The Truth may not set you free, but it can slow down a pandemic

Coronavirus, Image source: CDC

Ever wonder why it was called “The Spanish Flu”? It didn’t start in Spain, after all. But back in 1917 – 1918, the US and European governments were trying to keep it secret. Only the Spanish told the truth, so it got named after them. Even so, it turns out they did the right thing. And now we are facing a serious new threat: the Coronavirus.

A pandemic is no time to engage in propaganda. It is a very good time to look at specifics, without flinching. Here are some specifics, and all the links below are to actual subject experts, or credible, research-based resources, to learn more:

Coronavirus is roughly as deadly as the 1918 flu; about one fatality in 31. Those are terrible odds, and that’s even with modern medicine on our side.

60% Alcohol hand sanitizer is effective, but only if you use it correctly with the same hand-rubbing technique that you use for thorough hand-washing. See page 2 of this WHO guide: Hand Hygiene: Why, How, and When. Also check out this graphic of common hand washing results.

When washing hands, plain soap and water is effective on most viruses including Coronavirus. Follow the WHO guide in the previous paragraph for technique.

Touch less stuff, or touch stuff less. Operate public touch-screens with your knuckle. Ditto for elevator buttons, phone buttons, credit-card readers, etc. Open door handles with the heel of your hand, not your fingertips. (I started doing this last trick because of arthritis, but now I can say I’m ‘using best practices’!)

Avoid touching your face if you can (this is hard for people with allergies*) and sanitize your hands more often if you can’t.

Adopt non-contact or limited-contact greetings. A fist-bump, a little bow, or even a nod + smile are far preferable to the disease-hand-off we call a “handshake”.

Maintain 2-meter social distance. This is the length of an adult llama, or a broom extended at arm’s length. And according to a Belgian study, 2 meters is minimum. It may not be enough.

Bane wearing mask
This mask would help others to maintain social distance from you

UPDATE: Wear a mask. Consensus has emerged that in public, procedure masks or makeshift masks (as opposed to specialized N95 surgical masks) ARE helpful. For information on how to make masks, including volunteering to sew them, visit

Gloves are not that helpful, at least not if you use them like some kind of magic talisman. Unsafe touching habits contaminate gloves just like anything else. Can be helpful if a skin-protection part of frequent sanitizing. This is just common sense, really.

Use disinfecting wipes on surfaces. Read the directions. The Coronavirus can last on surfaces up to 9 days but it’s pretty easy to kill. Be sure to include your own surfaces; your cell phone, laptop, doorknobs, office phones, light switches, public staplers, etc. Big, low-touch surfaces you can skip.

Cough into your elbow, not your hand. Coughing and sneezing releases tiny droplets that can carry the virus, linger in the air, or come to rest on surfaces. Keep your distance from others when you are sick. Stay home if you can, work at your desk if you can’t. Skip meetings. Now is the perfect time to indulge your anti-social tendencies.


  • This post will be updated and edited as new information comes in or readers suggest sources and clarifications. Last updated on 28 March, 2020. Please discuss this post on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Those masks with a valve on the front apparently don’t filter exhalation, which means they don’t work to protect those around you. Seems like an important point.
  • “Not touching your face” is hard for people with allergies, people with anxiety disorders, and people socialized in ordinary society where we stroke our chins, rub our eyes, etc. There’s a lot to un-learn.
  • Trump is ignoring the lessons of the 1918 Flu pandemic that killed millions, historian says. The Washington Post interviewed John M. Barry, author of “The Great Influenza: the epic story of the deadliest plague in history”. Barry said things were made much worse by the government trying to “raise morale” and prevent bad news.
  • Math misconceptions may lead people to underestimate the true threat of Covid-19 – The Conversation
  • Countries that insist on commoditizing medical care, making it available only to those who can pay, will pay a terrible price. Ditto for countries that don’t have paid medical leave for all workers. People who can’t see a doctor, won’t. People who can’t take time off from work, won’t. Rich people feeling safe should think about who made their lunches; we truly are all in this together.

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Older technology guy with photography and history background