Your Coronavirus Questions Answered, also facemasks
April 16, 2020
Your Coronavirus Questions Answered
Photo: Getty Images / Jeenah Moon / Stringer

Your Coronavirus Questions Answered

We’re answering Wirecutter readers’ questions about COVID-19 and how to responsibly manage its increasing encroachments into your day-to-day life, starting with a selection of the most helpful or commonly asked questions we’ve received so far. We’ll update this post regularly as new questions come our way and as our collective knowledge about COVID-19 evolves. For guidelines on how to submit more questions, please see the comments section, below.


Note: We’ve removed our first round of questions regarding face masks, as they centered on now-outdated guidance from health authorities. We’ve included a new batch of questions addressing the most recent guidelines on cloth face coverings from the CDC. For more information about face masks and cloth face coverings, see the What masks work for the coronavirus? section of our guide to the best respirator masks.

Q. Should I be wearing a mask now? If so, when do I need to wear it?

A. Yes, you should be wearing a cloth face covering. As of April 4, 2020, the CDC began recommending that the general public wear non-medical “cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

Q. Now that the CDC is recommending that Americans wear cloth face coverings in public, what should I be looking for?

A.The CDC has offered the following guidelines as to what to look for in a cloth face covering:

Cloth face coverings should—

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

How you wear it is also important. Just as with other hygiene practices, such as handwashing, the effectiveness of wearing a cloth mask depends on proper technique. To read up on the best practices for wearing and cleaning cloth masks, check out this helpful illustrated list of do’s and don’ts from our colleagues at The New York Times.

Sanitizing and disinfecting

Q. How often should I be cleaning my phone?

A. The CDC now recommends that you clean and disinfect “frequently touched surfaces” daily, including your phone, desk, and keyboard. But unless your stuff may have come in contact with a droplet of mucus or saliva from a potentially infected person, we don’t think you need to worry about cleaning your personal gear multiple times a day—once daily should be enough in most cases. More info and how-tos can be found here.

Q. When doing laundry, is a cold-water wash sufficient to kill the COVID-19 virus on clothing? If not, what settings should I be using?

A. Washing in cold water with laundry detergent is sufficient. But you should use the warmest water settings you can (without damaging your clothes) and make sure your laundry is completely dry before taking it out of the dryer. You may be wondering if you should be using stronger cleaners, like bleach, or if you should be using the sanitizing cycle. Senior staff writer Liam McCabe says that although those things certainly won’t hurt, they’re not necessary. As the CDC says, detergent and water alone are very effective against the virus.

If someone in your home is sick, there are additional guidelines. Avoid shaking out dirty laundry, and wear disposable gloves or wash your hands immediately after handling dirty clothes. Disinfect clothes hampers regularly, or use disposable liners and change them between loads. For a full set of guidelines on doing laundry, see the CDC page on cleaning and disinfecting your home. As of April 7, 2020, we have a post with more information, as well as details on how to safely use laundromats and laundry services, and how to hand wash your own clothes.

Q. What’s the recommendation for handling delivery or takeout? Does takeout need to be sanitized?

A. This was a nuanced enough topic that we decided to dedicate a whole post to the answer. Overall, it’s still safe to order delivery and takeout, as long as you take a few basic precautions. Practice social distancing with delivery people, and tip well. Pay online in advance when possible, and try to select contactless delivery options. Wash your hands after handling the external packaging, and again before eating. Let us know if you have any additional questions.

Q. What’s the recommendation for handling and sanitizing groceries you bring home from the supermarket?

A. We dedicated a full post to exploring whether you should sanitize your groceries. We advise washing your hands when unpacking groceries and washing your hands again before you sit down to eat. If you’d like to be extra cautious, you can throw away nonessential outer packaging and wipe down cans and jars with an approved disinfectant. We also suggest washing your fruits and veggies in cold water, though the FDA does not recommend washing them with soap or vinegar. And make extra sure to follow general food safety guidelines, so you don’t end up sick with something other than the coronavirus from your meal.

Q. I’ve seen advice on handling packages, but what about paper mail? And what about money? What’s the safest way for me to handle paper?

A. With all the attention people are now giving to everything they touch and bring into their homes, it makes sense that you might question how to handle things like mail and money. The safest way to deal with paper mail and cash is to wash your hands after handling and to avoid touching your face until you have done so. Right now, what little evidence researchers have suggests that mail and cash present an extremely low risk of transmission. But the risk, though hypothetical and small, is still there. So although you don’t need to sanitize every credit card offer and dollar bill you plan to touch, do be sure to wash your hands. Our colleagues at The New York Times have written an article exploring this question in detail, and we think it’s well worth a read.

Q. How often should I be cleaning and disinfecting my eyeglasses? And what is the best way to clean them?

A. Like your phone and your keyboard, your glasses are something you touch often enough that you should consider them a “frequently touched surface,” which the CDC recommends cleaning at least once per day.

As for how to clean your glasses, we turned to Dr. Ryan Parker for advice. (Parker is the director of professional development at Essilor, the parent company of EyeBuyDirect, Wirecutter’s top pick for the best place to buy glasses online.) He told us:

The best way to do this is no different than cleaning our hands. Using hot water and lotion-free soap will do the trick. You want to stay away from household glass cleaners as they have chemicals in them that can damage certain lens coatings. Since the quality of glasses can vary greatly, using soap and water is the safest bet. Some of the common household cleaners and disinfectants may strip the paint off of the frame or break down some of the lens coatings, such as scratch protection and non-glare. Also, you would want to stay away from soaps that have those abrasive beads in them as they can scratch the lenses. Simple soap and hot water will clean the lenses, remove bacteria/viruses, and be safe for all parts of the glasses. It is best to use a soft cloth when drying them and to avoid paper products like paper towels and facial tissues. A diluted solution (70%) of isopropyl alcohol is also useful. It should not pose any issues to good quality lenses, but one should be careful because it can remove some ink and dyes from the frame.

Handwashing and hand sanitizer

Q. Lots of people are making DIY sanitizer out of alcohol and aloe. Do I have to mix alcohol with aloe gel before using it on my hands? Can I use alcohol on its own?

A. Hand sanitizer often contains emollients (skin softeners) to help keep your skin from drying out. Aloe is an emollient, which is why many DIY sanitizer recipes suggest combining alcohol with aloe gel. (Remember: For DIY sanitizer, you need to use at least 60 percent alcohol, and getting the ratio right is important. Here’s our list of sanitizer do’s and don’ts.) Using straight alcohol could dry and irritate your skin. In case your skin is already feeling dry from all this handwashing, we have some tips for treating dry skin.

Q. Would very diluted bleach work as a hand sanitizer substitute if I’m unable to find rubbing alcohol?

A. Diluted bleach solution isn’t a direct substitute for hand sanitizer. In the past, the CDC has provided guidance on how to make a handwashing solution from liquid bleach (PDF) as part of Ebola response plans, but the CDC is not currently recommending this for COVID-19. Although the CDC does recommend alcohol-based hand sanitizers, washing your hands with soap and water is even more effective—so if you aren’t able to obtain alcohol-based sanitizer, don’t bother with diluted bleach solution for handwashing unless CDC recommendations change. For now, we suggest that you prioritize washing your hands with soap.

Q: I keep seeing that the CDC recommends washing with soap and water over using hand sanitizer whenever possible. Why is soap and water preferred?

A. The short answer is that handwashing, when done properly, is just more effective at reducing germs on the skin than hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizers break down and kill microorganisms but don’t actually remove them, and there are some viruses and bacteria they have no effect on. Like hand sanitizer, handwashing breaks down and kills microorganisms, but it also physically removes them, including those that haven’t been effectively damaged or destroyed, through the combination of soap, friction, and rinsing with water. For a deep dive into the science behind how and why soap works, here’s an excellent article from The New York Times (Wirecutter’s parent company). And this is a helpful FAQ from the CDC on when to use hand sanitizer and when to use soap and water.

Preparing supplies

Q. I’m running low on toilet paper and can’t find it anywhere. Do you have suggestions for where I might find it in stock? What should I do if I run out and restocking isn’t possible?

A. Try calling local stores to see whether they have any toilet paper left, or to ask when they’re expecting a restock, and plan accordingly. According to this article, some retailers have been adjusting how frequently essential items are delivered to stores from warehouses and limiting how much toilet paper one person can purchase. Our staff has also had luck going to small local groceries, discount stores, and convenience stores. If you can’t track down toilet paper in the short term, look into picking up a bidet toilet seat or a bidet attachment. Here’s more info on the bidets we recommend. If you decide to use something other than toilet paper for wiping—like paper towels or wet wipes—make sure not to flush them, as they can clog your plumbing. Just throw them in the trash instead. Even some wet wipes advertised as “flushable” could possibly damage plumbing.

Staying entertained

Q. It’s hard to find board games that play well with just one or two people. Any recommendations?

A. Across our recommended board games for beginners and our list of comparatively more complex board games our staffers love, several work for just one or two people.

However, we’ve noticed stock issues with many of our favorites. If you can’t find a game you want through one of the major online retailers, contact local toy stores and bookstores. Local stores would probably be especially appreciative of your business right now, and we’ve seen many small shops shift to accommodate online ordering and discounted shipping recently.

One player: ScytheStar Wars: Outer RimSagradaWingspan

Two player: Patchwork and Cathedral (both specifically recommended for two players), SplendorCarcassonneTicket to Ride7 WondersCodenamesPandemic and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (although we’re not really in the mood), ScytheMysteriumStar Wars: Outer RimTokaidoSagradaWingspan

If we had to boil that selection down, we’d recommend SagradaTokaido, and Wingspan as meditative, versatile, feel-good games well suited for spending more time at home these days.

Working from home

Q. Any suggestions for folding desks? I don’t have room to set up a full home office, but I’m going to be working remotely for the foreseeable future.

A. We do recommend a few foldaway desks. The Andover Mills Sanner Fold-Away Floating Desk is a high-quality option with some built-in storage space, a rarity for desks like these. The Zipcode Design Eddie, a sturdy drop-leaf contender, is our budget pick for a makeshift workstation. You can find more details on both desks in our guide to small bedroom ideas. You might also take a look at the lap desks we recommend. For more advice, see our post on how to cram a home office into a small apartment.

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