logoHome Button  

Re the Coronavirus COVID-19  ** (Scroll to bottom for JULY-AUGUST '20 UPDATES) **

OUTSIDE the BOX ;-) .. original March 2020


Thought my pro-engineering readers might be interested in my take on this virulent virus. Being a potentially-vulnerable octogenarian, I felt the need to think this through to find the best way to protect myself.    Although generally healthy, I am reading I am potentially in ‘the age group to be sacrificed’ if life-saving equipment became scarce, so as ‘a systemised, disciplined  engineer’ here are my thoughts in case they can help guide anyone else.

First, I think we’d all generally agree there are TWO main ways to be infected.   First, through the air (from infected miniscule droplets) or second, by physical contact.   Personally, I think both of these need more discussion and understanding for simple protection steps to work.  We’ve all (barring some apparently ‘deaf’ youth) heard the warnings about  ‘keeping 2 meters away, social distancing’, washing hands and not touching our faces ad nauseam, but are these basic instructions enough?  What are we really dealing with here?

As a problem-solving engineer, the first thing I want to know is ”what is the cause of the problem?”   It bothers me that we still do not know what proportion of transmitted infections are passed by air compared to touching something infected?  What are all the situations that worsen the spread and how long does this virus live?  Without such critical info, how do we know we are really doing all the right things ?    My personal hunch on this is that both transmission by touching an infected surface and infection by airborne molecules might be more than we initially think, but can equally be reduced significantly by looking at both through a wider lens.

Let me first say, I have no medical training but am simply looking at this through the eyes of an engineer who is used to breaking things down into steps based on realistic assumptions.

So what DO we know about the life of this clearly potent virus?  As of this March 2020 date, reliable reports from researchers indicate that it does need ‘some’ humidity to survive, so hot dry surfaces are much safer. meaning it may live for only an hour or two on really dry surfaces.  Softer, porous surfaces probably help the moisture to evaporate quicker, so shortening virus life.  In humid areas, and on hard smooth surfaces like plastic and metal, it survives longer and its life could be several days.   It’s unlikely to survive long in direct open sunshine if humidity is very low. To follow this more, this article seems to give good current information:                                               https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/cellular-microscopic/long-can-viruses-live-on-surfaces.html

Cleaning with something like alcohol that evaporates is good, as this helps remove all the moisture that the virus needs to survive.  That evaporation seems important as just wiping something with a wet Lysol or Clorex wipe followed by a dry towel, as we might often do, short-cuts the evaporation and may not totally remove the virus.  I wonder how many actually READ the instruction label on say a box of Lysol wipes, where the labels boldly states: “kills 99.9% of all viruses”.   Well, that’s only if you follow the instructions that say “make the surface very wet with the wipe and then let it fully evaporate over 4 minutes.  Do not wipe dry too soon with a towel !!  Something to think about, so I encourage all to ‘read labels FIRST’, as whatever is claimed is only legally correct IF you are fully following the instructions!    (Same with your epoxy and solvents by the way ;)

Let’s think a moment about infection by touch.  First, there's a section of our young population, who seem happy to figuratively wipe their hands of this problem as ‘not really concerning them’, who may share a chunk of the responsibility !      For example, my local daily walk takes me twice past a small town childrens park with slides and swings etc.  A few kids are playing there, typically sliding around poles and holding on to chains at identical spots, all with their bare hands.  When their parents come to pick them up, they run up to them, grab more bare hands, share hugs & kisses (family after all) and trundle into the car, touching door handles etc .   Minutes later, it’s another group of kids playing there and the contamination cycle continues.     [Note: Locally, all such parks have since been closed, though other 'transfers by touch' doubtless continue.]

We also see some teenagers (not all), regardless of warnings, carrying on as if nothing had changed (it has!), coming back in the house where the parents and even grand parents are, with hands on everything.    Sure, they are sent to wash their hands .. and no doubt started the day like that, but by now it's FAR too late as there's frequently NO system in place to keep their car and home from also becoming contaminated.  For some families, I see this as a major problem that can extend this infection period far longer than need be, and MUCH more education is required to change people’s habits.    Even those who wear gloves often do not have a real plan and I observe users taking them off, touching potentially contaminated surfaces and then putting their gloves on again!  … creating a potential incubator INSIDE the humid glove that they think is protecting them!    After critically self-analyzing my own routine, I have to agree ... it’s FAR too easy to do things out-of-sequence and end up negating the very best efforts.    I was shocked at how disciplined one has to be.   But there are ways, so here is now mine .. and I hope it will help the reader stay protected and healthy too.

One first needs to decide, WHAT area will be CLEAN and what area is not ?   In my case, I do NOT want to be worried every minute of the day about everything I do or touch within my home or office, so ALL my interior I want to consider as SAFE.  That makes for a more relaxing day for sure, as I can now work and use the house just as I always did.    But there are items that we might use either inside OR outside that we have to designate either CLEAN or DIRTY (potentially infected).  These will include at least, your keys, your wallet, your glasses and your phone.  It was my choice to also keep all these ‘clean’, which means that I ONLY handle them with a clean hand.  Each of those 4 items, has a clean coat pocket to be housed in .. and a clean hand to take them in and out.   I also take a couple of fresh paper towels with me when I leave the house.    IF I need to lay any of the 4 items on a counter or table outside my home, I do this on a paper towel, the underside of which I must now consider contaminated, so once used, I grab the clean top and bundle it up with the lower surface inside and scrap it.  But this frees me to put my glasses on without risk of contaminating my face .., and same with my phone etc.   Of course, if I ’mess-up’ and accidentally contaminate something or my clean hand, I must re-sanitize and start again.  This can happen a few times until you get ‘the system’ firmly in your head.

When I leave the house, I initially put a glove on my left hand but not my right.  For anything potentially contaminated (like the exterior door handle) I use a gloved hand, but to lock my house door, start the car with my keys, put my glasses on etc, I use my clean, bare right hand .. as also for pulling out my wallet or to get a credit card out .., that’s all with clean hands.  Again, IF you screw up (which can initially happen) and touch these with a gloved hand .. you need to wash them off before touching them again with your clean hand.

Opening any exterior door, getting gas, pushing any public buttons etc, that ANY one else has touched, must always be with the gloved hand which to your mind, must then be considered contaminated on the exterior, until you either scrap It (if disposable) or wash it well.  (I find rubberized garden gloves with a closed, stretchy-cloth back work well. They are easily washable and readily slip on-and-off).  What you should never do, is place a contaminated hand back INSIDE your glove …. but if you do, do NOT touch your face in the meantime, but first wash both hands and the inside of the glove as soon as you get home and then you are safe to start ‘the system’ again.   As noted by many, it's the touching of the FACE that's the major human issue, so do NOT touch your face with a potentially contaminated glove or hand.  If you MUST touch your face, take off your glove and use your clean hand.   Ideally, ONLY touch your face after thoroughly washing/scrubbing your hands.  Experts say there's very little chance of actually absorbing this virus through the skin of your hands that is thicken than on most parts.  So what's the advantage of a glove?   Two things. It physically reminds you not to touch your face and it also may cut down on all the washings ... potentially 1000 over 3 months, that risks to wreck your skin.   Germs & viruses wipe or wash off a glove easier than off your porous wrinkled hand, so if you've not touched anything with your bare hand, you can just thoroughly wash off the gloves and you're all set.  (But then wash your wrists too if they were exposed).  But after your bare hand wash-ups, add a scoop of Vaseline to your skin afterwards, even under your nails.  It not only protects your skin, it helps whatever is on it to wash off more readily.  (same trick applies for any dirt or epoxy ;)

Following a disciplined method like this can, I believe, keep each person clean and uninfected,  so that life WITHIN the walls of the home can safely go on as before, with normal personal hygiene.

So please, get this message across to your kids who think that they have no part in this, believing this virus is no threat to them … it IS, at the very least as carriers, and even more so to their parents and elders that are ‘their family’.  They have ... and we ALL have … to start thinking of ourselves as ‘all being contaminated’ when we are outside.   With a potential shortage of lifesaving respirators and ICU space, I personally sense I have no choice but to make rules like this at my more ‘disposable age’.  In Italy, many over 80 were at risk to die due to lack of equipment and treatment space so we have to be pro-active about this.   Hopefully I am wrong, but I also see a risk of big US cities having to face the same dilemma by, or before, the end of April.

The big 'mental plus' with this as that with this 'method', I now feel relaxed and 'safe everywhere’.  I can go for solo walks, and by ‘keeping the appropriate distance away’ I can still shop as I need and feel I am still alive, living and well. 

But wait, I said ‘keeping the appropriate distance away’.  But I thought that was 2 meters, no?   This opens up another discussion that is a little closer to sailing … involving the wind!

So how far away is enough to avoid those invisible moist droplets that come out of everyone’s nose or mouth, even as we breath?    If we are precautious and just assume they might be carrying this dangerous virus, then we need to consider where they are likely to be in the air.

Let’s look at this sketch.    With ordinary breathing, we exhale very close to ourselves and these droplets will slowly fall to the ground.  Even at a distance of 3ft (0.9m) we might be safe.  But start to talk and there’s a little more horizontal travel to the exhale before things start to fall.  Now we need to back-off to 4-5ft (1.2-1.5m).   A cough creates even more of a jet and that’s where the 6ft (2m) kicks in ‘as a minimum’.  But this is all when the air is calm, such as inside or with zero wind.

But then, what about if you’re outside and it's windy ?   As sailors know, this gets tricky as wind can swirl in unpredictable directions, but we can at least put a few figures on things to get a sense of the changed situation. 

Let’s start with a reasonable assumption that a potentially virus-laden moisture droplet will drop below mouth level in say 1 second.   This means that if we are standing downwind from someone in a 15mph (22ft/sec) wind, this droplet could still travel 15-20ft in that 1 second!  In practical terms however, it’s likely that such a good breeze would also thin out the concentration of germs too.   But in a very light 5mph wind (7ft/sec) with little turbulence, we could well need to step back a further 5ft, meaning more like 4 meters!   If anyone thinks this is not relevant, they should think back to how far away they could once smell smoke coming from a smoker !

From this we can see just how important it could be to NOT stand in line with the wind when chatting.  The best would be to have the wind on your side and then it will shear past both your faces, even adding protection for both of you.    Turning your back to the wind is NOT good, because as for a round mast, there is a strong suction area there, a low pressure area right at your face front, actually bringing both dust and germs into close proximity of your mouth and nose.  So remember, social distancing outside is very wind dependent so, if chatting, you need to position yourself to be sideways-on, with the wind passing between you.

Finally, as one can see from the trajectory of a falling molecule, there is also a good case to be made, that a shorter person needs to stand farther back than a taller one!   And then, does thick, bushy hair raise the risk to collect contaminated molecules that a partner can then muzzle-into an hour or so later?   Perhaps wearing a headscarf or hijab reduces the risk.   Real issues to consider I think.

So if I were collecting data on past cases, I would additionally be asking things like:

How tall are you?   And does your partner have bushy hair or a very thick beard ?

So a few extra things to think about, and I am pretty sure more will evolve.

Oh yes, as an extra layer of protection, I always wash and dry my hands and face separately in fresh bowls of water, hands first and then drying each with a different towel that I hang in a different place to never get mixed up.  Towels that I wash and change frequently of course. Why take a chance?     While I can only hope we've all now been trained in 'how to wash your hands properly', the musician in me could not resist adding this link ...          [Sorry guys, the target video link was taken down, but the internet is now full of humorous options]

While we hibernate in this forced but necessary isolation, be creative.  Clean-ups are good but perhaps you had a dream to play the guitar or something.  Or, write a diary, some poetry, or perhaps paint something.   Just put aside at least 45mins a day for something different and when this is over, you will feel you have not totally wasted it.   Call someone every day, and always go out for a walk and just enjoy the springtime birds.  Though remember your "PASU"    Physically Apart but Socially United.

If you want to follow the virus spread live ...,. here is a real time display ..... and note from the graphs, we are still FAR from that peak leveling off worldwide!

I wish the very best to you all in this very challenging time .., but then, what better moment to build a boat!   No shortage of supplies there ;)

                                                                           Mike, 20 March 2020


QUES:   Mike, do you use a face mask ?.... Ron, NY   (March 2020) .. ....  but SEE LATER  as masks now worn regularly

ANSWER:   Personally NO, but needs can vary by region.  In Montreal, Canada, an island-city of 4+ million, here's the current thinking.  Qualified health officials say that the risk of becoming infected by touching your face while fiddling with a mask will generally annul any advantage.   However, if you are coughing or have any sort of 'flu, it's advisable to wear a simple Procedural Mask (like a dentist might wear) when near others, or, if you need to travel on public transport or enter a place of increased risk, such as a hospital.  For this reason I always carry one with me, folded into a zip-lock in case it's needed unexpectedly.   While such masks can give added protection and catch moisture droplets from your mouth etc, only the more expensive N95 masks with a special filter are rated to prevent virus transmission.

ADDED:  April 2nd 2020    Attitudes on wearing of Masks are starting to change, so expect to see more and get your own ready!    I suggest making 2 per person in your household .. of fine washable cotton, but with a pocket for a filter material and with a wire to seal around the nose - both a must.   A good fit may be more important than the material.   Filter material can be as simple as 2 layers of paper towel, or of HEPA filter material from a vacuum bag or home filter (obviously much better).   Pipe cleaners, single or doubled, can work well as the nose wire.    Loads of options on line but this seems like a good design.   Start with these patterns (4 sizes)   


Here is a good rundown of some material options and a way to convert the above pattern into a surgical mask


With simple materials at hand, you can make an emergency mask of paper, staples & elastic bands in 3 minutes.



  For your info and assurance, all medical answers given here come from top Canadian Health officials in open discussions aired by the national Canadian Broadcasting  Company.


QUES:   Can we be infected with Covid19 from Food ?

ANSWER:    Senior Chemist from Laval University, Montreal says ‘Definitely YES’. The risk to the body is still from touching the food and then your face though.   To be 100% safe, all foods and produce from a store where we have no track of who has touched things, must initially be placed aside (ideally on a washable plastic sheet) and one-by-one, each item needs to be well washed in a sink of soapy water and then rinsed off and dried.    This applies to fresh veggies and fruit as well as to cans, bottles and containers – anything potentially touched by a strangers hand.

[Note that the small molecules that surround the virus core (see the small orange floating balls in the header image top left) are there to protect it, but the ‘glue’ that holds them together around the core, can be dissolved by washing in soapy water, effectively deactivating the virus].

Afterwards, all bags, containers and surfaces once touching the food, also need to be washed down and rinsed.  One total ‘No-No’, is to put something just bought, directly into the freezer, as a virus can survive there for a year!    Heat is their enemy, not cold.      


QUES:  Can clothes bring the virus into the home ?    (answered by Dr Peter Lin)                 added: 27 March 2020

ANSWER:  Again the answer is ’YES’ but its conditional.    In this case, we have better knowledge of possible contamination.  If we just went for a walk and kept our distance, our clothes will still be clean, but if we were at work, especially in the health business, or know someone touched, coughed or sneezed on them, we must assume our clothes are contaminated.  In this case, immediately place them in a separate area and use heat to wash and dry them, do not just throw your coat or jacket on the couch.  If hung out in the sun or dry airy place not touching anything else, viruses will typically die in a few days.  (Small items could be placed in an oven preheated to 90C for just 10-15 minutes also).


HEADS UP:   With home confinement, are you snacking more, perhaps without realizing it?   Could not help but notice that my favorite 'go-to' snack (dark choc KitKat) was totally sold out from both my local groceries!   Hmmm ... this is not good for the long term my friends!   So just inside the door of my frig, I have put a small plastic container with two things.   A bag of nuts and some sticks of carrots.   Yes, I cheated a bit, as my large almonds are lightly coated with dark chocolate, but I think I can handle that ;)    You really don't want to come out of this confinement 5-10kg heavier ... it could happen though if you're not very disciplined!   Good luck with this  ;)

Another thing I am doing since learning how hard the lungs are being hit, is to exercise them more to improve their efficiency re absorbing oxygen.     I do a few of these every day.   Start by pushing air totally out.   Then breath in slowly, over even 10 secs if you can, until your lungs are totally full and then hold this for a few seconds.  Then breath out slowly unil your lungs are totally empty again, and then repeat.    If you feel a little giddy, start a little quicker until you get used to it but then slow it down again.    I've heard wind musicians do something similar.

added:  29 March 2020

COVID UPDATE  July 1st, 2020

Well, back in March, I honestly thought that most of this pandemic would be over by July and I'd be able to access my boat and go sailing !   Well, none of that has happened and its frankly discouraging.    This virus is more persistent and infectious than we anticipated yet millions are starting to lower their guard and act as if it were all over.   The USA is a perfect example.   The easing up of controls and the Presidents' constant encouragement to just 'get back to work and play' like everything is back to normal, is now causing 80% of the States to back off on their plans to ease restrictions, but meanwhile a lot of damage has been done and it sure looks like more is to come.   Although we have done 'relatively well' in Canada where I presently reside, I see and sense a general attitude change that 'we're over the worse and can forget the tough protocols' but a look at the world statistics indicates this virus is STILL spreading and growing at an increasing rate and that we need to all remember this and continue to be vigilant, especially with air travel slowly coming back.   '2m distance or wear a mask, with still lots of hand washing' is still good, essential advice.    Just take a look at these statistics and you will see that despite some improved knowledge on treating COVID, the global death rate has cycled between 3-5000 deaths a DAY (!) for the last 2 months and shows little sign of tapering off.    That's really tragic, is it not!    The actual infection rate is still climbing worldwide and even though a country or region may seem to shut the virus down and attempt to return life to normal, new cases break out from any small relaxation of restrictions or even ignorant/selfish human behavior.    So keep to the "2m distance or wear a mask for your friends" mantra and please stay safe.  We clearly still have a long way to go with this.  

For those fortunate to be able to access their boat, do a couple of gybes for me ;-)    I am still frustratingly land-locked but still appreciative of fair health and just staying alive!   But as I noted while leading into a recent article on Centerboard Cases, at least COVID has resulted in a new design being developed ;)   Check the first paragraph here.   The main set of plans (12 sheets) for a 6m Venturer are now complete and I'm just getting started on a Build Manual, while the prototype will soon be under construction in Ontario, Canada.   This W19 is an Adventure Challenge boat ... not for everyone but a match for some.

Oh yes, before I leave this COVID page ..... [added August 2020]

By May, I had added a note in my old Ideas book, to create a Clip to hold a mask when it's not currently being worn.   That was months ago and I've not seen anything as yet that does the right job.    I see users either stuffing them in a pocket or dragging them down under their chin, and neither of these make good health-sense to me.   It needs to hold the mask by the ear cord and allow the interior of the mask to air and dry out without touching anything potentially contaminated, and the clip also needs to securely hold it so that the mask does not fall even when bending down.  So in some desperation, I grabbed a wooden spring clothes peg and found that, although not exactly a fashion statement, it could do the job rather well,   There's already a recess carved into the back of the peg-leg that accepts the ear cord so that the peg itself is not prevented from fully gripping a pocket or shirt hem ... or whatever.    Pushing it to the corner of the pocket adds some rigidity to the mount and perhaps one of the colored plastic peg copies would work even better .. at least esthetically ;)   

So I covered the outside with black tape and cut 1cm off the upper fingers to stabilize it more and it's now serving me just fine.   Hope this helps someone.

Hanging one of these clinical (procedural) masks like this for 4 days in good ventilation will clear it of virus, so they can then be reused quite a few times,  stretching out the use of the limited supply.

A month later, I also added a small hook in my car.   Now I always know where my mask is when shopping etc, and when not being worn, it's drying and airing out.   WAY more hygienic than being stuffed into a pocket or purse and like this, they last longer too.      Now that they are available again, I also stay with the medical procedural masks as the nose clip IS essential and also they offer a performance edge over cotton ones for filtering, as they do not use potentially 'leaky' woven materials.

                      Information and ideas from these articles can be used without special permission as long as reference to this source is given.