Fist bumps instead of handshakes. Knuckles are the new fingers. And watch the gas pump. Those are some of the recommendations from Dr. James Robb, a former professor of pathology at the University of California San Diego who began studying the coronavirus more than 30 years ago. With the growing concerns regarding the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), we are taking Dr. Robb’s advice very seriously and doing a few things to prep our homes and our families to try and stay healthy and minimize the risk of catching the influenza strain that still remains a fearful mystery.  See below for a letter that Dr. Robb sent out to his fellow colleagues with precautions everyone should be taking — we found his advice to be positive, helpful and great reminders to all.

In a nutshell, the basic guidance to the general public remains the same: If you’re retirement age or older, or if you have underlying health problems, avoid crowds and anyone with cold or flu symptoms. Otherwise, wash your hands well and often, and don’t panic.

Learn more about the symptoms associated with COVID-19 here.

Excerpted from a letter by Dr. James Rob, MD:

Dear Colleagues,

As some of you may recall, when I was a professor of pathology at the University of California San Diego, I was one of the first molecular virologists in the world to work on coronaviruses (the 1970s). I was the first to demonstrate the number of genes the virus contained. Since then, I have kept up with the coronavirus field and its multiple clinical transfers into the human population (e.g., SARS, MERS), from different animal sources.

The current projections for its expansion in the US are only probable, due to continued insufficient worldwide data, but it is most likely to be widespread in the US by mid to late March and April.

Here is what I have done and the precautions that I will continue to take: 

1) NO HANDSHAKING! Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.

2) Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches. elevator buttons, etc. Lift the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or use a disposable glove.

3) Open doors with your closed fist or hip – do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Especially important on bathroom and post office/commercial doors.

4) Use disinfectant wipes at the stores when they are available, including wiping the handle and child seat in grocery carts.

5) Wash your hands with soap for 10-20 seconds and/or use a greater than 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home from ANY activity that involves locations where other people have been.

6) Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home’s entrances. AND in your car for use after getting gas or touching other contaminated objects when you can’t immediately wash your hands.

7) If possible, cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard. Use your elbow only if you have to. The clothing on your elbow will contain infectious virus that can be passed on for up to a week or more!

Here’s what I have stocked in preparation for the pandemic spread to the US:

1) Latex or nitrile latex disposable gloves for use when going shopping, using the gasoline pump, and all other outside activity when you come in contact with contaminated areas.

Note: This virus is spread in large droplets by coughing and sneezing. This means that the air will not infect you! BUT all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average – everything that is associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious. The virus is on surfaces and you will not be infected unless your unprotected face is directly coughed or sneezed upon.

This virus only has cell receptors for lung cells (it only infects your lungs) The only way for the virus to infect you is through your nose or mouth via your hands or an infected cough or sneeze onto or into your nose or mouth.

2) Stock up now with disposable surgical masks and use them to prevent you from touching your nose and/or mouth (We touch our nose/mouth 90X/day without knowing it!). This is the only way this virus can infect you – it is lung-specific. The mask will not prevent the virus in a direct sneeze from getting into your nose or mouth – it is only to keep you from touching your nose or mouth.

3) Stock up now with hand sanitizers and latex/nitrile gloves (get the appropriate sizes for your family). The hand sanitizers must be alcohol-based and greater than 60% alcohol to be effective.

4) Stock up now with zinc lozenges. These lozenges have been proven to be effective in blocking coronavirus (and most other viruses) from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx. Use as directed several times each day when you begin to feel ANY “cold-like” symptoms beginning. It is best to lie down and let the lozenge dissolve in the back of your throat and nasopharynx. Cold-Eeze lozenges is one brand available, but there are other brands available.

I, as many others do, hope that this pandemic will be reasonably contained, BUT I personally do not think it will be. Humans have never seen this (edited: animal)-associated virus before and have no internal defense against it.

Tremendous worldwide efforts are being made to understand the molecular and clinical virology of this virus. Unbelievable molecular knowledge about the genomics, structure, and virulence of this virus has already been achieved. BUT, there will be NO drugs or vaccines available this year to protect us or limit the infection within us. Only symptomatic support is available.

I hope these personal thoughts will be helpful during this potentially catastrophic pandemic. You are welcome to share.

Good luck to all of us!

Dr. James Robb

Dr. James Robb received his MD degree at the University of Colorado and took a residency in pathology, as well as training in molecular biology, at Yale University. He has worked for the National Institutes of Health, and been a consulting pathologist at the National Cancer Institute. He is board certified in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, cytopathology, and dermatopathology.

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Comments (10)
  1. 1
    Cathy March 10, 2020 at 11:55 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this helpful letter from Dr. Robb. I appreciate his considered and measured approach.

  2. 2
    Jenny March 10, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    You’re recommending that we wear latex gloves while out in public? This advice is ridiculous and is only adding to the hysteria. I was initially thinking how I appreciated that you were addressing the topic and would hopefully provide some facts and maybe a few useful tips for continuing to live our lives as we do during flu season every year, but this is idiotic.

    • Molly March 10, 2020 at 5:29 pm

      No need to be abrasive! It is true that we do need to be cautious! I don’t see this post as even remotely hysterical. If Coronavirus is spread through cough/sneeze droplets, obviously the ideal thing to do would be to wear gloves so protect yourself. Of course not everyone is going to do that, but it is good to keep beat practice in mind. The example was when using the gas pump. Think of the thousands of people who have touched the pump before you. Using gloves there seems pretty common sense to me.

  3. 3
    Cori March 11, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Stock up now on surgical masks? This perpetuates the idea that we need to hoarde things like sanitizer, masks and gloves and now there are people at high risk unable to get what they actually need to be healthy. Dont’ tell people to stock up on things that aren’t widely available! Time to go steal them from a hospital I guess like so many already have.

    • Cheryl March 12, 2020 at 10:31 am

      Totally agree! The last thing we need is to perpetuate more panic. This is irresponsible!

  4. 4
    Mia March 11, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    Thank you for addressing this timely topic. However, it seems ill-advised to recommend wearing gloves and masks in public — for the average healthy person (not elderly, no pre-existing health conditions). Gloves and masks have been out of stock in many stores in my area, and now the people who truly need these supplies (and don’t have the resources of a large hospital) can’t get them — people who are showing symptoms, or people caring for someone in their home who has symptoms, people with compromised immune systems or people who live with such patients… and, when this gets worse (as it already is), people who don’t have the option to work from home and have to regularly interact with people (e.g., the retail staff in Target etc who have to go to work while the rest of us can stock up and hunker down at home), day care workers. I understand we all need to do what we have to do to protect our families, but there are also more vulnerable members of the community. Our safety also depends on others’ safety and vice versa. I read somewhere that it makes no sense to have multiple gallons of hand soap at home when no one else can get them and protect themselves.

    The other problem is that gloves and masks seem to provide a false sense of security, particularly when not all people even know how to properly dispose of them. I have seen a couple of people at the gas pump use gloves and then pull them off by touching the outside of the gloves (?!?!?). There are many videos online on how to properly don/doff gloves and masks to not touch the contaminated parts. And at the most basic level, many people don’t even wash their hands correctly/thoroughly (they miss specific areas like thumbs, between the fingers) or for the recommended amount of time — these are things we should always be doing anyway, pandemic or not. Sounds like common sense, but unfortunately it isn’t so common. There are existing videos from the WHO and CDC on handwashing, and these are the things that I wish had been disseminated more widely by media outlets when the news on COVID first came out.

  5. 5
    Moyra March 11, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    Please leave surgical masks to healthcare providers. They will not stop you from getting infected and creates shortages for those who need them the most.
    – A healthcare provider

  6. 6
    Isa May 20, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    I live in a country where masks in public buildings are compulsory. I’ll also say that our country has been AWESOME at managing COVID-19, so it’s probably a valid recommendation to make. It’s not just about protecting yourself, it’s also about reducing the risk to people around you. A homemade multi-layer cotton mask is better than none at all. And if everyone wears one is doubly as effective. It also keeps the “risk” visible and seems to prevent people becoming complacent. Not sure about hoarding them, they are easy to make.

    We have also learned to make our own hand sanitizer. All the shops were out of stock, like most places in the world. Not sure if I am allowed to share a link here, but just in case, here is how we make it: