Two metres!

7 July 2020

239 Experts With One Big Claim: The Coronavirus Is Airborne:

14 June 2020

Told ya. Coronavirus: Who should wear a face mask or face covering? By Michelle Roberts, Health editor, BBC News online

28 May 2020

This will be a great resource for many:

Below is a podcast I made in April (2020) and a later one from early May. Everything under that is older, mostly from March.

April 2020

Tip: Be prepared that we may end up being told to wear a face mask when we leave our homes (research by Lydia Bourouiba at MIT, now followed by this article on 3 April: ). This does not mean that it is going to happen. You can take personal responsibility, however, and limit the chances that you are spreading the virus.

Tip: Make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D as many of us are not getting enough sunlight now (while in lockdown):

If you still believe that only older people get the disease COVID-19, think again. It’s also not true that children under 14 cannot get the disease, but it remains rare. Some young children with COVID-19 have died, however.

It’s mostly men who get really really ill with this disease and it’s often men who are much younger than I, I’ve noticed. (I’m 60-ish.)

(Tentative: This may be because they believe that they’re invincible and take fewer precautions or accidentally are much sloppier than women about hand-washing etc, thereby exposing themselves to much higher viral loads.)

It’s also people who live in areas with high air pollution and people who aren’t very fit who appear to be more vulnerable. Of course, inequalities in society also means that disadvantaged groups are always at a greater health risk.

COVID-19 is a giant wake-up call telling us that we need to change the way we live and how are societies are set up. While crises start off with something that is inherently bad, crises offer immense opportunities for positive change and that is certainly the case in the UK. It is up to us to grab these chances and accomplish as much good as possible. (21 April: I’ll be making some videos on that.)

Before 23 March 2020

Below and on this page, you will find general information and tips for how to deal with the challenges we all now face all over the world. (Most of it is from before the lock-down in the UK began, as you may notice.)

Frankly, I’ve been astonished to see myself providing the kind of information that took the UK government some time to catch up with and start issuing. How is this possible?! I have nowhere near the massive resources that the leaders in government have and who we also pay generous salaries to provide us with leadership and take the required action when needed.

Here is a short audio explainer:

Dealing with this crisis head on wasn’t rocket science. You do not need the latest intricate scientific detail to take effective action. Were UK politicians too focused on casting themselves in the hero role and not concerned enough with our well-being and the well-being of NHS staff?

We all need to continue to step up, particularly those of us who are not health-compromised and who are under 70 as we still appear to have the greatest chance to survive if we catch this virus. We certainly must help protect those with the smallest chance to recover from it. Our actions, too, will determine whether they will fall ill or not.

25-year-old John may not be ill and may not even be infected, but he can still pass the virus on to 27-year-old Jimmy who can pass it on to his brother who can pass it on to his fiancee and her brother and to his mother who can pass it on to her dad or her neighbour or both – and even more people. And they can all fall very seriously ill.

One possible sign to watch for? If you notice that your sense of taste or smell suddenly seems to have disappeared (in the absence of allergies or sinusitis). Some people can’t even smell onions or garlic any longer. If that happens, you are likely an asymptomatic carrier of the virus at that point – infecting other people – according to the information in the article below.

That means that you should self-isolate for 14 days (not 7) and, in any case, avoid all contact with the over-70s and with health-compromised people.

If you do not lose your sense of smell or taste, you can still be an asymptomatic carrier and infecting other people, however!

You do not have to be sneezing and coughing to be infected with the virus. You can be infected and go around infecting other people without having any symptoms yourself.

All of this is why we all have to respect that 2-metre distance, must avoid touching our face and wash our hands well when we come home.

What’s more, what we do as individuals also is going to determine how long this lock-down will have to last. Because this virus needs to be IN us, humans, in order to stay alive and keep replicating (multiplying, growing, have little baby viruses).

Let’s start with looking at my own situation. I may have the virus on my hands one day or even carry it in my body. Who knows.

  • I work from home so my risk of catching and spreading anything is and has been quite low, also because of the way I’ve been living in England.
  • I live in a small building with four other residents who are half my age. As far as I know, none of them are health-compromised; one of them used crutches for a short while and that’s it. So I do not have to worry too much about infecting someone in my immediate surroundings. (keep reading)
  • If I had an 80-year-old neighbour, I would stay away from him or her and refrain from handling any packages or other post for her or him and I might take care not to touch any surfaces in the staircase and wipe them down often. I certainly wouldn’t talk to him or her, unless through a closed door or while I wear a mask. To avoid accidentally infecting him or her.
  • I might wipe down bannisters, door handles etc every once in a while because, theoretically, I could have the virus on my hands from a package that I just collected or a traffic light button that I pressed and pass it on to my neighbours by leaving it on a door handle or bannister. (I happen to have a good disinfectant at hand and it gives me something to do.)
  • The good news? This virus has a fatty layer around it, which means that tackling it through diligent cleaning is easier than for some other viruses.
  • Do not dry surfaces instantly when you are cleaning them but give the cleaning fluid a chance to work. (The disinfectant cleaner that I use for this – F10 SCXD at 4 mL per L – requires a contact time of 15 minutes for optimal cleaning on this type of virus. Minimal contact time is 5 minutes.)
  • Cleaning the floor with bleach or the like does no harm and gives you something to do, but floors are likely less of a concern (and bleach and some other cleaners can irritate some people’s respiratory system). It’s surfaces that we touch with our hands that matter most, also because of the droplets that can land on them when we speak/cough/laugh/sneeze. The latter is a big part of how the infection is spread. Other people later touch those surfaces again and when they touch their face, for example, rub their eye, it gets into their body.
  • I might start wearing a mask outdoors because it would lower my chances of spreading the virus to others. Because when you speak, you emit small droplets into the air. Those droplets land on surfaces and on people. (And other people’s hands later touch those surfaces. On some surfaces, the virus can stay alive for days. Count on five days, to be on the safe side.)
  • I happen to have a bunch of masks that I bought for a DIY job a while ago. You may too and you may have forgotten that you have them. Or you could use a scarf.
  • The GOOD thing about wearing a mask is that it also stops you from touching your face if you’re in a situation in which your hands are not clean (such as supermarket cashiers because if they wear gloves, they will still continue to touch their faces, to wipe hair away or because something in your face itches; this happens so automatically).
  • Keeping a distance of 1.5 or, better, 2 m (which is 5 to 7 feet) means that if you speak or laugh and tiny little droplets that you won’t notice fly from your mouth, the other person/people won’t breathe them in or get them onto their clothes.
  • I would also do what I can to avoid ending up in hospital because there would be people who would have a much greater need for that hospital bed. If you are affected, you can use percussion therapy on your chest (clapping or patting hard with a cupped/flat hand to help loosen mucus) as that may avoid a mucus buildup that could develop into viral pneumonia and even a bacterial infection later and it might make breathing easier for you right now. I would take care to get enough sleep. Provided I had enough energy, I might walk on my treadmill to exercise my lungs as that too helps get rid of mucus. I would monitor my temperature if I thought I was running a fever. See also this post.
  • I would use my own pen if I were to go somewhere where I need to fill out a form or sign something. I have two pens tucked into my coat pocket, along with tissues and a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer that I bought a year ago and haven’t used yet. (I also sometimes have a mask with me now, in a plastic container, just in case I might find myself dealing with people whose health is vulnerable, such as an older adult who trips on the pavement.)
  • If you take part in any volunteering, take extreme care to avoid that teeny tiny droplets coming from your mouth end up on packages by wearing a facial mask and washing your hands well. Preferably also wear gloves when you are handling things such as packages of toilet paper intended for others whose health is vulnerable.
  • Wash your hands every time right after you arrive home or at work.
  • Make no mistake, however. Young people can also become seriously ill. They too are sometimes hospitalised – (low oxygen) – with Covid-19, but they are more likely to recover.

    The graphs currently show that the likelihood of infection and seriousness of illness increases with age.

  • If you are health-compromised or over 70, stay at home and do not hesitate to ask for help. This is no time for English restraint. Tell everyone who visits you to wear a face mask and wipe down surfaces, including doorknobs and phones.
  • If you use eye drops, take care to wash your hands well before applying them. The same goes for if you use medications that you take by putting them into your hand and then putting them in your mouth. Wash your hands well first.
  • It probably also goes for brushing your teeth, certainly if you are vulnerable to the virus. It might not be a bad idea to clean your brush including the handle in a disinfectant and then rinse it with plain water right now, depending on where you keep it and who else has access to the area where you keep it. In any case, wash your hands well before you use your toothbrush (or floss!) because your hands will be right under your nose while you brush your teeth.
  • Disinfecting your glasses (preferably every time you come home if you wore them outside) and not letting others touch them might be good too. (If you’re at work, washing your hands each time before you put your glasses on or take them off is too hard in practice, but you can do things like wash your hands more often than you normally do.)


  • Supermarket staff: see this post.
  • Avoid public computers and public transport (but if you have to use either, use a disinfectant wipe or sanitizer gel on your hands right after if you can, wash your hands well as soon as you get home and avoid touching your face until after you’ve washed your hands).
  • If you feel stressed, put on some music and dance it out, the way Meredith and Cristina used to do on Grey’s Anatomy, or stand in front of the mirror and pull funny faces until you start laughing or can’t stop laughing.
  • Do not play pranks on people because this can raise their stress levels significantly. (Stress can lower immunity.) Feel free to make them giggle though!
  • If you normally carry out repairs and the like, anything that you currently can’t do, consider using video communication to help people instead. A Dutch teacher is making video lessons that anyone can use so that kids don’t fall behind too much, I noticed. You may also be able to help people carry out their own minor repairs in one-on-one video via WhatsApp, Zoom or Skype if you normally do repairs but no longer can.
  • If you are not seriously ill and none of your loved ones are… keep smiling. See it as an adventure! Make it fun! Turn it all into a game! Give each other rewards for good hand-washing and the like! Celebrate! Learn worthwhile lessons from it all.

While I am being practical and down-to-earth, I do not want to be perceived as ignoring the seriousness of the situation:

(Also confirmed by the Dutch version of the BBC:

Do I have the virus? Heck, who knows! (see below*) Four or five days after I received a heavy parcel (10 March), signed for it on one of those gadgets and did not wash my hands afterwards, I noticed that I seemed to feel very slightly under the weather. Feeling very slightly tired and/or achy can mean that you’re fighting off a virus, but does not have to. (I think we officially had one patient in the county at the time, but he was health-compromised, was in a hospital in Southampton and died later. This means that we likely already had many more infections in the county that we simply were not aware of.)

I am not trying to say that I have this virus. I might have this specific virus and then again, I might not. There are plenty of other viruses around. It doesn’t matter. The approach or response, right now, should be the same anyway.

What’s more, this is not about me. This is about YOU, about what YOU can do. To sum it up:

  • What can YOU do to limit the chance that YOU spread the Covid-19 virus to those who are likely to fall seriously ill if they get it?
    Wear a face mask when you are around these people (people with certain health conditions – such as asthma, COPD and heart conditions – and people over 70) if you have to be. Because when you speak, you emit small droplets into the air. Wash your hands when you are around these people, make sure that they do too and wipe down (disinfect) door handles and other surfaces that you may have touched. Do not dry them instantly but give the cleaning fluid a chance to work.
  • What can YOU do to help those who are likely to fall seriously ill if they get Covid-19? (That is, how you can help them while they self-isolate.)
    See also the previous bullet point. Make sure they have enough food and other supplies and can keep the leccy and/or gas and/or internet on. Call them and talk with them. (Don’t flood them with calls, but call them once a day, for example at 7pm, or once every other day. Ask them what they would like. Don’t assume. Do not patronize or belittle.

Also note, however, that we must not lose sight of sanity and not become overtaken and dictated by panic. There is a point beyond which the measures to stop as many people as possible from succumbing to this virus become just as damaging as the virus, of course.

We will have to start swinging back toward the middle of the road again because if we don’t we will be creating lots of health problems and other kinds of misery down the line.

A heck of a lot of GOOD can come out of this crisis and it’s up to all of us to ensure that this happens.


About droplets:

About asymptomatic spreaders of Covid-19:

Transmission dynamics/clinical severity Covid-19:


Disclaimer: I am an earth/life scientist, but I am not a medical professional.

I understand a little bit of how diseases can be spread, for example, because I did trace metal work (picomoles per kilogram of seawater; kilogram instead of litre to account for pressure effects as seawater becomes condensed by the pressure at great depths). This means that you have to be very careful not to contaminate your samples (with teeny tiny dust grains). You do that by, for example, not moving your hand over an open vial, but using your left hand to work on the left side and your right hand to work on the right. You work in a “positive pressure lab” (so that no air flows in other than via vents that have special filters) and wear a lab coat, lab clogs, gloves and a cap (that stay in the lab so that they stay relatively clean). You also have to be very aware of surfaces and, for example, not touch any surface with the tip of your pipette and if you accidentally do, discard the tip and use a new one. I also have had training for how to handle radioactive materials in the lab setting (avoid contamination) at a hospital in the US (for my work at the university there) and at the University of Southampton in the UK. Having that kind of practical knowledge can be very helpful in other situations and I am grateful for that.

*For the record: I am fine. I am not running a fever, so don’t worry about me if you happen to hear me cough, but look after yourself and your loved ones. Everyone who knows me knows that I always cough and sniffle a lot (except in Florida’s lovely climate because that combination of high humidity, toasty temperatures and very clean air works wonders for me). That is currently bound to be making some people nervous when they see – hear – me in the street, unfortunately. For their own sake, they must – have to – assume that I have the virus.

But on the morning of the 20th, I forgot to eat anything for breakfast before I headed out and walked for more than an hour to arrive back with plenty of energy left. (I happened to do the same the next day, on the 21st.) If I’d been fighting off a virus, I would have run out of steam already during the first 30 minutes. I sure would have noticed.