If your social media feeds are flooded with advice on how to kill or contain the novel coronavirus, it can start to become difficult to separate fact from fiction: Can you really catch COVID-19 from your beloved family pet? Should you microwave your mail to kill the virus? (Spoiler alert: “Mail is not food, and you can’t cook it.”)
If you’re feeling as overwhelmed as we are by all the noise out there, don’t despair: We spoke with experts to shed light on several common coronavirus myths and help clarify what we can do to truly help flatten the curve—and what advice is just hogwash.
1. Myth: My dog or cat can give me COVID-19
For a while, there wasn’t strong evidence that household pets could get the virus, says Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer for UW Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But after a pug in North Carolina and two house cats in New York tested positive, the Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines with similar restrictions for pets as for humans, including maintaining 6 feet of distance from other people and animals, keeping cats indoors, and avoiding dog parks.
“Social distancing applies for your pets, too,” Pothof says. “Even though it’s fun to play with other people’s pets, it’s best if we socially distance with them, too, just for the transmission aspect.”
That also means keeping pets away from people in your home who have the virus—even if your pet doesn’t get sick, a beloved animal could potentially transmit illness to humans if it comes into contact with an infected person and carry the virus on its fur.
That said, the chance of transmission from your furry friend is likely low: For now, health officials say there is no evidence that the virus is transmitted from pets to humans.
2. Myth: It’s OK to have friends over if it’s just a small group
These are challenging times, and many of us are starved for social interaction. But social distancing is the most effective way to slow the spread of the virus, says Dr. Brian Poustinchian, medical director of hospital medicine at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital.
That means avoiding any unnecessary contact with people outside of your household, even in small groups—so no intimate dinner parties or backyard bonfires.
“I would avoid any indoor gatherings with others until we can get through this difficult time,” he says. “I don’t think anyone should be gathering outside either. The safest thing to do is staying at home and avoiding other areas where you could be potentially around other people.”
3. Myth: My air purifier will eliminate the virus
A household air purifier isn’t able to trap the virus, which moves through droplets that are generally too large to get picked up by a residential purifier.
“The droplet is big enough where it’s going to fall to the ground,” Pothof says. “It’s not going to be there long enough for your air purifier to catch it.”
4. Myth: I should keep my windows closed to keep the virus out
Good news: It’s completely safe to let in a little bit of fresh air while you’re isolating at home.
“There are some people that have this idea that the virus is just floating out in the air waiting to get you, and that’s just not true,” Pothof says. “It’s perfectly safe to open the windows if it’s a nice day.”
5. Myth: If I live in a warm climate, I don’t need to worry about the coronavirus
The jury is still out on whether climate affects the spread of COVID-19. But either way, plenty of cases have popped up in warm-climate countries—which means you’re not immune if you live in a balmy locale.
“Even though you’re in a warmer climate, that doesn’t mean you can’t contract the virus,” Poustinchian says. “Some viruses prefer a cold, drier environment similar to influenza, but I don’t think we know what conditions are ideal for transmitting the COVID-19 virus.”
6. Myth: I should microwave my mail to kill the virus
Studies have shown that the coronavirus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard, but “transmission through mail, like papers or cardboard boxes, is going to be relatively low,” Pothof says.
Resist the urge to microwave your mail, which is a serious fire hazard and has no positive benefits whatsoever. If you want to play it safe, let your packages and mail sit for 24 hours before you open them. (Remember to wash your hands after handling any mail or deliveries.)
7. Myth: I could get the virus from my groceries or takeout food
Could you have gotten a side of COVID-19 with your to-go burger?
“We’re not aware of someone who has gotten the virus by eating food,” Pothof says. “If it goes in your stomach, the acid in your stomach would deactivate it. Take the same precaution with takeout containers [as with your packages], but the food itself is probably pretty safe.”
When it comes to groceries, it’s unlikely that you’ll transfer the virus from a bag to your counter and then to yourself. To be safe, you can use disinfecting wipes on the outside of milk containers, juice bottles, and other plastic containers that could potentially transfer the virus, and remember to thoroughly wash produce with water before eating it.
8. Myth: Packages from overseas are more likely to carry the virus
Whether your delivery came from down the block or across the globe, it doesn’t carry any more (or less) risk of spreading the virus, Pothof says.
“It’s just not that hardy of a virus,” he says. “Something that comes from overseas is going to take at least 30 days to get here, so anything inside that package is completely safe, even if it were contaminated before it left its location. The virus is no longer active by the time it gets to your house.”
9. Myth: I shouldn’t share a washing machine with someone who has the virus
If you’re at home with someone with COVID-19 symptoms, it’s OK to use the same washing machine—and even to mix your laundry with theirs—as long as you take a few extra precautions.
“Put laundry on a high heat cycle with any type of detergent,” Pothof says. “The virus just doesn’t survive that.”
If you move or handle a sick person’s laundry, be sure to wash or sanitize your hands afterward.
10. Myth: Hand sanitizing is better than hand-washing (or vice versa)
“Both are totally effective as long as you’re doing it right,” Pothof says.
That means washing your hands thoroughly and getting between the fingers for 20 seconds, or using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
11. Myth: I can use household items like vinegar or vodka to kill the virus
“Vinegar is great for making your windows shine, but not for killing the virus,” Pothof says. As for vodka, it’s far more useful in a cocktail than as a disinfectant.
One household disinfectant that does work is bleach, Pothof says. Create a mild solution by combining one-third cup bleach and a gallon of water.
12. Myth: I must constantly sanitize every surface in my home in order to stay safe
A little extra caution right now won’t hurt, but you don’t need to go overboard.
“It’s impossible to have a sterile environment in your home,” Poustinchian says.
Instead of painstakingly sanitizing every square inch of your home, make sure you’re doing the basics, like not wearing outside shoes in the house and sanitizing high-touch surfaces, including door handles, light switches, cellphones, and remote controls.
“Focusing on the kitchen and eating areas is always a good idea, since that’s where you’re more hands-on and potentially putting something from your face to mouth. Also the bathrooms,” Poustinchian says.
When in doubt, check facts on official websites
With so many coronavirus myths in circulation, these are just a handful of the common ones. If you read advice that seems dubious, look for reliable information from your state health department or the CDC—and remember to think twice before sharing a potential myth.