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Earth Matters: How I’m Managing with Newfound Germaphobia

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique.

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by Jocelyn Jane Cox

I have never been a germaphobe. I haven’t thought extensively about what I’m touching out in the world, and am of the belief that a certain amount of germs and dirt build our immunity. I’ve always washed my hands at the customary times (before meals, after the bathroom), but not much more. And I certainly wasn’t scrubbing vigorously for twenty seconds.

In fact, before this COVID-19 situation, we didn’t own anti-bacterial anything. That’s not true; we got some hand sanitizer, as recommended, when our son was first born. But we barely used it! In fact, we still have it on a shelf in our laundry room. I took a look at it a few weeks ago: It expired in 2014 and is apparently useful for only two to three years after that. (Don’t ask me why I decided to put this expired product right back on our shelf; we’re all making some strange decisions these days.)

I cringed at how wasteful it was, but I purchased some anti-bacterial wipes for the first time in my life a few weeks ago–while I was still out and about in the world and before hunkering down for this social distancing. I found myself using them, more and more, as time went by, in direct correlation to what we were all hearing on the news. I started using them to repeatedly clean my pen, keys, phone, the handle of my purse, and the schedule book I use for work.

A few days later, as the worldwide reports about the virus became even more serious–intense scenes came out of Italy, the NBA shut down, Tom Hanks tested positive–this escalated to me frequently using them on my car door handle, our front door, my steering wheel, my hands. (Note: you’re not supposed to use them directly on your hands–and I absolutely do not recommend it–but I didn’t have anything else to use!) It burns your skin, your nostrils, and I wasn’t sure if I was imagining this, but it started making my tongue feel weird, like I could almost taste it. That “lemon scent”? Maybe if the lemons were grown on a bleach tree.

Now that we’re mostly in the house, I’m thankfully using these noxious wipes much less, but my husband went out to the supermarket the other day. When he got back, I had him put the bags of food on the front porch. Then I rolled up my sleeves and went on the attack: I put on some rubber gloves, busted out those wipes, and rubbed down the outside of all the packages. I left the items I couldn’t wipe down on the porch to air out for a few hours.

Likewise, when my husband brings in the mail, I start to hear a silent alarm: I don’t dare touch it, and I wonder if we should wipe that down too. At my insistence, we’re now leaving it in a box in the front hall for a few days before looking at it.

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These are confusing times. I have no background in science and very little understanding of how germs actually travel. I’ve been reading about how the Coronavirus spreads, but also trying to not read too much about it either. We’re seeing reports that it lurks a certain amount of time on metal and certain amount of time on wood. But what about, say, bananas?

What’s been difficult for many of us is all the uncertainty around how contagious this actually is. The fact that asymptomatic people can apparently carry it unknowingly and infect scores of others is enough to make a lot of us understandably panic. So I’ve been vacillating between thinking I’m being overly paranoid, to thinking I’m being extremely prudent, given what we’re hearing.

If I were a psycho-therapist (I’m not) and I were to analyze myself (hey, might as well), I’d say this behavior is a manifestation of all my anxieties about the world right now and that I’m looking for some control in a situation where I have very little. If COVID-19 is affecting me this way, I can only imagine how this is hitting those who already struggle with germs and cleanliness. For them, this must be an especially difficult time. Or, is it the opposite? Are they like, “Welcome to my world!”? Are they the people who are most prepared to mentally and physically battle an invisible virus like this?

I stopped by a friend’s house the other day to visit her in her back yard. We stood probably 12 feet apart and talked for about 10 minutes. We “air hugged” from that distance, and then I left. On my way out, she said, “I’m going to do a Clorox wipe on the gate handle!” I wasn’t offended in the slightest; in fact I agreed, it was the right thing to do. I got into my car and wiped my hands one more time, too.

Jocelyn Jane Cox is a  freelance writer and author. Her 2012 humor book on life in the New York suburbs, The Homeowner’s Guide to Greatness: How to handle natural disasters, design dilemmas and various infestations, is available on Amazon.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JocelynJaneCox.

Read Earth Matters every Wednesday on Nyack News And Views, or sign up for the Earth Matters mailing list.

Earth Matters  focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique.


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