Coronavirus: How to Avoid the Risks

Coronavirus: How to Avoid the Risks

To say the coronavirus has disrupted our way of life is a gross understatement. As a card-carrying introvert, I have probably fared much better than my extroverted counterparts. I have food to eat, Internet to work and Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Philo to watch.

But, like most of the nation, I’m beginning to want to be out there. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss much during this time of lockdown.

My granddaughter is a high school senior. Born about a month after 9-11, she was introduced to a shocked and grieving nation. Now in 2020, the nation is in the midst of the worst crisis of her life and mine. She has a graduation gown and cap and a sign in the front yard to signify her high school graduation. As of yet, no graduation ceremony has been scheduled. 

I have grieved over the loss of my grandchildren’s spring sports season. I love watching them play. My grandson played tennis and my granddaughter played softball. I use the past tense, because their seasons were canceled before they got started. My granddaughter is an outstanding athlete, and she has missed her entire senior season in both volleyball and softball. During her fall volleyball season, she was recovering from shoulder surgery and worked very hard to get ready for softball season. And yes – people are suffering much more in many different ways. But everyone who suffers some kind of loss that was important to them is grieving in some way. 

There is a preponderance of data available about COVID-19. The question is what do we need to know and how do we handle it?  While many countries and U.S. states are in some phase of reopening or finalizing plans to do so, we need to proceed with caution, good judgment and facts we can depend on to guide that process.

The basic formula used to quantify the risk of getting the coronavirus is this: successful infection = exposure to virus X time. Very simply stated, that means the longer you are exposed to the virus, the more likely you are to catch it. 

As the country begins to reopen, the risks must be evaluated by each individual. Wholesale openings and widespread social interactions are a recipe for disaster. We need to be aware of situations that pose the most risks and be prepared to minimize them.

Some sources say that most people get infected in their own homes. When members of the household venture into the public arena and contract the virus, they bring that infection into the home, exposing other family members to possible infection.

Breathing in particles of viral material is the main source of contracting the virus. Being in proximity to others who are simply breathing is not that dangerous. Most breath droplets fall to the ground relatively quickly. But coughing and sneezing propel particles that go further and stay suspended in the air for a few minutes, rendering the space around them infectious. If you entered a room in which there had been coughing and sneezing a few minutes prior to your entry, you could possibly be infected.

If you were talking with someone face-to-face who is infected with the virus, it would take about 5 minutes to receive enough infected particles to actually catch the virus.

Up to 44% of people who are infected are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. People who do not exhibit symptoms yet when they are infected could actually be releasing viral particles into the environment up to 5 days before symptoms show up.

We are aware that the biggest outbreaks are in nursing homes. The next biggest outbreaks of the virus occur in prisons, religious ceremonies, and workplaces. Ten percent of infections occur from contact with infected people at weddings, funerals, and birthday parties.

For example, a choir in Washington state practiced social distancing during practice by sitting apart from each other, bringing their own music so no one else touched it and avoid coming into direct contact with each other. However, after singing for 2 hours in their church, 45 of the 60 choir members contracted the virus from one asymptomatic member, and two of those 45 died.

We’ve been told the rules for social distancing. But is it enough as we venture out into the public? Ninety percent of all transmission events are home, workplace, public transportation, social gatherings, and restaurants. Indoor spaces are the most troublesome. The social distancing rules only apply to protect you from brief or outdoor exposure.

To maximize your chances of staying safe, ask yourself these questions when planning on being in public places with other people:

  1. How large is the space?
  2. How many people are going to be in that space?
  3. How long do you plan to be in that space?

Think through your answers to the above questions and assess the relative risk you are taking by being in that situation. At the very least, wear a mask in public. Be safe.

5 Ways to Boost Your Inner Peace

5 Ways to Boost Your Inner Peace

I don’t know about you, but my inner peace has been a bit shaky lately. It’s as if I’m living in some kind of Twilight Zone. It’s difficult to have inner peace when everything around you and the world is in chaos. But there are things we can do to nurture our inner peace amid the lack of outer peace.

Inner peace means being fully present in the now, not the past or the future. While it may be hard to come by in this day and age of uncertainty, conflict and fear, there are ways to obtain a state of serenity. Below are five solid ways to boost your inner peace. Like most things, they won’t work unless you apply them to your life. Maybe only one is what you need to strengthen your inner peace. But taken and applied in combination multiplies the effects on your sense of well-being.

  1. Exercise

Inner peace is the absence of stress and anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever.

 Exercise is one of the best ways to change your mental state to one of positivity. You don’t have to run a marathon to reap the benefits of physical activity either! Any type of movement will provide you with a greater sense of peace.

This can include practicing yoga and the breathing techniques that accompany the poses, going for a walk in nature and appreciating the smell of the flowers and the hum of insects and birds, or the waves crashing on the sand at the beach. However, you may enjoy a more vigorous workout as well, such as a spin class or running sprints.

I have to admit this is not been my choice for restoring inner peace. I am aware of the fact that any movement done on a regular basis can help you in so many ways. I do ride my incumbent bike daily, but I am motivated more by preparing my knees for a quicker recovery from upcoming knee replacement surgery.

  1. Set Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries help us take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Healthy boundaries help us maintain a positive sense of self, trusting who we are and not allowing others to define us.

These are difficult times for setting and abiding by boundaries. The current necessity of social distancing makes this tip probably the most difficult to manage. According to news reports, we as a nation are indulging in mindless eating of junk foods, as if we will have no tomorrow for which we are accountable. According to reported shortages of flour in grocery stores, we must be baking bread as if we will be unable to purchase it. And projected meat shortages make this the perfect time to add more plant-based protein to our diets.

But letting the current life situation define our daily existence makes it all the more important for us to think about the healthiest ways to live through the pandemic crisis and to employ personal boundaries to make that happen for us.

  1. Socialize and Connect With Others

A Harvard study done by Dr. Robert Waldinger suggests that “meaningful relationships are a prescription for better emotional, mental and physical health.” 

 There has been over eight decades of research, among 700 men who were teenagers in 1930s (and over 60 men who are still participating in their 90’s) which shows that:

  • social connections appear to be good for health
  • loneliness appears to be toxic
  • relationship quality matters
  • good relationships appear to protect our brains 

There are a number of ways to strengthen connections to others, such as making new friends (by volunteering or joining a club, for example) and working to improve existing relationships with family and friends.

However, this way to inner peace has been denied to us in many ways. Social distancing is the current norm. And we long for the social contact that feeds our souls. Being apart from my family is excruciating and I’m sure it is for many others. We are forced to find less than satisfying ways to remain connected.

  1. Journal

Daily writing can help with organizing and processing your thoughts, clearing your mind and facilitating problem-solving. According to an article published by Michigan State University, journaling can act as an emotional release/escape and help you obtain clarity and rid you of negative thoughts.

I have been keeping a daily gratitude journal for over a year now. At the end of each day, I write five things I am grateful for, starting each sentence with “I am grateful for”. This has probably been the single most impactful way I’ve been able to cope with trying times. Simply recognizing my blessings invites more peaceful sleep and a feeling that everything will be all right at some point.

  1. Meditate (which may include more traditional meditation methods or calling on one’s faith to sustain us through prayer)

According to medicinenet.com, “a simple technique practiced for as few as 10 minutes per day can help you control stress, decrease anxiety, improve cardiovascular health, and achieve a greater capacity for relaxation”. Meditation produces a state of deep internal relaxation, regardless of what is going on externally.

My daily devotional time in the morning is of indeterminable value to me. If I miss a day, I feel as though I’ve lost something more valuable than the short time involved. 

Establishing inner peace can also have a positive ripple effect, spreading peace to others. When we are acting from a place of serenity, we are kind, generous, patient, and compassionate. We are less quick to judge and take offense.

We find joy in connecting with others and in turn, others act in a similar way. When we find inner peace, we help contribute to a better world! “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin in me.”

The Definitive Guide to COVID-19 Homemade Face Masks FAQ

The Definitive Guide to COVID-19 Homemade Face Masks FAQ

As the world continues to maneuver through the chaos and unknowns of the current crisis of coronavirus (COVID-19), three directives have been proposed for the general population to assist in the process of “flattening the curve” and helping keep us safe from the viral threat.

First, the public should engage in copious amounts of hand washing, for at least for 20 seconds each time. Second, everyone should practice social distancing, or more precisely physical distancing.

The third proponent is that of wearing face masks to minimize the dangers involved when you must be in the company of others. The specifics of wearing face masks has been evolving from it being relatively unimportant to being a critical move in helping curb the spread of the virus.

This FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) guide has been compiled to address some of the issues surrounding the practice of wearing homemade face masks. The shortage of N95 respirators and surgical masks necessitates they be reserved for health care workers and first responders. Therefore, homemade face masks are the main option for everyone else.

Why should the general public wear face masks?

It is estimated that 25% of people may have coronavirus and not exhibit any symptoms. Therefore, they could be contagious and infecting people with whom they come in contact. So wearing masks could protect others around you by blocking germs from coughing and sneezing, and the wearer could be protected from incoming germs. The latest guidelines from the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) say that anyone going into public spaces should wear a face mask.

Do I need to wear a mask if I’m not sick?

Yes. For reasons explained in the previous question, everyone entering public spaces should wear masks to protect themselves and others around them. You may be unaware of being a carrier of the virus, being either asymptomatic or prior to symptoms manifesting themselves.

Are there correct procedures for using a face mask?

Yes. Things you should remember to remain as safe as possible include:

  1. Prior to using a face mask, wash your hands thoroughly.
  2. Use ear loops or ties to put on and take off the mask, while avoiding touching the fabric part of the mask
  3. If you live in an apartment, put on your mask while inside your home. (Elevators and stairwells are high-contamination areas.)
  4. Wash and dry your fabric mask daily.
  5. Keep your clean mask in a clean, dry place.
  6. For maximum safety, use a face mask in combination with correct hand washing procedures and social distancing for a compounding effect.

Are there wrong ways to wear a face mask?

Yes. Some things you should not do when wearing a face mask include:

  1. Don’t fidget with it. Put it on and keep your hands off the mask. And don’t pull it down around your neck and reposition on your face later.
  2. Don’t wear it below your nose.
  3. Don’t wear it so it just covers the tip of your nose.
  4. Don’t leave your chin exposed.
  5. Don’t wear it loosely on your face, with gaps on the sides.
  6. Don’t push your mask under your chin, resting on your neck.
  7. Don’t touch the fabric part of the mask, because that is where germs are concentrated, and you don’t want to spread them.

Are there risks to wearing a face mask?

The main risk is that you might overestimate the amount of protection provided by the mask. Masks differ in their ability to filter germs depending on the materials with which they are made and the design of the mask. Also, if you touch your face while wearing the mask, you risk spreading germs more than protecting yourself from them.

Do I need to wear a face mask outdoors?

Yes, if you are in public places where you may come in contact with others. It’s the socially responsible thing to do. But if you are at home in your back yard away from others, it is not necessary.

Do I need to wear a face mask during outdoor exercise?

Most experts believe it is not necessary to wear a mask during outdoor exercise. But they do not know how exercise affects the spread of the disease. For some, it may be difficult to breathe easily during heavy exercise if wearing a mask.

Should children wear face masks?

Children under the age of two should not wear a mask. However, children should not be exposed to public places anyway, such as grocery stores.

It may be difficult for parents to get children to wear a mask if they must go out in public. However, parents may make a game of it and keep the process lighthearted in order to get children to comply. Also, masks made of colorful fabrics or cartoon characters may encourage children to wear them.

When should a face mask be worn at home?

If there are others in the household who are sick, then masks should be worn indoors by everyone in the household during the period of illness.

What type of materials should be used to make a mask?

Although different sources say different things, the most commonly recommended fabric is a tightly woven cotton. Fabric used by quilters has been recommended, because quilters typically use high quality cotton fabric for their designs. The best test for determining if a fabric is appropriate is to hold it up to the light. More suitable fabrics are tightly woven and do not filter a lot of light through the fabric.

You should also hold the fabric up to your face covering your nose and mouth and see if you can still breathe easily. Fabrics that are too thick or too tightly woven may inhibit breathing.

Cotton is the fabric of choice and some sources of cotton that have been suggested for use include T-shirts, tea towels, pillowcases and sheets. Also, a two-layer mask of flannel and cotton was deemed comparable to a surgical mask as tested by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Those who led the study also had good success with quilting fabric. However, flannel may be too warm for comfortable wear in the spring and summer.

Should a filter be used with the mask? What types of filters are acceptable and where can I get them?

Research is emerging that suggests using a filter within the face mask can increase its effectiveness at blocking germs. Many types of materials have been tested around the country.

Some sources found that HEPA filters, such as those used for furnace filters and vacuum cleaner bags did a very good job of filtering the small particles of the virus. However, they may not have the breathability necessary to be comfortable. Also, some of types of filters contain fiberglass, which would pose health risks to the wearer and should not be used at all. Check manufacturer guidelines for further information.

The Suay Sew Shop in Los Angeles built their own homemade testing facility to find fabrics that were best suited for face masks. Shop employees found that stretchy blue shop towels made from a polyester hydro knit made the ideal filtration material. By inserting these towels between two layers of woven cotton fabric, the resulting mask filtered out the smallest particles their machine could test. The shop towels that tested best can be found at hardware and automotive stores. The two brands that tested the best were ToolBox’s Shop Towel and ZEP’s industrial blue towel.

Coffee filters and paper towels have also been tested as filtration materials. The coffee filters did show up to 50% filtration but were not as breathable as other products.

Is any type of face mask appropriate?

Any type of protection is better than nothing, but there are a wide variety of option from which to choose. Therefore, pick a mask that provides the most protection available in a homemade version.

Can I reuse my mask?

Yes, depending on the type of materials in the mask. However, they need to be sanitized between uses. If you have multiple masks, you could rotate use, giving the virus time to decay over the course of a few days. And there are other options for caring for masks.

How should I care for a fabric mask?

The simplest way to care for homemade fabric masks is to wash them after use with laundry detergent. They may be dried in a dryer or air dried. If there is a filter inserted between the outside layers of the mask, it would need to be removed and discarded, if disposable.

Some sources suggest sanitizing the masks in a plastic freezer bag in the microwave oven for two minutes. However, microwave ovens vary greatly in their wattage and could result in scorching the masks or causing a fire. The most recent recommendation is not to sanitize masks in a microwave oven.

How do different types of face masks compare to each other? What is the best design/pattern for a face mask?

Adding layers of fabric increases effectiveness in all masks.

Type of MaskSewn?Recommended materialsKey PointsHow To Make?
A Doctor Explains the Safest Face MaskYes-Vacuum cleaner HEPA bags
-Pipe cleaners
-Elastic
-Claims to filter up to 99% of particles
-HEPA vacuum bags said to be dangerous by another doctor
-*Second link in How To Make column is rebuttal by Vacuum Cleaner Market
https://youtu.be/W6d3twpHwis  

https://www.vacuumcleanermarket.com/news/do-vacuum-bags-contain-fiberglass/    
Olson MaskYes-Tightly-woven cotton fabric
-Filter material
-Elastic
-Quick and easy to make
-Pattern download available on website
-Excellent tutorial
-Using filter in pocket increases effectiveness
https://www.sewcanshe.com/blog/simple-step-by-step-tutorial-for-the-olson-mask-pattern  
SuayYes-Tightly-woven cotton or flannel
-Shop towels for filter
-Floral wire, twist ties or paper clips for nose clip
-Read tutorial and select variation of mask that suits your needs
-Use elastic or knit for trim to get best fit
-Read tutorial for recommended brand of shop towels
-Harder to make, but creates better fit
https://vickiloves.me/suaymaskpattern    
Corded with Filter PocketYes-Tightly-woven cotton fabric
-3/16” synthetic clothesline cord
-Floral wire or similar product
-One of easiest to make
-Can get good fit with the cord
-Easiest to put on
-Can increase effectiveness with different thicknesses of fabric and type of filter used
-Easy to discard filter and wash mask
https://youtu.be/PPLz4D_iSmo  
PleatedYes-Tightly-woven cotton fabric
-¼” elastic
-Usually made with two layers of fabric
-Can increase effectiveness by using one layer of flannel and one of woven cotton
https://youtu.be/cb0C9MIzEV0  
GatheredYes-Tightly-woven cotton fabric
-¼” elastic or “scrunchie” hair cords
-The Effectiveness is comparable to Pleated mask
-Easier to make than pleated mask
https://vickiloves.me/gatheredfacemask  
T-ShirtNo-Cotton T-Shirt  -Quick and easy to make
-Only one layer, so effectiveness is decreased
-Can get good fit – stretchy
https://vickiloves.me/TshirtFaceMask  
Bandana or 20” x 20” fabricNo-Bandana
-20” x 20” cotton woven or knit fabric
-Rubber bands
-Least effective type of mask, but better than no mask
-Quick and easy to assemble
-Easy to have multiples
https://vickiloves.me/bandanafacemask  

Main sources:

CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention

New York Times newspaper

The full downloadable report on homemade face masks FAQs can be accessed at

https://vickiloves.me/FaceMasksFAQ

5 Ways to Avoid Internet Scams

5 Ways to Avoid Internet Scams

Everyone is on the Internet now. I know. My already slow service has ground almost to a halt. I can’t even watch a YouTube video without constant interruptions of the dreaded stalled circle trying to return the video to something I could actually view.

It seems as though the number of emails I’m getting that are ready and waiting to solve every problem has increased dramatically. Am I wrong? Emails abound from an undisclosed source with a “too good to be true” subject line and only one thing in the body of the email – a clickable link. DON’T click on the link! You could be scammed.

In times like these, scammers are working overtime. Don’t get sucked into every interesting headline that makes enticing promises. If you’ve never heard of the source, it is well worth your time to check it out. Here are five things you can do to avoid Internet scams.

1. Make sure the message comes from a legitimate source. Assuming there is a website listed, check out their About page to see if it sounds legitimate. They should have a working contact page that gets you a response when you submit a question. Google them for reviews. Look for complaints from the Better Business Bureau or Federal Trade Commission.

2. Use a password manager. Of course, you know not to use “password” or “1234” as passwords to sites where you have accounts. But are you guilty of creating a clever password that’s easy for you to remember and using it over and over? Bad idea!! Identity theft is always a threat when you use simple or reused passwords online. If you don’t need to access passwords on multiple devices or within the family, there are free password manager apps that will store your passwords for you and help you create secure passwords that are more difficult to hack.

Consumer Reports recently reviewed password manager apps. They checked for data privacy, security and usability. Their top-rated app just happens to be the one I’ve used for several years now – 1 Password. I have hundreds of passwords, so a password manager is a must. Currently, 1 Password is $60/year for families when billed annually or $36/year for an individual. And you can get 12.5% back if you sign up through Rakuten, my favorite cash-back service! (Psst – you can sign up free here: https://www.rakuten.com/r/VPEEL2?eeid=28187 )

Rounding out the top four password managers as reviewed by Consumer Reports are: Keeper Password Manager, Bitwarden Free and Dashlane Free. Most offer free trials.

3. Be careful of phishing scams. Scammers often send legitimate-looking emails that include logos of reputable companies. However, if you are asked to verify personal information in an email, you can be sure it’s a scam. No reputable company will ask you to submit personal data through an email. If you get an email that says “we’ve been trying to reach you”, do not click on it. If the email indicates it is from a company with which you do business, contact the company through another method and inquire if they are in fact trying to reach you. Most likely, they are not. So, avoid giving personal data via email to avoid being scammed.

4. Watch out for entering contests with enticing prizes. Although not every contest is a scam, some may be. If you enter a scamming contest, a bot will be downloaded that continually sends your personal information to other scams. Do some research about the contest before entering. Some are actually legitimate. I’m still expecting to be notified any time about winning the HGTV Dream Home!

5. Beware of offers that address current world or local circumstances. –Coronavirus scams are currently circulating, such as those that will help you get your relief check quickly or companies that say they have ample supplies of toilet paper you can get at unbelievable prices! Other current scams include fake charities, online dating scams, lucrative work-at-home offers and fake prizes. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, you know the drill – it probably is too good to be true!

The entire world is in a vulnerable position right now. So, take your time and investigate offers that appear to be quick and easy solutions to common problems many people are experiencing. Staying safe involves more than social distancing. It involves being alert and cautious about possible Internet scams. So, keep your distance and stay safe!

5 Steps Toward Living in Gratitude

5 Steps Toward Living in Gratitude

We are living in uncharted times. The stress of not knowing what is going to happen can easily overwhelm us. But really, we never knew what was going to happen when things were “normal”. We went about our day to day activities and planned for our lives as if we had control over them. We didn’t and we never will.

One thing I believe can help us get through the uncertainties of days ahead is to live each day in gratitude. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal for over a year now and I can attest to the power of writing down what you are grateful for. Every night, I write down five things I’m grateful for. I start each sentence with “I am grateful for…”. It is a calming force to realize you have so much to be grateful for every day.

While there are many things that we can do to weather the storm, here are five that may guide us in developing an attitude of gratitude.

  1. Make a Plan. One of the single best things you can do to maintain positivity during tough times is to make a plan on how to deal with it. Plan things to be productive and ways to have fun. When you focus on the solution rather than the problem, you will naturally feel more positive. You will feel like you are rising to the challenge.
  2. Reach Out for Support. Support in and support out! Reach out to loved ones and offer your support. Reach out if you need assistance too. When things are dire, it is always reaffirming when people pull together and help each other. If at all possible, find ways to connect with friends and family via online resources such as Facetime, Zoom, or Skype. You can also play games with others through smartphone apps.
  3.  Take a Break. Sometimes our circumstances are so dire that we are forced to think about our problems constantly. It is OK to take a break. You can take a break from the news, social media, or other people. It might not be easy but taking a break from external stimuli can help keep you positive.
  4.  Focus on Things You Can Control. When your world seems like it is spinning out of control, you may feel helpless. One way to address this and stay more positive is to focus on the things you can control. Instead of fretting about things out of your control, focus on making sure you do your best job on the things you can control. 
  5.  Think and Write About Things You are Grateful For. Even during great personal turmoil, you still have things you are grateful for. When things get tough, it is vital to remember that there is good in the world, and more importantly, in your life. When you are struggling, take some time to list the things in your life you are grateful for. Journaling is a powerful tool in so many ways. By simply giving you a place to express your gratitude, a journal helps you maintain positivity outside of its pages.

 Perhaps now more than ever an attitude of gratitude is one of the best habits you can nurture. Just realizing that we have more to be thankful than we have pulling us down will help us to “keep calm and carry on”.