Newswise — Wash your hands, clean your phone
“Alright everyone…let’s get started!”
Richa claps twice to draw the attention of a busy room. Around her, leaders are packed shoulder to shoulder – some standing around the periphery, others are seated at a long table on which ten glowing computer monitors, a free-standing smart board, and countless laptops feed real-time data regarding medical supplies, travel screening, and surge planning into a central hub. This is our 24/7 COVID-19 command center
“It’s been a busy day guys… let’s start with situational awareness.” Richa Gupta, COO of the Rush University Medical Group, continues, pausing momentarily to shoot a glance of disapproval at a pair whispering loudly in a corner.
At the front of the room a nurse-leader stands and briefs the audience on the status of COVID-19 cases across the country and in the State of Illinois; along with the number of PUIs (persons under investigation) we’ve seen at Rush and, for the first time, a confirmed positive.
“We did have a confirmed positive case this morning…the patient was moved to a negative pressure room, is currently clinically stable and is being closely monitored by our infectious disease team…”
As she speaks, I look around the room. It’s a sea of white coats – all intently focused on this first of two daily briefings; some are scribbling notes on a clipboard, others simply nodding in agreement. Across the room, everyone shares one habit however: all stop to periodically tap their mobile phones, respond to texts, and fire off impromptu emails. Everyone is constantly touching their phones.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, a large public safety effort has focused on encouraging people to wash their hands. And this is for good reason; from what we know about the virus, hand washing and social distancing are two of the most effective measures for reducing its spread.
But what if after all that diligent washing, you are constantly touching your phone? Which for some “extreme users” can be up to 5,000 times a day.
In medicine, our phones are what we call a fomite – an object or material that is likely to carry an infection from one place to another. A simple example would be a stethoscope - which is why doctors are taught to wipe down its surface with alcohol swabs between patients. We need to exercise the same level of precaution with our phones – and that isn’t just for doctors.
Any time you enter a public area – like public transportation or a coffee shop – you are introduced to countless germs. Invariably, most people will touch their phones and then carry these devices into their homes, around the dinner table, and even in bed with them.
As we come together as a nation to fight the threat of coronavirus, let’s not forget the danger lurking within our very own pockets. I recommend cleaning your phone at least twice daily – once mid-day at peak contact time and once you have return home for the night. In between, be sure to wash your hands before eating, or touching your mouth or eyes.
On Monday, Apple updated recommendations for cleaning your iPhone that you can find here. The short answer is, disinfecting Clorox wipes are safe on non-porous surfaces.
Back in the command center, the meeting has adjourned and countless staff spill out of the room and back to a flurry of preparation activities. In the coming days, we will move the bulk of meeting participants to phone-based in order to minimize congregating. On the north side of Rush University Medical Center on a massive 130-foot size, “WASH YOUR HANDS,” greets motorists on the Eisenhower Expressway as they enter downtown Chicago.
As we look to minimize the spread of COVID-19 across the country, let’s not forget the mobile devices – the fomites – we carry around with us every day. Yes, wash your hands, but just as importantly, clean your phones.
Bryant Adibe, M.D.
System Vice President / Chief Wellness Officer, Rush University System for Health
Dr. Adibe serves as System Vice President and Chief Wellness Officer for the Rush University System for Health in Chicago, Illinois. He holds the distinction of off-site, full professor of organizational change and leadership at the University of Southern California, and visiting professor of health policy at Guangzhou Medical University in Guangzhou, China.
As a writer, his work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Inc.com, and the American Journal for Managed Care. As a speaker, he has presented for the National Academy of Medicine, Johnson & Johnson, and other leading institutions.
Dr. Adibe earned his medical degree from the University of Florida College of Medicine. He completed clinical clerkships in Emergency Medicine at both Harvard Medical School and the Stanford School of Medicine. As a graduate student, he studied health policy research and evidence-based healthcare at Oxford University.