Words really matter. If we all put the word “anti” in front of every disease and epidemic we would like to end, the world may be a better place. And our intentions, also known as requests, would also be clarified. Instead of always focusing on what we don’t want, why don’t we start focusing on what we do want? Clearly, we all want this viral pandemic to end. For those of you interested in what many Tibetan Buddhist practitioners are reciting, here is a link to the mantra to end viral epidemics Tara Mantra. Pandemics are not new, just new to many of us. There is also an link to the Ven. HH Trijang Rinpoche chanting this mantra and the phonetic version of this particular practice to dispel all deadly epidemics. I will share with you some of the information I have received that I have found particularly helpful in deciding how to protect ourselves and our community from the spread of this virus. This is from an MD who serves on the board of the Zen Studies Society.
Be Well, Be Safe At present it appears that everyone is either freaked out by the COVID-19 pandemic, or they are in a state of denial. This brief missive is my attempt to help you emerge from those two camps into a condition of heightened awareness and appropriate cautiousness, without panic.
First, the bad news: because COVID-19 is caused by a “Novel” coronavirus, even the most informed experts are not entirely sure how it is spread, how long the pandemic will last, or what precautions are really necessary. However, having said that, there are a few things that we know with a fair degree of certainty.
There appear to be two main ways of spreading the virus. The most obvious is aerosolized droplets—a symptomatic, infected person coughs or sneezes, and microscopic droplets are inhaled or land in your eyes. This may be the most obvious means of transmission, but it probably accounts for a VERY small number of cases. The more important means of transmission is from infected surfaces—door knobs, water faucets, tabletops, packages, etc. An infected person coughs or sneezes, or just touches their nose or mouth, and transfers the virus to a surface, which is then touched by someone who is not infected. The recipient of this invisible gift then touches their face, somewhere in or around their eyes, nose, or mouth, and VOILA! The virus has found a new host.
The good news is that the novel Coronavirus is pretty easy to kill (before it takes up residence in your mucous membranes and lungs). Soap and water, alcohol, and dilute bleach solutions do a splendid job.
So the most important steps you can take to prevent transmission are these:
- Be obsessive about hand washing. Use warm water and copious amounts of soap, making sure to wash your palms, thumbs, between your fingers, under your nails (which should be trimmed unfashionably short), the backs of your hands and your wrists. If you have been out and about and potentially exposed, wash them exactly like that—and then wash them AGAIN, exactly like that. I don’t know where the “20 second wash” idea came from, but that is a MININUM amount of time for a thorough hand washing. Thirty to sixty seconds is more like it. And don’t use your hand to turn off the water—use a paper towel.
- Your face should regard your hands as foreign invaders, and your hands should regard your face with utter disdain. They should not touch one another—unless they are covered with soap and warm water. Or moisturizer. Yes, you can still moisturize your face (and you will definitely need to moisturize your hands, if you’re washing them as often and as well as you should be). Just make sure your hands are really thoroughly clean before you do. The virus cannot enter through intact skin: it needs to contact a mucus membrane—eyes, nose, oral cavity.
- When you are out and about, try to open doors with anything other than your hands—your elbow, backside, hip. If you have to use your hand (or wrist), try to slide your sleeve over your hand. If your hand touches a surface that other people touch (doorknobs, elevator buttons, etc.), clean it with Purell (or other hand-sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol).
- Speaking of surfaces: I carry disinfecting wipes in a small plastic sandwich bag, so I can clean off doorknobs, keyboards, telephone handsets (and my cellphone), microphones, desktops and table counters. When I am going to use a room that has been used by someone else, I wipe everything down. This may seem paranoid, but paranoia may save lives.
- A surgical mask can be very useful if you are going out. First, make sure that it covers your nose, mouth, and chin. This will stop you from inhaling aerosolized particles. But more importantly, it will keep you from touching your nose and mouth, and may help you remember not to touch your face at all. Also, it serves as a reminder to those around you to take transmission seriously. So wear a mask outside, if you have one—but don’t forget to smile under the mask, radiating as much love and concern as you can with your eyes and your deportment, even though your mouth and nose are hidden.
- When you purchase items or receive packages, they have to be considered a possible source of infection. Fortunately, the virus is sensitive to sunlight as well as disinfecting wipes. So, packages (and shopping bags) can be left in the sun for a few hours, when possible. Or wipe everything off with disinfecting wipes (or make your own dilute bleach solution and use a washcloth). And then wash your hands.
- Clothing: if you haven’t been in contact with anyone outside your home, just wash as frequently as you usually do. If you’ve been outside shopping (or had contact with people whose infection status is unknown), wash your clothes as soon as you return. It’s not clear that this is absolutely necessary, but until it is clear that it is NOT necessary, this would be my recommendation.
- Quarantining people who come to the monastery from outside is the policy we have chosen to adopt at Dai Bosatsu Zendo. This may seem excessive—and it very well may be. But the logic behind it is simple: the monastery is a closed community, where infections can very easily spread from one person to another. Activities such as chanting are a perfect means of aerosolizing particles. Restrooms are shared. Spaces are shared. Once introduced, the virus could easily run rampant. So those who come in from outside the community are quarantined for 14 days—which may be longer than absolutely necessary. Once the 14 days have passed, they should resume normal activities, though with all the precautions regarding hand washing and keeping surfaces clean, etc., outlined above.
This may all seem like quite a lot of fuss. But the virus has killed around 3,000 Americans so far (as of 7 p.m., March 30, 2020), and the rate of new infections is still growing exponentially. We don’t know how long it will last, or how many people will die. But we have a pretty good idea of how to protect ourselves as much as possible.
Please take good care of yourselves and each other. We love you all so very much.