really looking forward to graduation and walking the stage in front of loved ones after much hard work, only to find that the celebration has to be postponed until December.
It sucks. It just does.
These are truly unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst health emergency since the 1918 H1N1 flu pandemic. We will be talking to our grandchildren about this! This pandemic can be scary. It is definitely disruptive and it has already deeply affected many aspects of our lives. It will likely continue to do so for a while, but here’s the thing – we are in this together, and we will get through it.
Campus closures and social distancing are things that absolutely had to happen. These strategies might seem dramatic, but they are our best chance to curb the number of cases of COVID-19 and keep ourselves and our community safe. You may have heard the concept of “flattening the curve” in the news these days. It means limiting the rate of exposure between susceptible people, and extending the number of positive cases over more days so that we can better accommodate patients that need hospitalization and we don’t run out of beds. This is the new normal, and it very well might be in place for a few weeks, if not longer.
So plans change. Let’s try to be flexible and make the best of an admittedly terrible situation. In the meantime, here are a few pointers to stay safe while you practice social distancing:
- Wash Your Hands
You have heard this repeatedly so just do it. Use soap and water and make sure to scrub your entire hands, including around the nail bed and between your fingers as well as around your wrists. Scrub with soap for 20 seconds before rinsing. The virus (officially named SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease known as COVID-19) has a fatty envelope that surrounds and protects it. This envelope is easily disrupted with soap, destroying its potential for infection. Wash often, especially if you come home from being out somewhere. Encourage others in your household to do the same. If you have small children or younger siblings, make sure they scrub long enough. Make it a game – making them sing the ABCs is a good way to ensure they wash as long as necessary.
- Avoid large gatherings and please stay home if at all possible
This is important. It ensures that you do not risk getting infected, but it also ensures that others don’t get exposed if you happen to have the virus. Studies show that COVID-19 is largely spreading through people who show no symptoms or who have mild symptoms and don’t know they are carrying the bug. Don’t get complacent and think that this disease is only affecting people older than 50 years old. Younger people are not immune, and although the chance of developing serious illness if you are young is lower, it is not zero - and it does happen. Additionally, younger people who get infected can still spread the virus, whether they develop a serious infection or not. Protect yourself and protect others by staying home.
- Disinfect commonly used areas in your space often
This includes table tops, countertops, doorknobs, etc. Clorox wipes are best if you have them, but a paper towel with soapy water works too. If you bring in a package or groceries, wipe down the spot where you unloaded bags or boxes, then wash your hands. Scientists have shown that SARS-CoV-2 remains detectable on hard surfaces for several hours (up to 24 hrs on porous material like paper and cardboard, but as long as 3 days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces).
- Don’t touch your face
The virus spreads into your body by gaining access through your nose, eyes, and mouth, so avoid touching your face with dirty hands. Since we subconsciously touch our face a lot, keeping your hands clean and washing often will help reduce the risk. It’s hard! I know! Especially for young kids. With my 5-year-old, we turned it into a game. How long can he go without me catching him touching his face? He polices me now too.
- Change Your Clothes
It may be overkill, but change clothes once you get home if you’ve been out and about. Put them directly in the washer or laundry basket so they don’t mix in with clean surfaces.
- Keep a stock of supplies in case you can’t go to the grocery store
Some stores are already looking like we are living in the zombie apocalypse, largely due to panic buying. There is no need to panic about shortages – Mayor Silvester Turner held a press conference earlier this week where he assured Houstonians that there are plenty of supplies. Still, restocking is taking longer than the demand requires, and some stores are already limiting how much of certain items you can buy, so plan accordingly. No need to hoard! Don’t panic, but in the event that we do have to stay home longer, it’s a good idea to have some supplies stored away. Strategize your food and snack consumption too – I’m making my kids eat all the bananas and oranges before they hit the cookies and chips.
- Monitor your own health and that of your family members
If you are sick, please stay home. If you develop a cough, a fever, and shortness of breath, contact your doctor immediately. If you are not feeling well, check in with your doctor. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations.
- Listen to the experts
This is a rapidly changing situation, and a lot can change from one day to the next. The COVID-19 Team at UST will continue to issue updates via our webpage and via email. Make sure you check these regularly. The WHO, the CDC and the US Department of Health are good sources for more information about this pandemic, and what the best practices are for staying safe and healthy. There’s a lot of misinformation out there too, so consider the source of what you are reading, and try not to forward or propagate false or misleading information.
- Try to take time to relax and rest
A rested body is better equipped to fight infection. Catch up on that home project you kept putting off. Read a good book. Garden. Dust off the family board games. Do whatever activity fosters peace of mind. Don’t obsess over the news or panic when headlines come out. Testing has increased in capacity in this country, so the number of reported cases will continue to increase in the coming days, and this can be scary. The reality is that this is an easily transmissible virus, so many people are likely to get it. The numbers will go up, but most people affected will have mild symptoms. I can’t say it enough: the best way to avoid getting this virus is to avoid crowds and limit your outings. Stay home. If you are feeling distressed or overwhelmed with this situation, reach out to someone. Check in with friends and family. Reach out to UST’s Counseling Services. Touch base with your profs. Remember, we are all feeling it, and we are all in this together.
- Don't Forget about School
Classes resume online on March 23rd. Your professors will be contacting you to explain how they have each decided to continue instruction. Make sure that your UST email is not full, and that you check it regularly for updates and announcements. Going online means that our learning environments will inevitably change. The assignments and assessments might change. You need to be in a patient and flexible mindset, and you need to be diligent about keeping up with the material. Be proactive about this. Don’t leave things to the last minute. Make sure you can access the online tools you need. If you can’t, communicate with your professor immediately. Some of you will be dealing with family obligations, helping take care of kids or younger siblings also staying home from school. You might have to help out in new ways in this new reality, and you’ll find yourself pulled in lots of different directions. It is important that you find some balance, and devote the time you can to studying and checking in with your class materials. Please know that the faculty are here to support you and to help you complete the semester well. We are working diligently, scrambling to figure out how to narrate PowerPoint slides and do video lectures, or find the perfect reading that will substitute a lecture. We are thinking carefully about how to give you the best experience possible under these circumstances. Do try to remain flexible and be patient! We will do the same.
This will pass. What the world will look like after it does, nobody really knows. While we hope for things to go as best as possible for all of us, I would urge all of you to think of others and do what you can to help your neighbors. An emergency situation is no excuse to lose compassion. Let’s take care of each other. Stay safe and stay healthy everyone!
For up-to-date information on University of St. Thomas, Coronavirus and health and safety resources visit, www.stthom.edu/stayhealthy.