Social Distancing? A How-To from this Mum with Chronic Illness and Allergies

So, we now all have to do social distancing. What the heck does that mean?

Social Distancing?  A How-To from this Mum with Chronic Illness and Allergies | Image: White bowl filled with lemons

Social Distancing Resources

There are some great resources to help step you through what that means.

From the Australian Department of Health

A nice video from Dr Kerryn Phelps on why we need to do this.

I also love this simulator from the Washington Post on how social distancing works. (Maths! I love maths.)

Apart from the bare minimum: cough and sneeze into elbows, stay 1.5m distance, and wash hands a lot. What else can you do?

Note: Updated to add: This advice is for when you CAN’T stay home and need to be out and about. Stay home if you can peeps. It will save lives.

Why We Do Social Distancing

I have rather . . . nasty allergies. Some send me anaphylactic, others . . . trigger an immune response that causes a viral cold sore outbreak.

Cold sores? How can that be bad? Well, I’m in the lucky minority where an outbreak – without anti-virals – puts me in bed for 1-2 weeks. The antivirals cost $60 a dose, minimum, per exposure. Then I only get sick for 3 days. Not fun. So, you bet your ass I’ve figured out ways to navigate through our environment that minimise both my exposure to allergens, and my household’s exposure to my outbreaks when they happen.

I will try to walk you through some things that we do in our family. And hopefully that will help you and your family figure out what you need to do for your own social distancing routines.

In the House

Separate toiletries, towels, and hand towels.

We each have separate toothpaste. My toothpaste is always a different (labelled) tube. And the toothbrushes are stored so that they can’t accidentally touch.

We don’t use the same hand towels to dry hands. As one of my milder allergens is a favourite food of the kids, (and their sensory issues already limit their range of foods), we just use separate hand towels. And that is sacrosanct! Accidentally use the wrong one? Tell someone, we replace it, and no one gets upset.

Turning taps on and off

Turn taps to wash your hands on and off with different parts of your hands. Yes, your hands have zones. Think about the parts of your hands that are less likely to be contaminated and turn on with them: wrists work.

Round handles suck. There is no way to ‘zone’ them. After you wash your hands, re-soap and wash the handle down before you turn off. Really.

Drop off zone for outdoor stuff.

We go to the hospital a lot. And have done for 10+ years now. That means toddlers, toys and contamination.

So we have a ‘drop off’ zone in the house. Outer layers – all outer layers are left there. We have hooks and boxes. Hats, scarfs, coats, shoes, bags.

Then, everyone has to wash their hands before they do anything else. No exceptions! This includes tablets + phones. Which are then wiped down with anti bacterial gel. Yes, really. Every time.

Extreme hand washing before food prep.

Most people think they are good at being clean with food prep. That’s why I generally only eat at home. When thinking about reducing cross contamination, you need to walk in there thinking: everything could be contaminated.

You touch the fridge handle? You wash hands before touching food. (Sometimes, for low prep food, we use pinky finger to open drawers, and keep that pinky away from any food or surfaces. But that takes practice.) You touch one food? Wash hands before handling the next one. Not sure if anyone else washed hands before opening lids? Wash hands after opening lids.

Never use a utensil (spoon, knife) in two different containers. Where possible, get the amount out of the jar on the first try. Need extra butter? Get a new knife. Need to touch the drawer handle to get a knife? Wash your hands after opening the drawer. Drop a knife on a surface you didn’t just clean? Get a new one.

Extreme? Yes. But when we don’t do this: possible life threatening reaction. Best case scenario? $60 + 3 days I’ll in bed. Yes, we are fucking careful.

Bed linen sucks

Bed linen and soft furnishings are a bitch. Try to minimise people touching each others linen. Pillows need to be sacrosanct. Those things are a contamination nightmare. When making beds, at bare minimum, wash hands between making each bed, and keep pillows separated. Someone uses your pillow to lean on? Change the pillow case.

Decontaminate the house

After we have guests over, we strip our lounges, seats and soft surfaces and chuck those layers in the wash. Yes, we bought / made lounges and chairs with removable washable covers. We have spares for some, and make do with sheets until the old ones are clean and dry.

Then we mop all surfaces with soap and disinfectant. Everywhere. Everyone has showers, and their clothes go straight into the washing machine. All surfaces are wiped down, including handles and light switches. Then the cleaning cloths are thrown away.


Some toys are designated as guest toys. Some are home toys and are packed away when guests come over. We keep them separate. Guest toys are only used when guests are over, or are washed.

"When thinking about reducing cross contamination, you need to walk in there thinking: everything could be contaminated." | Image: Pepper grinder with face with white tile background

Public Transport

How on earth do we navigate public transport? (We have no car).

You will touch your face

Well, first things first. This whole ‘don’t touch your face?’ It ain’t happening. And kids? Forget about it. The trick is not repeating, ‘I won’t touch my face, I won’t touch my face‘ over and over again. From this ADHD mum to you: you will forget.

Zone your body instead

The trick is to think about your hand and arms as zones. Fingers are probably going to be used on your phone – but perhaps only the thumb, index and pointer. Elbows are for buttons on lifts and lights. Use your knees if you have too much to carry. Door handles? Elbow if they are leaver.

Contamination will happen – be prepared

Those horrible new ‘handles’ on metro trains that are recessed? Round handles? They both suck. Use as little as possible. Sometimes you can open them with two fingers – try the pinky, ring finger and thumb. But you will probably fail. That’s what hand sanitizer is for.

(Not so good for allergens btw. I treat those bits of my hands as contaminated until I can use soap and water. That means: remember everything those bits of your hands touch, and wash them too. Where possible, I let someone else go first and let them open the doors)

Treat your wallet – particularly your credit cards and train tickets as the bio-hazard they are.

Have a scratch zone!

If you need to scratch your nose, or face, and trust me, the moment you start to try and stop yourself, your face will feel like it’s covered in ants. Figure out a bit of your arm/hand that will do that. Upper arm / inner elbow, and the middle of your lower arm are good spots. Don’t use them for anything else.

Tips for ‘Am I Contagious?’

Wash hands till you are sick of doing it

If you are unsure if you are sick, and you touch your face with your hands: go wash your hands. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass. Do it anyway.

Don’t hug people, or kiss them. With kids, this is quite horrible. We have a ‘don’t touch Mummy’s face‘ rule in the house. Don’t put things on faces either (kids love to do this, sigh).

Yes, I am a termagent when I am infectious.

If we must do hugs /destress compression exercises? I don’t touch them with my hands – arms and wrists only. Yes, you can do it too. Hug after clean clothes. You might be doing your best, but after a few hours, your clothes are probably covered in germs. Talk to kids about how much you love them instead. Give compliments during the day – more than usual. Show you still care.

NB. This may not work here: I am only infectious with my own sickness if someone touches my face. For viruses that are spread through the air, this is a lot trickier! Best to follow the health advice of the medicos.

Think about accessories

If you wear glasses, you will need to wash them regularly too. And think about where you store them. Ditto hats gloves, ties, mouth guards, hearing aids . . . anything that touches the body.

Touch them after touching something else? They are contaminated. Treat them as such.

Start thinking about how often you ‘adjust’ your glasses / tie etc. And then come up with ways to change how you touch them. (Zones people!)

Hospital Visits

So, how do we as a family cope with high risk areas like hospitals? Remember: Weekly visits for years here. Plus doctors surgeries, specialists appointments etc.

Again, embrace the fact you will fail. Particularly with children! The younger they are, the more likely they will want to climb and touch everything. Particularly if they are stuck there for hours. This is what we do.

Bring your own food

We always bring our own food. Always. And we never, ever eat in the cafeteria. Cafeterias are disease vectors. And if you are sick (or don’t know if you may be sick)? Remember families of peeps in hospital beds are buying their food there too: you’ll pass on anything you have. Where possible, we won’t eat at the hospital at all: we’ll do it before or after, usually on a park bench.

Hand sanitizers are king

We have a small case of hand sanitizer we top up from our big container at home. We always use it before we eat. Every time.

On entering and leaving the hospital, between entering different waiting rooms, and before and after the appointment, and on the way to and from the waiting room? Hand sanitizer. Most hospitals have them everywhere. Leave the germs you picked up in one area there! Leave hospital germs at the hospital, and non-hospital germs outside. We do the tablets and phones too if they have been played with since the last time.

This stuff is most important if you have really little kids. It’s not 100% brilliant, but it does a pretty darn good job. Even with sensory seeking kids who need to touch everything.

Bring distractions

Let the kids bring something to do. Preferably something easy to clean. So, books and plastic toys. Not soft squishy cloth toys they need for bedtime. The less they are climbing over stuff, the less they are spreading around their own and others illnesses. But be realistic. They are kids. Some things you just have to let go. Sometimes you just need to shove them straight in the shower when you get home. (And yes, clothes straight into the washing machine.)

"We have been doing this gig for years. We still get sick - but not more than average, even with above average levels of exposure." | Image: Pink origami butterfly on wooden background

Social Distancing? It’s a pain, but it can be done

We have been doing this gig for years. We still get sick – but not more than average, even with above average levels of exposure. It is very hard. It sucks. But it can be done.

Social distancing? It’s a bitch, but you can do it.

Now I have no idea if this is relevant for a viral pandemic. But hopefully some of these things will help. Or at least start you thinking about how you will handle things with your own family. We can do this peeps!

What strategies do you use/ are you using?

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