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March 12, 2020

How to prevent the spread of coronavirus, with tips from La Salle experts

Coronavirus Cells

Virologists and public health experts share their thoughts on the global spread of a new coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

The United States is among more than 60 countries globally that have identified and confirmed cases of a coronavirus disease, named COVID-19, that originated late last year in China.

Two virologists in La Salle University’s School of Arts and Sciences and a public health expert in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences shared their expertise and insights on COVID-19 and offered practices that can help mitigate its spread.

The experts are:

  • Brian DeHaven, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Biology, is a virologist and microbiologist who studies immunology. He also leads courses in cell biology and microbiology.
  • Jason Diaz, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Integrated Science, Business, and Technology, is a virologist and molecular biologist who teaches courses exploring innovations in biotechnology like genome sequencing and genetic engineering.
  • Christen Rexing, Ph.D., MPH, is an assistant professor of Public Health who teaches health policy.

The three experts agree on the importance of using evidence-based practices and learning from trusted global resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Additionally, be sure to check with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Philadelphia Department of Public Health for updates in your community.

“It is important to remember that we can help contain the virus through individual practices, but we must also work to ensure that all members of society have the ability to participate in these activities because we are only as strong as our weakest link,” Rexing said. “Individual stockpiling of supplies is counterproductive and quite harmful during pandemics. Each household should contain an emergency preparedness kit; however, purchasing mass quantities of items is not necessary and can harm your community by not providing everyone the opportunity to prepare.”

Here are other recommendations you can take to protect yourself and others:

Wash your hands.

Brian DeHaven, Ph.D.
Brian DeHaven, Ph.D.

Health experts advise that everyday preventive actions can help stop the spread of germs. This includes washing your hands regularly. If your hands are visibly dirty, use soap and water to wash your hands for 20 or more seconds. In other situations, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are key.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve while coughing and sneezing. Discard tissues immediately upon use. Always avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible, and get a flu vaccine if you have not already done so.

Maintaining personal hygiene is paramount, DeHaven said.

“This, and others, may seem like a pedestrian tip, but it’s a proven practice that can make a difference in preventing the spread of infectious diseases,” said DeHaven.

Alter your greetings.

Social norms dictate that we extend our hands when meeting someone for the first time or greeting a long-time acquaintance. Avoid the urge to shake hands. If you must, opt for a fist-bump, elbow tap or a verbal greeting, instead.

“The biology of this new coronavirus tells us it needs direct contact in order to spread,” DeHaven said. “That can come from touching contaminated surfaces, but most commonly it is being spread through droplets in coughs and sneezes.”

“That’s why washing your hands is so important,” Diaz added. “Doorknobs and phones are other surfaces that see a lot of touching during the day.”


Jason Diaz, Ph.D.
Jason Diaz, Ph.D.

For generations, healthcare providers have said rest is the best medicine. That’s certainly the case when it comes to mitigating the spread of infectious diseases.

Stay at home when you aren’t feeling well, particularly when you are experiencing a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. These are the well-documented symptoms of not only the flu, but also COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is asking employers to be flexible with their sick-time allowances and work-from-home policies.

“In addition to limiting spread of the virus, staying home when we’re sick helps us recover faster,” Diaz said. “It is well documented that stress and lack of sleep cripple your immune system.”

That also means sleep is a powerful tool for prevention. “College students are notorious for not sleeping enough,” Diaz  continued, “so I have been encouraging my students to get more sleep, which will help them stay healthy longer. Plus, it has the added bonus of improving their learning.”

Keep a healthy distance.

Maybe you aren’t experiencing the aforementioned symptoms. Perhaps you are feeling well enough to go to work, attend classes, and stick with your normal social activity.

You can do so, but you are reminded to practice social distancing. These efforts are aimed at keeping people about three to six feet apart from one another. It also explains why the countries most afflicted by the novel coronavirus are cancelling large gatherings, suspending operation of mass transit, or scheduling sporting events to continue without admitting fans to the games.

“It’s true that social media has amplified anxieties about COVID-19, but it can also be a powerful way to stay connected during times of social distancing,” said Diaz. “In general, I think we are still trying to find healthy ways of using social media. An epidemic like this one is an opportunity to be creative and stay engaged with one another while protecting our health.”

Christen Rexing, Ph.D., MPH
Christen Rexing, Ph.D., MPH

Wipe down surfaces.

COVID-19 has the potential to live on surfaces for up to one week. In addition to social distancing and handwashing, be sure to disinfect surfaces such as phones, doorknobs, desks, and other commonly used items.

“We often forget how dirty our phones can become,” Rexing  said. “Be sure to swab it with alcohol to keep it free of harmful germs.”

 —Christopher A. Vito