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Published on April 24, 2020

Do you need a COVID-19 decontamination station at home?

COVID Decontamination

Worried about bringing COVID-19 germs home after you make that essential trip to the store for food or medicine?

We asked Cape Cod Healthcare Infectious Disease Specialist Patrick Cahill, MD for some guidance. When leaving home during the pandemic, he recommends that everyone follow these steps to minimize COVID-19 exposure and avoid bringing germs back into the house:

  • Be vigilant about using hand sanitizer; if that’s not available, use isopropyl alcohol.
  • Keep hand sanitizer or isopropyl alcohol in the car so you can disinfect your hands going in and out of any stores.
  • Wear masks in public. There are people walking around who are not exhibiting symptoms; they can be giving the virus to others.
  • Wash your hair—depending on your level of exposure to people. It’s a good idea for anyone with longer hair to keep it up to prevent blowing and risking touching more things and people.
  • Make as few trips to the store as possible. Plan your shopping trips instead of going to the store frequently for just a few items.
  • Practice social distancing while shopping – keeping at least 6 feet between you, other shoppers and store employees.
  • Be mindful as to what you’re touching. Get out of the habit of squeezing the fruit in the store. Only touch items you are going to buy.
  • Wash your hands with soapy water for at least 20 seconds when you get home.
  • Don’t forget your feet! Leave one pair of shoes in the garage or outside. Keep that pair of shoes exclusively for those times when you leave the house.
  • For now, stop shopping with re-usable bags. The ban on plastic grocery bags has been lifted to help prevent the spread of germs. When you get home, take your items out of the plastic bags and throw away the bags.
  • Again, the FDA says there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, you can wipe down product packaging with disinfectant and allow it to air dry, as an extra precaution.

How Healthcare Professionals Decontaminate

To keep their families safe, healthcare workers take preventive measures to decontaminate at work and then again when they get home. Dr. Cahill, who has been treating patients who have COVID-19, described the measures he takes after leaving the hospital.

“Like all healthcare workers, even though I’ve worn all the right protective clothing and gone through all the decontamination steps at the hospital, when I get home, I do more to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

Before leaving the hospital, he changes clothes and uses disinfectant to wipe down everything he brings home, such as his wallet and ID badge.

As he walks out of the hospital, Dr. Cahill keeps a close eye on which hand he uses to open doors on the way out of the building and uses hand sanitizer liberally once in the car. Then he puts everything he doesn’t need to access at home in the back seat of the car.

When he arrives home, Dr. Cahill takes his shoes off in the garage. His washer and dryer are conveniently located just inside the garage door, so he takes off all clothes and puts them in the washer. Everything in his pockets gets sprayed with isopropyl alcohol. (Allow the alcohol to dry; don’t wipe if off, he said.)

After he disrobes, he immediately showers—even though he has already showered before leaving the hospital.

As soon as they are washed, his clothes are placed in the dryer.

“Do I follow all of the same steps if I go to a local grocery store? No, but maybe I should,” Dr. Cahill said. “I’m not sure if that’s unwise, to be honest. No one really knows exactly what that level of exposure COVID-19 has—if just touching objects in public can give you the virus. The current thinking is that the majority of transmissions are from person-to-person contact, not person to fomite (inanimate object) contact.”

According to the latest guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is currently no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

But, out of an abundance of caution, anyone can follow the home-based decontamination procedures Dr. Cahill and other healthcare practitioners follow.

“We just don’t have the science to say if everyone needs to go through as many steps as healthcare workers do to prevent bringing germs into your home,” he said.

“One thing is certain,” he added. “COVID-19 is extremely virulent (dangerous and spreads very quickly), which surprised even the experts. It’s not like SARS, which caused pneumonia, but was not as transmissible.”