Life as we knew it has changed so much in recent months and we’ve learned to show more appreciation and consideration to the things we used to take for granted like traveling or going out with friends. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve become overly concerned with new habits like excessively washing our hands, avoiding people and wearing face masks.
But our older habits are equally important, mainly because many of them can increase our risks of contracting the novel coronavirus instead of protecting us against it. Given how easily this silent, and in many cases, deadly virus can spread, here are 18 apparently harmless habits that increase your risk of developing COVID-19.
Growing your beard out of control
It might seem silly, but your unkempt mountain-man beard can put you at risk of coronavirus, according to various experts. There’s been a lot of misinformation about facial hair carrying a higher risk of infection or transmission of the coronavirus, but not everything is bogus.
“Many people are using N95 masks as a way to protect themselves,” says internal medicine physician Roberto Contreras II, MD, the regional medical director of Borrego Health. “If someone has facial hair, a beard, the mask will not make a tight seal and exposes the individual to what they are trying to protect themselves from. A N95 mask or surgical mask will make a better barrier if people do not have facial hair.”
Speaking of masks, here are 7 Most Common Face Mask Mistakes You’re Probably Making.
Leaving your cell phone everywhere
Your cell phone is one of the things that you are constantly touching, with or without having washed your hands. On top of that, many of us have the habit of leaving it on our desks at the office or restaurant tables while having lunch. That means that every time you set your phone somewhere, it could pick up the coronavirus from that spot.
“The cell phone is on a surface, and if that surface has any viruses/bacteria on it, it then attaches to the cell phone,” says Contreras. “People then bring their phone to their face and expose themselves to all the viruses/bacteria they have been trying to avoid. To better avoid this unnecessary exposure, people should always keep their cell phones on their person.”
That being said, read also 11 Most Common Phone Myths You Should Stop Believing.
Tearing open packages
How many times have you ordered something online and have eagerly waited for the package to be delivered to tear it open and see what was inside? Tearing open packages is a great feeling. Sadly, we might need to refrain from doing that in the house for a while.
“We know the virus lives for different times on different surfaces, whether they are porous or smooth,” says Nishant Rao, ND, chief medical officer for telehealth company DocTalkGo. “The item may have been untouched in the box for days and there may be nothing dangerous, or maybe the delivery person sneezed on the box right when they dropped it off.” The doctor recommends leaving “a longer time frame” before handling the delivered package. In addition, when you do open it, use gloves and wash your hands immediately after.
Leaning on surfaces
Forget about leaning against the nearest wall or countertop the next time you’re waiting in line. It’s not only bad posture you should be worried about now, but it’s also the fact that you might be involuntarily picking up the virus from the surface you’re touching.
“I had a friend who picked up food delivery and he took a photo of three healthcare providers in line—they were standing six feet apart, but each was resting their forearms on the metal counter,” warns Rao. “These are the people most likely to be in proximity to the virus.”
While we should kick this habit in the age of the coronavirus, here are 14 Lockdown Habits We Should Still Keep After the Pandemic Is Over.
Using contact lenses
Although it’s more of a necessity than a habit, wearing contact lenses might put your health in danger. That’s because the novel coronavirus can be transmitted through mucous membranes, which means your eyes are also a weak spot, apart from your nose and mouth. More than that, if you use contact lenses, you have a higher risk of developing eye infections such as conjunctivitis caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This includes the coronavirus.
“This is especially true if contact lens-wearers do not practice good hygiene such as not properly cleaning their lenses, sleeping in contacts, not washing their hands, or extending the wear of their contacts past the recommended date,” says Lee. “Try replacing contact lenses with glasses. Not only does this lower your chances of transmission, glasses can also act as a protective barrier against aerosol transmission.”
Glasses can protect you from droplets released by a sick person “but if you’re wearing contacts, the respiratory droplets can potentially get into your eyeballs,” Lee says.
Just like contact lenses, cosmetics that come into contact with your eyes can pose a threat to your overall health, not only your eye health. “Coronavirus can be found and transmitted through ocular secretions, like tears, so it’s important not to share eye drops or cosmetics with family members or friends,” says Lee. “It’s possible for the tip of the eye dropper or mascara to be contaminated by coming in contact with the ocular secretions of someone who is COVID-positive.”
Speaking of sharing, here are 7 Risky Activities You Shouldn’t Be Doing With Friends Right Now!
Touching your face
This is something that the CDC, WHO and international health experts have strongly advised against. Unfortunately, it’s something most of us do without realizing it, so not touching our faces is definitely not an easy task. According to studies, people touch their faces more than sixteen times in an hour!
If keeping social distancing and avoiding people who are sneezing, sniffing or coughing has become a new norm, avoiding touching our faces is a different story. “Given the number of surfaces we touch throughout the day, touching your face and/or eyes can increase the chances of a virus on your hands being transferred into your body,” says Vandana A. Patel, MD, clinical advisor for online pharmacy Cabinet. “Be aware of reflexive habits to touch your face, such as scratching an itch or moving stray hairs, and try to avoid it the best you can.”
Relying on takeout and delivery
During the shelter-in-place and self-quarantine period, many people started ordering more to limit their trips to the supermarket or outside, in general. If you’re still doing it now, after the lockdown measures have been lifted, then you should know you’re still in danger of catching the virus if you don’t comply with the recommended hygiene rules.
“When you order food from outside your home or go to the grocery store, you interact with numerous items that others have touched—these include cardboard boxes, paper bags, and plastic containers,” says Patel. “The coronavirus can stay on hard surfaces for days, so ensure that you’re careful about where you set down grocery or take out bags, and wash those surfaces and your hands thoroughly after bringing them home.” See some other Things You’ll Never Want to Bring Inside Your Home Again After the Pandemic Is Over.
Not rinsing produce off
Most of us used to buy produce from the grocery store, thinking it had already been washed and there was no need for us to wash it again. Well, it’s no longer smart to hold on to this assumption in the age of the coronavirus. Produce should be washed, coronavirus or not, but this has become even more important during the pandemic.
“Gone are the days you could pick something from the aisle and start eating in the parking lot,” says Jagdish Khubchandani, PhD, professor of health at Ball State University. “Many people touch aisles and substances in grocery stores. One must be mindful about personal hygiene and cleaning produce as well.”
Wearing shoes in the house
Taking our shoes off when entering the house is a common habit. But do you know what’s also common? Forgetting something and going back into the house, wearing your shoes, to get it. How many times has this happened to you? Although the likelihood of COVID-19 being spread on shoes and infecting people is low, it’s still something we should be wary of.
Therefore, in the coronavirus times, having “a pair of shoes for work and a pair while coming back, or keeping shoes out of the home could help,” recommends Khubchandani. Apart from your shoes, these are 11 Germ-Spreading Items You Touch All the Time.
Not showering often enough
We’ve been told over and over again to wash out hands as often as possible to reduce the risk of catching the novel coronavirus. While many people have become extremely attentive to the cleanliness of their hands, some of them have neglected their showering routine, especially when going to work or meeting other people was not an option.
“Many are now confined to homes and may neglect daily routines,” says Khubchandani. “Taking a shower daily will ensure people are protected.” That’s especially true if you’re going outside, as dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, told PopSugar. If you’re leaving the house, make sure you shower as soon as you get home.
Picking your nose
This habit was not nice before and it is definitely not nice now. Apart from being gross, it can also represent a risk to your health. According to Khubchandani, “this is bad for the person doing it and for others. Given that many infected people are not having symptoms, this habit could create a problem for people engaging in this habit and those living around [them].”
Even if you’re not sticking your whole finger inside your nose (have I mentioned it’s gross?), touching your nose is still risky.
Picking your teeth
Since we’re on the subject of picking stuff, here’s another thing you should stop doing, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic: picking your teeth. As annoying as having a piece of spinach stuck between your teeth can be, it’s risky to pick it out with your fingers (not to mention you’re not exactly well-mannered if you do that in public).
“You may have a virus and other germs on your hands,” says Hackney, who says you should wait to take care of the inconvenience at home after washing your hands. More than that, he recommends using floss or a toothbrush, instead of your fingers.
Biting your nails
People bite their nails for various reasons; they’re nervous, bored or anxious and nail biting is their way of coping with their emotions. However, apart from destroying your nails, this habit can also destroy your health. “The space under the tips of your nails is a cozy place for all sorts of germs,” explains dental surgeon Mike Golpa, chief executive officer of G4 by Golpa. “Putting unwashed hands straight into your mouth is a highway for bacteria.”
In the age of the coronavirus, “anything you do to kind of help the virus get from the outside world into those moist parts of your face is going to increase your risk of catching the virus,” warns Ellie Murray, ScD, a professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health.
Not taking gloves off properly
Apart from face masks, many people are also wearing gloves to prevent them from touching potentially contaminated surfaces and protect themselves against the novel coronavirus. But all those precautionary measures don’t mean a thing if you’re carelessly handling the masks and gloves.
“Health care personnel never touch the outside of the glove when they take them off,” says Contreras. “They peel one glove over the other and then use the inside-out glove to touch the remaining glove. However, I see multiple people touching things in the store with their gloves hoping to avoid contact with surfaces, but once they return to their car they take the gloves off inappropriately and expose themselves to what they were trying to avoid in the first place. It defeats the purpose if someone does not take the gloves off in the correct fashion.”
Twirling your hair
Wait, what? How can a harmless thing like idly twirling your hair around your fingers pose a threat to your health? Well, according to functional medicine physician, Yeral Patel, MD, “hair, if it has touched a dirty surface—especially long hair—can then transmit the virus to the mouth, nose, or eyes via hand transmission”. Feel like twirling your hair again?
Not changing your bedsheets frequent enough
Since the coronavirus entered our lives, researchers and health experts have warned the population about the fact that the virus can live on some surfaces for up to several days. It is therefore extremely important to wash and sanitize everything that we come in contact with. This is also valid when it comes to bedsheets.
If your laundry routine consisted of changing and washing your bedsheets once a week, you might want to reconsider it. “People who do laundry every 1-2 weeks for sheets and towels should try to wash at least 2-3 times a week,” Patel says.
Leaving your toothbrush on the bathroom countertop
The coronavirus has been found to last the longest on plastic surfaces, namely 2-3 days. Guess what personal item that you use every day is made of plastic? Your toothbrush!
According to Henry Hackney, DMD, director of content at Authority Dental, “toothbrushes may have saliva or blood on them and have been shown to transmit viruses.” Hackney suggests placing your toothbrush in an upright position instead of flat against a sink or countertop. More than that, your toothbrush should be at least a few inches apart from those belonging to other family members.