7 Items You're Carrying That Are Coronavirus Magnets
Many of the things you touch on a daily basis increase your risk of catching coronavirus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted so many aspects of our lives, but especially the ways that we think about risks. Things that were once just a mundane part of our routine—taking public transportation, grabbing drinks with friends, going to a movie—now feel life-threatening. There's hardly a better example of this strange shift than in the way we have to rethink the things that we carry around with us every day. It used to be that the only fear your keys or wallet might inspire in you was that you'd accidentally lost them. Now, you have to get your head around the idea that these comforting items could be magnets for the coronavirus, and disinfect them accordingly.
Here are seven things you might have on you as you are reading this that could be more dangerous than you realize. And for more items to avoid, learn which 7 Things You'll Never Want to Touch Again After the Coronavirus.
More than any of the other items you keep on yourself, sunglasses are likely to pick up germs from a wide range of surfaces, since unlike your wallet, keys, or smartphone, you aren't naturally going to stick these back in your pocket.
"[Sunglasses] get tossed around without a thought behind it," says Abe Malkin, MD, founder and medical director of Concierge MD LA. "Placed on our shirt collars, thrown in our car, in and out of its case without sanitation for days, albeit weeks at a time. It's shielding our eyes from harmful UV rays, but not the droplets of a cough or sneeze." And for more mistakes that could be heightening your risk, check out these 7 Disinfecting Mistakes You're Probably Making and Tips to Fix Them.
A February study published in The Journal of Hospital Infection noted that coronavirus was found to live on surfaces like metal, glass, or plastic for days. And what item in your pocket, that you touch countless times every day, is made of these materials? You guessed it—your smartphone. But what's more dangerous about this item than almost anything else you have on you is how you tend to set it all sorts of places… then hold it right up to your face.
"When you put your cell phone down somewhere, it picks up any bacteria or viruses that may be on that surface," explains Roberto Contreras II, MD, regional medical director of Borrego Health. "You set your phone down and then pick it up, and introduce all that bacteria to your face, resulting in potential exposure to a pathogen that can get you sick."
Mike Sevilla, MD, a practicing family physician in Salem, Ohio, says that the best way to deal with this COVID-19 magnet is a regular habit of disinfection. "Your smartphone can be sanitized by wiping it down using a commercial disinfectant wipe," he says. "Another option is using devices which expose the smartphone to ultraviolet light, which helps to disinfect electronic equipment."
We just noted that coronavirus can live for days on metal surfaces, which makes your keys particularly dangerous as well, especially since they are "something we often use, don't sanitize, and we may inadvertently touch our faces after usage," says Candice Williams, MD, a board-certified anesthesiologist and pain management specialist based in Los Angeles.
Though you aren't as likely to toss these around on tabletops and counters the same way that you might your smartphone, you are often handling your keys as you return home, perhaps at a time when it's been a while since you last washed your hands. And even if you do wash your hands before you leave the house, keys are one of the last things you grab before you go, picking up all those germs you've left on them. And for more errors to avoid, discover 7 Coronavirus Mistakes You're Making That Would Horrify Your Doctor.
Your wallet or purse
"A woman's purse is usually in her direct possession, meaning that it is frequently exposed to your respiratory droplets," according to Jamil Abdurrahman, MD, and Idries Abdurrahman, MD. "Add to this the fact that most people touch their purse and wallet multiple times a day, and the fact that the things in your purse and wallet are often touched by multiple people, and you have items that are very high risk for carrying and transmitting the COVID-19 virus."
Purses and wallets can be especially susceptible to picking up germs considering how they have to be set somewhere whenever you get settled—on a chair, a table, the ground. Any of these places could have retained virus particles from the last person who touched them. And to learn more about what you can and can't sanitize, read: Is It Safe to Sanitize Your Phone? Here's What You Can't Disinfect.
Your credit card
It might seem like credit cards should be relatively safe, considering they only leave your wallet or purse when you make a purchase. But those brief exchanges are loaded with health risks.
"As we swipe at vendor locations thinking that this is safer than exchanging monetary paper to lessen human contact, we don't realize that credit cards get hardly any TLC," says Malkin. "People use them frequently to purchase items online as well, so that card has been exposed to different surfaces besides the inside of a wallet."
Malkin points out that it's not uncommon for someone to even pop the credit card in their mouth as they're rummaging through a bag or trying to find where they put their wallet.
Vandana A. Patel, MD, clinical advisor for online pharmacy Cabinet, suggests that if your credit card touches someone else's hand, you should sanitize it immediately after paying and before returning it to your wallet or purse. But she also points out that as dangerous as a credit card might be, it's better than the alternative. "If you can use a credit card, that is preferable over cash, as you can sanitize a credit card easier than cash, while reducing the transfer of material (e.g., cash, coins) from person to person," she says.
Not only is it more difficult to sanitize currency, but at least with a credit card, you know where it's been. When a salesperson or delivery person hands you a $5 bill, you have no clue where that's traveled from—or who's sneezed on it.
"Many infection specialists are stating that the use of currency like bills and coins have the potential for carrying the coronavirus," says Sevilla. "If using a completely electronic method of payment is not feasible, then using hand sanitizer both before and following the handling of currency should be enough to lower your risk of contracting coronavirus from currency." And for more about the link between coronavirus and cash, read: This One Item You Touch Every Day Puts You Most at Risk of Coronavirus.
Your coat or jacket
You're so careful about washing your hands, but what about the "second skin" of your outer layer of clothes? That's a term that Tracey Evans, PhD, a medical researcher and science writer for Fitness Savvy uses to describe one's coat or jacket, which she points out often touches all sorts of germ-packed surfaces such as elevator walls and countertops, where they "will pick up respiratory droplets, transfer from microorganisms from a till to a sleeve, etc."
She recommends always removing these garments upon arriving home, and washing them more often than you might otherwise.