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For those who work with the public during the pandemic, how to best protect yourself

PMG PHOTO - Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, with warm water and plenty of antibacterial soap remains the best way to avoid contracting the coronavirus.

With so much information available during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are also lots of questions on best practices for those who work with the public, even during quarantines.

Karen Yeargain, communicable disease coordinator for the Crook County Health Department, encourages common-sense practices and passes on some basic measures that can help protect against exposure before and after work.

"If you are working in a setting where you are interacting with the public, when you get home, change your clothes," she said.

Yeargain added that the best thing you can do while performing your job in a public setting is to take measures to minimize the chance of exposure initially.

"Before you leave home, wash your hands with soap and water," she said. "Frequently during work, take time to wash your hands with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available. We need people to remember that soap and water is an effective method of cleaning germs off your hands."

She emphasized that hand sanitizers are not the first line of defense: "Soap and water first and hand sanitizer when soap and water washing isn't available."

Hand-washing throughout the day can decrease the chance of exposure where the COVID-19 virus, influenza or cold virus is present.

"You don't want to get that in your mouth, your nose or your eyes," she added. "During the course of the day, wash your hands frequently and keep that arms-length distance from folks."

Yeargain said doing these enhanced common-sense measures will help you keep from getting sick — which is the biggest risk to your household.

Also, avoiding touching your face is also imperative. When you are touching surfaces that other people have touched, don't touch your face and wash your hands afterward.

"Don't breathe in other people's respiratory drops," she said, "and wash your hands before you are doing things (in public) and after you are doing things. That really is what we need to do."

When shopping or in public, Yeargain recommended a distance of three to six feet. Prolonged exposure would entail being less than six feet for more than an hour.

"That is considered a risk if they happen to be infectious," she said.

Yeargain explained that the answers to most questions she is asked come back to not being near people who are coughing, minimizing time at the store and washing hands before and after shopping, working and anything you do in public.

Many cleaning products are in short supply. Yeargain said that many products that are in your home already can be effective for washing hands and cleaning surfaces. Disinfectant wipes are not intended to use on your hands and can be harsh on skin. Using what you have that kills germs saves on supplies needed for health care workers.

According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture pesticides program, to be effective, disinfectants must be left on surfaces for a specific time period and concentrates must be diluted according to label directions. The effective contact time and dilution for a disinfectant depends on the product and the virus. There are no disinfectant labels that currently list the virus that causes COVID-19. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has preapproved certain products that are effective against similar viruses. All disinfectant products on the Oregon list meet this standard and are available vis the website at

Yeargain added that as the virus ramps up in Oregon, health care workers are running low on the needed supplies to keep themselves and others safe.

"We in the general public are being asked to not go to large group activities," she said, "to minimize our time when we are in the same space as other people. So, staying home more, going outside for walks is great — just don't do it with a group."

"We need to take it seriously because that is how we are going decrease the spread of this virus. If we feel like we are being inconvenienced in those measures, I am going to ask folks to think about the health care providers who are out there putting themselves at risk and going home and having to really have major alterations to their home life and personal life to protect the people around them so they can be there on the front lines."

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