The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to decide that they need a personal plan for decontamination.
The fact is, there are plenty of situations in which you might need a decontamination area or a place to clean gear. Any virulent disease is a valid reason for a decontamination room and quarantine area.
This article concentrates on protocols for disease. Although some of the gear is suitable for a nuclear incident, or could be used for one, the methods for decontamination and exposure are quite different. Methods for nuclear clean rooms and decontamination will be covered in a future post.
Make a Quarantine Kit
During the COVID-19 pandemic, my husband and I put together several storage totes full of supplies for setting up a sickroom and treating symptoms. Two more totes contain our main personal protective gear: MIRA gas masks, suits, goggles, extra gloves, and a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Another PPE tote contains gloves, N-95 masks, 3M respirators, goggles, and hand sanitizer.
It is helpful to have it organized this way because we don’t have a bunch of gear sitting out that we only need if things get really bad.
The COVID-19 treatment tote contains medications, supplements, and extra oxygen masks for the small oxygen concentrator we have.
The idea is to make it easy for anyone to find the necessary items if anyone gets sick. With just two people in our home, we considered what we would need if we both got sick and were weak.
Keep in mind, this was at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when it was really bad in some countries. Many said that COVID-19 wasn’t serious, but I disagree. Viruses that are man-made tend to mutate and eventually lose some of their severity the longer they are outside the lab. While I acknowledge that COVID-19 has not been officially declared to be man-made, it seems likely to me based on what is known. I would rather be cautious when it comes to viruses
Tyvek is the standard for disposable protection. Unfortunately, they tear relatively easily, so they are not the best choice for some situations. They are made to be used once and discarded. The suit sizes run rather large. During emergencies, it could be difficult to find the right size. A suit that is too large is likely to catch on things and be a tripping hazard.
MIRA makes an excellent professional-grade hazmat suit for nuclear and biological threats. It is designed to be durable and withstand more rugged use than a single-use Tyvek bunny suit.
These suits are thicker, so wearing one is a bit warmer than a Tyvek. However, the tradeoff is better protection and less risk of tearing and contamination.
For in-depth info on hazmat suit options, check out “The Ultimate Guide to Hazmat Suits”.
Living off the beaten path has greatly reduced our level of exposure. For us, it made sense to buy rain suits for situations that increased our risk of exposure. This is an affordable and practical option for many. We bought rain suits that were under $25 each. The reason we didn’t spend more was that we wanted something that we could use and throw away if necessary.
Mask Choices and Protection Levels
A cloth mask is better than nothing, but people are wearing them because of the lack of disposables. The protection offered by a cloth mask varies based on the fabric, number of layers and design of the mask. It protects others if the wearer is sick. In many areas during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the minimum requirement to enter stores and workplaces.
An N-95 is designed to block out a minimum of 95% of particulates and organic vapors. These are the minimum level of disposable protection worn by healthcare workers. Unfortunately, they are single use. With so many people wearing them, it is not feasible to have enough on hand during a pandemic unless people only go out among others when they absolutely must.
Some people found that using an N-95 disposable was not possible because of lack of availability or the stigma of wearing one when medical workers were going without.
You can get disposable P-100 masks, but this level of protection typically involves reusable cartridges attached to a respirator, like those used for painting or carpentry. The P-100 is designed to block and filter 100% of vapors for maximum protection.
There are many advantages to a military-grade gas mask with proper filters. For starters, you don’t have to use different goggles. The mask completely seals around your face. With a MIRA CM-6, you will enjoy a range of vision few masks can meet or beat. I wear glasses and appreciate the fact that I can just throw on the MIRA CM-6 without making a bunch of adjustments.
Real gas masks can be used repeatedly for years. You can also choose different filters based on your circumstances.
Some suits have an attached hood with elastic. This is designed to provide an overlapping seal with a good gas mask. The reusable MIRA HazMat Suit features a hood.
If you have to make do without a professional-grade head covering, I have found that the caps hairdressers use for dying are affordable and far better than nothing. There are also thicker shower caps, but disposable hairdressing caps are very inexpensive, so you can just throw them away.
Shoes and Shoe Coverings
Boots that are easy to get on and off and easily cleaned are best. Tape can be used to seal boots and a Tyvek suit together to seal out contaminants.
Disposable boot coverings are an option for some situations. The cost can vary a lot. Here is a link to an inexpensive option that covers just the bottom of shoes or boots.
Many people use nitrile gloves because of fears about latex allergies. However, unless you or someone in your home has a latex allergy, there’s no reason to pay extra or not buy latex. If you have to work around a lot of people, maybe you need nitrile just in cases of an unknown allergy.
There was a time when latex was easier to find than nitrile because people panic bought a lot of supplies.
For some tasks, plastic gloves like those used for foodservice are appropriate. I used these to avoid using up my good latex and nitrile gloves when I was sanitizing and opening packages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Buy disposable latex or nitrile if you can, but do not discount lower-price alternatives, even if you have to double them up. You could also get heavy-duty dishwashing gloves, if available, and then sterilize them the best you can after each use. Reducing your risk is better than doing nothing at all.
Proper Clean Room Procedures
The procedures used by professionals are too much for the average person. If you want to read about them, here is a link that outlines the steps to ensure you don’t enter an area in a contaminated state.
For the rest of us, we need to establish a procedure that allows us to reduce possible contamination of our main living space if we have to go out or take care of someone who is sick. You may not be able to do everything outlined here. But these ideas can help during an outbreak.
Options for Decontamination Structures
You need a place to take off PPE. Good airflow is critical, and outdoors is preferable in many ways. Viruses spread more readily in confined spaces without a lot of sunlight.
Use a tent or easy up to remove gear and clothing that is potentially contaminated.
Disposal of Contaminated Gear
Burning is an ideal way to dispose of contaminated disposable gear. You might see hospitals putting gear in the trash, but it is incinerated later. During times of significant contagion, you do not need to worry about how burning will affect the environment. The risk of death from contagion is more serious. If you cannot burn your disposables, place them in thick trash bags or double bag them if the bags are thin. Seal tightly and place them where that the UV rays from sunlight will hit them. This will help prevent anything from surviving and passing the disease to others.
Clothing and Reusable Gear
If it’s sunny, leave clothing and reusable gear in the sun for at least 20 minutes. Then wear clean gloves, and throw the clothing into the washing machine. Another possibility is a tub of hot soapy water to throw clothing into immediately. Simply washing with soap and hot water and then drying is quite effective.
Cleaning Your Body
If your gear worked, you should be clean, but it is better to be safe than sorry. An outdoor shower is ideal, or at least a bathroom you can reach without going through the central part of your home.
Sometimes and in some areas, it is easy to leave a garden hose in the sun for access to some hot water. On-demand propane hot water shower systems are affordable and come in handy for these situations.
Standing under UV light can also help.
Cleaning a Reusable Mask
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of using a mask multiple times was pointed out repeatedly. Of course, if you have a quality gas mask, you will reuse it many times.
There is a proper way to clean your gas mask, but you must be careful to avoid exposing yourself in the process. The video below shows how to clean your mask properly.
Dealing with Sickness in a Group or Home
It can be difficult to get others to observe strict quarantine rules. During a pandemic or other difficult times, medical care could be hard or impossible to get. This means that it is critical to establish protocols and boundaries to prevent the disease from spreading.
You must take the rules seriously, even if it means making some tough decisions. It is better to plan ahead.
Many had a hard time with being told to stay home or to only go to a few essential places during COVID-19. To be clear, the “lockdowns” in the USA were not true lockdowns. For a real lockdown, you have to look at what China did. That level of lockdown is not possible in the USA.
Everyone in prepper groups and families must understand that if someone breaks quarantine, they have to follow a certain procedure. This may mean staying in a different building or under more primitive conditions until their health and wellness can be established. This type of isolation from the group will not be easy for some people.
A canvas tent with a wood stove or any outbuilding could serve as a quarantine area in an emergency.
Length of quarantine
The length of quarantine varies depending on how sick someone gets or how long it takes to determine they are not infected. With COVID-19, a 14-day quarantine was used to ensure someone did not have it. That time increased considerably if they got sick.
Tips for families and groups
Write out procedures so that everyone is on the same page. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned that it was quite easy to forget a step. It takes time to get used to doing things differently and being cautious about basic, everyday things.
Encourage those with compromised immune systems or existing health issues to be especially careful. If someone has to go out for supplies, it should be someone at lower risk.
Consider the pros and cons of contact with those outside your group. It can be difficult to be isolated, but is it worth the potential risk? That is a decision you must make based on your unique situation.
If possible, look at the science, not the rumors. The COVID-19 pandemic had me scrambling to remember what I learned in college about microbiology. There were many scientific papers, even at the beginning of the epidemic, that were helpful for understanding the disease. However, many people ignored them and just listened to what the media was saying.
Consider morale and entertainment
As so many people learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantine can be boring! However, it creates more work for some. It is crucial to stay busy. I keep 100 assorted books on hand and replace them as I read them. I also have an e-reader loaded with books. A hobby is vital for taking your mind off things and having some fun even if things seem pretty bleak.
Kids can have an especially hard time so try to put back some toys or special items for them.
Creating a clean room to decontaminate yourself during an outbreak is essential. No method is 100% effective. However, anything you do to reduce your risk while continuing to live your life is a positive. Even small precautions help.
It’s good to have a prepared area and quarantine kit once you know there is a danger.