How to Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19

By Lorin Jackson and Frankie Snow

From PHN Issue 42, Spring 2020


Handwashing can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here are some tips for handwashing:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Make sure you rub all hand surfaces with soap, including thumbs, fingertips, and backs of hands.
  • Dry with a paper towel if possible, and use that to turn the water off.
  • Always wash your hands before and after eating, and after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, or being in a crowded area.
  • If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer that contains 70% alcohol or more.
  • It is believed that the virus enters the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Coughing and Sneezing

  • Any time you cough or sneeze, try to cover your nose and mouth with a paper towel and immediately dispose of it, then wash your hands.
  • If you don’t have a napkin or paper towel, cover your mouth and nose with the crook of your elbow and sneeze.
  • If you are wearing a mask, try your best to pull the mask down and sneeze into a paper towel, then put your mask back on and wash your hands.

Protective Gear

Tips for wearing a mask:

  • Wearing a cloth mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The current recommendation is that everyone wear a mask at all times when around other people. This stops people from unknowingly giving the virus to others and helps protect people from exposing themselves to it.
  • A mask should be removed if someone is experiencing difficulty breathing or is unconscious. Additionally, someone should not wear a mask if they cannot remove it on their own.
  • For a mask to be effective, it should fully cover the nose and mouth and fit closely to the face.
  • It’s important to wash your hands after touching your mask or removing it.
  • Masks should be washed after each use and dried completely before wearing again. If this is not possible, take your mask off as soon as you enter your cell, leave it near the entrance, and wash or sanitize your hands after removing.
  • Wearing masks for hours every day can irritate your skin and cause sores. This usually happens where the straps are pressing against the skin. If this happens around your ears, place some gauze or a little bit of fabric from a T-shirt under the straps to protect your skin.

The following may be at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19:

  • People 65 and older—but people in prison may be at higher risk starting at age 50, since it’s hard to live healthy inside
  • People with chronic lung disease, diabetes, chronic kidney or liver disease, obesity, or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation or uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • People who have compromised immune systems, such as those with poorly controlled HIV or prolonged use of corticosteroids or other immune-weakening medications

If you are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, you should:

  • Stock up on supplies you may need if you get sick and need to stay in your cell.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Limit close contact, especially with people who are sick.
  • Try to practice social distancing if you are able and avoid crowds.
  • If you develop shortness of breath, it is an emergency and you need to be seen by a doctor.

Sanitizing Surfaces

Research has shown that COVID-19 can remain on surfaces for hours to days. The following recommendations have been made by the CDC in order to keep your living environment as clean and safe as possible:

  • Disinfectants (including: diluted bleach, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, Clorox, Lysol) should be used daily to clean high-touch surfaces, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
  • If possible, it is best to wear gloves while cleaning and wash one’s hands immediately after cleaning or removing gloves.
  • For hard (non-porous) surfaces: Diluted bleach can be used to prevent the spread of the virus. It must have a contact time of 1 minute. To prepare a bleach solution, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water.
  • Follow the directions of the specific product to determine if it should be diluted and the best application method. Shared bathrooms should be cleaned and disinfected as frequently as possible, especially in circumstances where a person who shares the bathroom is showing signs of illness.
  • While it is unknown how long air inside a room occupied by a sick person is potentially infectious, it is best to improve ventilation as much as possible to decrease the time that respiratory droplets remain in the air.
  • For clothing:
    • Clothing of someone who is sick can be washed with other people’s items.
    • Wear gloves when laundering items for someone who is sick and throw away
      gloves after they’ve been used.
    • Don’t shake dirty laundry—try to minimize the spread of the virus in the air.
    • Launder items in the warmest possible temperature and dry it completely.
    • Always wash hands after wearing gloves or after cleaning with bare hands.

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