My Life in LA County During COVID-19: April 9

Harry Keller 80By Harry Keller
Former ETCJ Science Editor
& President of SmartScience

Face masks are required of all store visitors in California beginning tomorrow.

Apr 9, 2020 at 5:35 AM: I finally managed a second Amazon Prime order. It wasn’t easy. I woke up at 11:55 pm and waited for midnight. My shopping cart was already set up. Amazon no longer gives me an hour after the reservation to fill it up. In fact, it won’t even allow me a reservation unless I have my cart ready to go. My delivery will be on Sunday between 7 am and 9 am. I repeatedly put toilet paper in my cart only to have it removed as out of stock or as not deliverable at my location. What’s with that?

I have been thinking about those delivery services for groceries. How many people touch your delivery before you receive it? One or more people pick the items from the shelves. They may specialize with one doing frozen, one doing produce, one doing canned goods, etc. Then, someone must pack them. Someone labels and loads the bags on the truck, and the truck driver, who is exposed to all of those other people, carries them to your door. Any of those people could have coughed on your order. Do they wear face shields? I hope that are forced to wear face masks, but I cannot say. If you receive a food delivery, take great care. Wash your hands after opening the bags and again after putting away the contents.

If you receive a food delivery, take great care. Wash your hands after opening the bags and again after putting away the contents.

Fortunately, I have two surgical masks that I picked up on previous visits to my doctor’s office (UCLA Health) and nitrile gloves that I have used when creating chemistry experiments for my business. Based on previous visits, my best hope for an uncrowded visit to a partially stocked store is Gelson’s. My wife and I will walk there early next week to fill in any gaps in our supplies. 

I was sent a link to a YouTube video that I found disturbing by a person whom I consider thoughtful and reliable. It was about making face masks and caring for them. The gist of this video, which I shall not name, is that you cannot use the mask suggested by the surgeon general and that you must take great care to sterilize your mask after each use and to always put it on with the same side facing outward. This all sounds perfectly rational until you really think about it.

I plan to walk because fresh air and exercise keep me healthier in the event that I do contract the virus.

A face mask serves two purposes. The first is to prevent you from spreading a contagion to others. Any old mask will help. A large bandana, bandit-style, works wonderfully. Smaller masks will cause your coughs to jet out of the sides but probably not as far as an uncovered cough, and they will avoid the speaking-related spread as droplets from various phonemes spray out. The second purpose is to protect you from viruses floating about in the air from others who have spoken or coughed them out.

Consider the latter purpose. The first thing you must think of is that these masks do not seal at the edges. Air is a fluid and will seek the easiest way to move from place to place. This means from the outside air to your nose and mouth as you inhale. If you encounter a cloud of virus, plenty of it will be inhaled from around the edges of your mask. Some will also be embedded in the mask because some air will come in that way too. It won’t matter much if the leakage around the edges infects you though.

Even if you avoid inhaling the virus as you pass through that viral cloud, your eyes are open, and you can be infected by the virus hitting your eye and making its way into your sinuses.

Even if you avoid inhaling the virus as you pass through that viral cloud, your eyes are open, and you can be infected by the virus hitting your eye and making its way into your sinuses. The video makes no mention of wearing goggles. For true protection from the virus in the air, you have to be wearing a gas mask that seals all around. If you are a man, you’d better shave the areas of contact. You’ll look weird, but you’ll be safe if that mask’s filter can remove the viral particles.

I cannot fault the idea of sterilizing your mask after each use even if this measure is almost always useless. You never know. The video recommends putting rubbing alcohol (or very strong vodka) in a spray bottle and spraying your mask. If you have hand sanitizer, that will work without the smell of rubbing alcohol.

I will stay as far as possible from others and not go anywhere near anyone who is talking or coughing. I will even avoid the location where that person was for many minutes.

I plan, for my next grocery trip, to bring a face mask and plenty of those nitrile gloves along with my backpack. I plan to walk because fresh air and exercise keep me healthier in the event that I do contract the virus. I will don the mask and gloves just before entering the store. Face masks are required of all store visitors in California beginning tomorrow. I will stay as far as possible from others and not go anywhere near anyone who is talking or coughing. I will even avoid the location where that person was for many minutes. I will check out without conversation and admonish with finger to the (location of my) lips for the clerk not to talk. Upon departure, I will strip off my gloves inside-out and deposit them in a trash can. I will drop my mask down too. Upon return to home, I will take our masks and sterilize them. I will wash my hands with soap and hot water for 20 seconds. I will unpack our backpacks, put the items away, and wash my hands again.

You may have observed the admonition to avoid handshakes even after the virus has peaked and well into the fall if not into the new year.

You may have observed the admonition to avoid handshakes even after the virus has peaked and well into the fall if not into the new year. Even fist bumps may be ending. Elbow bumps seem ridiculous to me. Will we adopt the Asian custom of bowing as a greeting to replace the Western world’s handshake? Will we find another, more Western mode of greeting? I would like to find out. We will definitely lose hugs and cheek kisses.

For those who are asking what is so bad about this virus, you may have seen the answer already. It is a more deadly killer, but not enough so that we should all be running for the hills as we are doing today. The data are spotty, but it appears to be about five times as deadly as the flu, in part because no one had any resistance to it. The alarm arose because it is a tougher virus and one that is sprayed out by coughs and talking in much greater quantities than the flu.

The sudden rise in COVID-19 cases can overwhelm health-care systems and result in many people not receiving necessary care for survival, including those sick from other causes. For this reason, the death rates become much higher. We all will play a role in ensuring that we keep this scourge in check until a vaccine and/or a cure become widely available. Until then, stay safe and stay well.

2 Responses

  1. Harry, thanks for the reminder that we all need to exercise to stay in good condition to fight the virus if we’re ever infected. Walking as an aerobic exercise is very effective. Stay safe. -Jim

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