Leave the potential for COVID-19 contamination at the front door

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To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission for health care workers and those living in areas of intense transmission, public health practitioners have developed educational flyers outlining COVID-19 biosafety-at-home protocols to reduce the threat of contamination at home.   

Communication is an important aspect of our work in public health,” said Dr. Miguel Reina Ortiz, assistant professor specializing in global communicable diseases at the USF College of Public Health. “During rapidly evolving situations like COVID-19, the amount of unproven, scientifically inaccurate information that is shared over social media seems to outpace the amount and rate at which scientifically-sound information is shared. In such situations, it is important to convey public health messages in a clear and timely manner to guide the general population.”

Miguel Reina Ortiz, MD, PhD, CPH. (Photo courtesy of Reina Ortiz)  

Reina, also an alumnus of the COPH earning his PhD in 2015, was part of a team of 12 experts from the U.S. and Latin America consisting of epidemiologists, virologists, infection disease preventionists, and public health practitioners who developed a protocol over 11 iterations. Their final protocol was used to create a biosafety-at-home flyer that was distributed in Ecuador in May, which at the time was Latin America’s COVID-19 hot spot. Since then, the protocol has been distributed in other countries, reaching upwards of 7,000 individuals through social media, websites and email. 

Their manuscript titled “Biosafety at Home: How to Translate Biomedical Laboratory Safety Precautions for Everyday Use in the Context of COVID-19,” has been published in the journal of The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Their goal was to use research laboratory biosafety measures and translate them into something that could be applied within people’s homes to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

“We assessed what would be the best mechanism to translate biosafety measures that are usually implemented at a research laboratory facility to home or other every-day environments,” Reina Ortiz said. “The focus was on people with high levels of exposure such as those working in certain hospital areas or those living in areas with very high transmission rates.”

The biosafety-at-home tips encourage the public to define three place areas in their home: the white area, the gray area and black area to prevent contaminating other areas of their home. The black area of your home should be toward the parking lot or exterior door of your home. The gray area is the area just inside the entrance of your home, or where you first step in when entering your home and includes actions you should take (such as removing shoes, sanitizing hands with hand sanitizer, removing soiled clothing, etc.). (Photo source: ENTRADA /SALIDA DEL HOGAR flyer)

Reina Ortiz said this work was important because it provided support to a population who at the time of publication was being devasted by COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has severely impacted the life of millions of people around the world. At the time that this work was done, Ecuador had become a COVID-19 epicenter in Latin America with traumatic scenes such as corpses lying out on the streets of Guayaquil, arguably Ecuador’s largest city and the economic capital of the country,” he said.

The flyer was originally developed in English and translated to Spanish by Spanish-speaking experts in order to address the urgent needs of Ecuador, according to Reina Ortiz.

Precautions should be taken in each defined area of the home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Photo source: (Photo source: ENTRADA /SALIDA DEL HOGAR flyer)

“This communication product has the potential to help people with high COVID-19 exposure to focus on proven strategies to avoid contamination and spread of SARS-CoV-2,” Reina Ortiz said. “As a result, the impact can be at an individual level (decreasing personal risk) and, potentially, at the population level (decreasing transmission levels from the persons who use the information).”

Reina Ortiz also said that immediately after working on this project, similar needs were reported from colleagues leaving in Portuguese- and French-speaking countries, such as Brazil and France, and that the product is currently being translated to Portuguese and the French edition is being explored.

“Our work shows a way forward to convene experts to develop communication products that were previously non-existent, in a timely fashion during pandemic or emergency events,” Reina Ortiz said.

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health