Since the first case of coronavirus was announced in the country, everything feels like a potential carrier of the virus.
From keys to door handles to light switches. It feels as if the virus is everywhere waiting impatiently for you to touch it and then touch your face.
Well, you’re right, the virus could be anywhere, even in your home; therefore, it is important that you take utmost precaution to protect yourself and your family.
According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, one of the world's foremost medical research centres, the deadly virus can live on various surfaces for hours, even days on others.
Plastic and stainless steel seem to be the most resilient carriers of the virus, with a capacity to hold it for three to four days.
To put that into perspective, if an infected person touches a plastic bucket with which he is taking a bath, or touches a stainless steel spoon in the kitchen, he may transfer the virus to these items, and if a healthy person touches them, he may become infected.
That puts everyone else using the same utilities at risk of contracting the virus.
With an incubation period of 14 days, an infected person may not show the symptoms but could leave the virus on any surface he touches and pass it on to others silently.
However, just as we have adapted to washing our hands regularly, we can keep our homes safe by cleaning and sanitising them regularly and effectively.
We had a chat with Esther Kerubo, a nurse with 22 years’ experience, specialising in infection prevention and control, and Paul Mbuvi, a medical doctor. They share tips on how to sanitise our living spaces effectively.
First, we have to understand the big difference between cleaning and sanitising. Cleaning is what we do on a regular basis.
It entails getting rid of dust, oils and common dirt from surfaces. Sanitising, however, involves disinfecting an area to reduce harmful bacteria, viruses and other pathogens to make it safe.
Fortunately, sanitising a space does not require special detergents or disinfectants. Kerubo recommends regular bleach for cleaning floors.
“For every six cups of water, add one cup of bleach and use it to wash the floor,” she advises.
Bleach, she adds, has the power to destroy the virus and other germs. However, avoid using it on surfaces made of natural stone, especially kitchen counters, as it could bleach and cause them to fade.
If bleach is unavailable, she recommends regular soap, which is equally effective - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocates for the use of soap to get rid of the virus.
When choosing a cleaning detergent, it is important to avoid mixing different products, this is because each detergent contains certain percentages of different chemicals, and mixing them could have an adverse effect on your health and may even fail to work in eliminating the virus; therefore, use products as instructed on labels.
When sanitising your home, pay attention to high-touch areas. These areas are likely to transmit the virus from one person to another since everyone touches them on a regular basis.
They include door knobs, the fridge or microwave doors, keys, toilet flush handles, light switches, remote controls, tables and kitchen appliances, as well as shelves and counters.
You can diligently wipe these areas with soap and water to eliminate the virus.
Pour water in a small basin, mix it with sufficient soap and thoroughly clean the surfaces using a small towel or piece of cloth.
Dos and don'ts
However, be extremely cautious when sanitising electric appliances or tools that may get damaged by water such as remote controls and switches.
Rather than spraying them with soapy water, wipe repeatedly with a properly wringed towel or piece of cloth to prevent damage.
For other surfaces such as kitchen countertops and door knobs, applying soapy water and scrubbing thoroughly for several seconds is allowed.
As for wooden surfaces, avoid soaking them with water. Wood tends to discolour and even rot when exposed to too much water.
Kerubo recommends damp dusting wooden surfaces such as beds, tables and doors.
And if you receive packages from online stores or restaurants, dispose the packaging carefully; ensure that you disinfect the surface you placed the packages on, and then wash your hands with soap and water.
On the frequency of sanitising, once a day should be sufficient unless there is a lot of traffic in your home.
You could also encourage everyone to wash their hands and take off their shoes before getting into the house.
A change of clothes and a bath is also recommended, especially if you were out running errands.
If you have young children below five years, keeping them indoors will prevent them from picking the virus from outside sources and bringing it back to the house.
Young children tend to live in the moment and may not remember simple measures such as handwashing or social distancing.
It is also possible to minimise contact with high-touch points such as door knobs.
A rule of thumb would be to keep some of the doors propped open during the day to ease entry and exit from various rooms. The kitchen, for instance, receives lots of traffic – keep the door open.
When your loved ones are sick
If you have a sick person at home, then you know their immunity is compromised and they are, therefore, considered high risk individuals.
They could be chronically ill or have the common cold, for instance. Such individuals need extra protection, regardless of their age; therefore, pay extra attention to their spaces when sanitising.
In such a case, the nurse recommends cleaning the floor with bleach, damp dusting their beds and ensuring there is plenty of ventilation in their rooms.
Adding a disinfectant to the water you use to sanitise may help eliminate germs and bacteria that could worsen their condition.
It is also important to monitor their temperature and breathing and watch out for flu-like symptoms.
It goes without saying that they should not have guests visiting them, and when interacting with them, ensure they wash their hands and maintain the recommended social distancing to avoid putting them at risk.
In case a member of the household is suspected to be incubating the virus, they should go into isolation for at least 14 days.
As you already know, these are individuals that may have recently returned from countries with numerous cases of infection, or they may have come into contact with people who tested positive.
Mbuvi reiterates that they should not share facilities such as toilets, utensils and personal care items with others.
They should be provided with all the supplies they need while in isolation such as toiletries and phone charger.
“They’re not allowed to mingle, since this will expose the entire family to the virus,” he says, adding that they are to clean their spaces themselves if possible.
Where the patient has to share a bathroom or toilet with the rest of the family, CDC recommends that they clean the rooms after every use.
If they’re unable to clean up after themselves, “the caregiver should wait as long as practical after use by an ill person to clean and disinfect the high-touch surfaces” says the CDC.
Remember, the virus can only survive on most surfaces for several hours. Only plastic utilities such as buckets or toilet lids and stainless steel appliances can host the virus for days.
While doing the cleaning, focus on high-touch points in consultation with the patient in self-isolation. During the clean-up session, it is important to wear a face mask.
Kerubo discourages people from wearing gloves since they could spread the virus rather than contain it.
“Gloves will protect the person cleaning the contaminated surfaces, but they may touch other surfaces and not disinfect them or may not remove or clean the gloves the appropriate way; however, it is possible to clean bare hands properly after cleaning a high risk surface,” she explains.
Doctor Mbuvi underscores the importance of immediate and proper waste disposal.
“Waste should be disposed of immediately and very carefully. Remember, the virus stays on surfaces for hours or even days; therefore, keeping the trash around could expose household members who are less careful, such as children.”
Should the person in isolation develop Covid-19 symptoms, the next step would be hospital admittance.
Call the Ministry of Health hotlines to receive further instructions – you should avoid transporting the patient to the hospital via public means.
The room they occupied during isolation should be fumigated before anyone else occupies them.
Fumigation is a more effective method of killing the virus compared to sanitising specific high touch points.
This is a procedure that government health officials used when the first Kenyan Covid-19 patient was admitted to the hospital.
It is advisable to seek guidance on how fumigation will be conducted. Unfortunately, these self-isolation measures may not be realistic for many Kenyan households.
For people living in single-room houses for instance, self-isolation is a foreign, impractical idea.
Mbuvi advices such families to consider taking their loved one to the nearby county hospitals where they will be advised on where to proceed for safe isolation.
While sanitising homes and washing hands may be compulsory measures at this time, we cannot be blind to the probability of water shortage in various parts of the country.
And where water is readily available, it comes at a cost. Needless to mention, everyone is trying to cut cost during these tough times, it is, therefore, important to talk about water saving tips.
A way you could do this is to recycle the water you use to sanitise spaces in your home or washing your hands to flash your toilet - this save you a couple of gallons a day.
In addition, exercise common water saving tips such as taking a shower for fewer minutes and washing clothes every other day to maximise on economies of scale: think about it, you will probably use four buckets of water to wash everyone’s clothes rather than three buckets for each individual’s clothes.
If you are lucky to have running tap water throughout, be careful not to leave the tap running while, say, brushing your teeth or washing dishes.
Consider washing the dishes and rinsing them in a basin-full of water. Lastly, if there is water rationing where you live, or you have to buy water from a distant source, invest in storage tanks to ensure sanitation and hygiene are not compromised.
These home sanitising tips are also applicable to commercial spaces. But if you run a business that entails serving lots of people, sanitising your business premises should become a daily routine.
You need to identify the high-touch points in your business and focus on sanitising them. For most small businesses, one of these areas is the cashier’s countertop.
However, each business is uniquely designed; therefore, there could be several high-touch points, including reception countertops and waiting chairs, shopping baskets, lifts and at times the products on sale.
Make an effort to sanitise these areas routinely to prevent the virus from spreading to the employees and customers.
Go a step further and give written instructions to customers directing them to avoid touching surfaces or products on sale unnecessarily.
For larger establishments that have employed a cleaning company, ensure that they scale up their cleaning, as well as the frequency of cleaning.
If you have a househelp at home, or a permanent cleaner at your business, provide them with necessary protective gear.
Most importantly, treat them as you would your family and other employees – with consideration.
They too have families that worry about them and would like to know that they are safe.
If someone in the home or business premises gets infected, inform them immediately so that they can take measure to protect themselves.
Also ensure that the cleaning supplies you provide are safe for use. They also need to know, through demonstration, how to clean and sanitise with special focus on high-touch points.
You can get a variety of tutorials online. Besides this, have a conversation with them about the importance of social distancing, especially during off days.
In case of live-in househelps, it would be best if you agreed to cut short the leave days until the virus is contained.