COVID-19 Dos and Don’ts from NYU’s “Dr. Germ”

Infectious disease physician Dr. Phil Tierno—lovingly nicknamed "Dr. Germ" by Chris Cuomo—shares essential COVID-19 prevention protocols that are easy to implement in everyday life.   

PURIST: What are tried and true hygiene practices everyone should be following right now? 

Dr. Phil Tierno: Keep a safe distance from others, at least 6 feet. Wash your hands prior to eating and drinking, always after using the bathroom and prior to touching your face—but only touch your face if you absolutely have to! 

PURIST: How do we stay safe while handling groceries? 

PT: To wash fruit and vegetables, take a cheap vodka (80 proof) and paint it on. This is very effective and the alcohol will dissipate without leaving residue on the fruit. Wash produce with skin—like potatoes, apples, oranges and avocados—with soapy water. Peel back the outer folds of lettuce and toss them out to reduce risk of contamination. Soak the leaves in a large pot of water to dilute, which will reduce the possibility of infection. Wash strawberries in a mixture of white vinegar and water then let air dry before eating. 

PURIST: We all have the responsibility to stay home as much as possible and only venture out when absolutely necessary. But what can we do to protect ourselves when leaving the house to grab essential items? 

PT: At this point, you really should wear a mask if you have one. Surgical masks, bandanas and cloth masks don’t protect you, but they will protect others from you. A mask will protect against the vapor cloud that hangs in the air after a cough or sneeze, which can travel through outdoor airflow and can linger indoors for some time. Keep a safe distance from any sneezing or coughing person until that ‘cloud’ has time to dissipate. This is why social distancing is so important. N95 masks are tightly weaved and should be saved for the healthcare workers who need them most. 
PURIST: How can we block the chain of infection? 
PT: If you live with an infected person DO NOT leave the house! Have everything delivered if possible. Take your Vitamin supplements: D, Zinc, A and C are all important. Serving food hot is the best, as the normal temperature of hot food (between 160-180F) kills anything. Chicken soup is soothing and nutritious! Do not reheat prepared foods.
Time is on your side. COVID-19 is a lipid virus and does not have longevity. Leave non-perishable groceries in the garage for 4-5 days, this will ensure they are clean enough to bring in the house. Wash any waterproof packaging (like plastic wrapped cheese, ravioli bags) in a sink of hot, soapy water A steam cleaner is a great tool you can use to clean household surfaces. I recommend using it on any flooring that can tolerate heat, like tile.
At the end of the day, the conduits of entry for this respiratory virus are the eyes, nose and mouth. So was your hands after touching anything from outside, like delivery boxes or mail. 
Dr. Phillip Tierno is Director of Microbiology & Immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center and author of The Secret Life of Germs: What They Are, Why We Need Them, and How We Can Protect Ourselves Against Them