With the rapid spread of the coronavirus throughout the U.S., it has become clear that social isolation is the best course of action to slow the spread of disease in order to prevent stressing our medical facilities beyond their capabilities.
While this is a necessary measure to "flatten the curve," spending days on end indoors has its own drawbacks that can lead to an increased risk of infection, whether we are talking about the coronavirus, influenza, or other illnesses.
It should be kept in mind that there are no high-quality, long-term studies on COVID-19, and thus the recommendations contained in this article are going to be based on the best available information. It is better to use the precautionary principle whenever possible. With that in mind, here are six tips for staying healthy while isolating:
1. Wash your hands.
This should be an obvious one. Hand-washing with soap is an effective way to prevent the spread of many microbes, including the coronavirus. The surfactant action of soap disrupts the fatty outer membrane of the virus and helps destroy it. There is no need to use an antibacterial soap, as those have not been found to be more effective than regular soap, and certain chemicals used in antimicrobial soaps are associated with an increased risk of cancer, such as triclosan.
2. Use a humidifier with humidistat.
The majority of studies done on viruses show that low humidity increases the spread and risk of infection. People should be using a humidifier with a humidistat, which helps maintain the proper humidity at 50 to 55%. This is the ideal range to decrease the spread of viral particles.
3. Use a high-quality air filter with UVC light.
One of the problems of spending a lot of time indoors all day is that buildings get very little airflow. This allows for the buildup of viral particles (along with allergens, other microbes, and chemicals from cleaners, paints, furniture, etc.). To decrease this exposure, it is best to use a high-quality air filter that includes a HEPA filter plus UVC light, which helps kill microorganisms like viruses. At the very least, we should be opening our windows to allow for air circulation throughout the house daily.
4. Disinfect surfaces with an effective but nontoxic cleaner.
It's been shown that the coronavirus can live on surfaces for a few days, thus it is important to clean home surfaces often. One of the most effective and cheap disinfectants can be made easily by mixing equal parts 70% isopropyl alcohol and clear ammonia. Many other commercial disinfectants contain chemicals that can cause harm to the lungs over time and should be avoided if possible.
5. Spend some time outside.
Just because you are quarantined doesn't mean you cannot go outside. Spending time in the sun can help increase vitamin D levels, which helps decrease viral replication, as do the ultraviolet rays. Being outside in the fresh air is also preferable to the recirculated indoor air where viral particles can accumulate. Following the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918–19, Open-Air Therapy was instituted in some hospitals and believed to improve outcomes in those affected. So get outside, go for a walk, play, have a picnic—enjoy having an excuse to slow down and unplug in nature.
6. Focus on the basics.
There are plenty of things we know help improve the immune system, such as getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated, eating a healthy and diverse diet of whole foods, limiting processed foods and alcohol intake, and doing moderate exercise. It's easy to overlook the basics for fancy "immune-boosting" supplements that are marketed as miracle cures (which is why we prefer to say "immune-supporting"), but I'll take eight hours of sleep over elderberry syrup any day of the week.