Your Health and Safety During COVID-19

By Erin Scott, CVT, VTS (ECC)

There are no words that can succinctly describe how it feels to be an essential employee during a global pandemic. Every single one of us has a different situation and different anxieties. There’s no standard or expectation for how we should feel right now. Whatever you are feeling is valid. Every day can bring different feelings, and sometimes feelings can swing wildly over the course of a day.

I’ve personally gone from being constantly on the verge of tears in the morning to feeling strangely
calm in the evening. I’ve also had days where I’m surprisingly fine, and days where I couldn’t leave the couch because of existential dread, grief, sadness, and anxiety. If you are there right now, or anywhere in between, it’s OK. The world isn’t OK, and you are part of the world. If you are feeling overwhelmed, please, please, please, reach out to someone in your support structure, call or text a helpline, or call 911. You matter.

As veterinary workers, we don’t always have the luxury or ability to stay at home. We have jobs that
need us, bills to pay, and people and animals who rely on us. Pets don’t stop getting sick because of
COVID-19, and we’re doing our jobs under increased stress, during a time when many felt the stress
on our industry couldn’t get any higher. Supply shortages, unhappy owners, and unusual protocols are
the “new normal,” but with so much information and misinformation happening so quickly, every
veterinary professional needs to be on the same page about a few things. Here is what you need to
know to keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe.

What we know about the virus
● One of the defining characteristics of a coronavirus is that it has a lipid envelope, or a fatty
outer shell. While that lipid layer makes it resilient in certain circumstances, it also makes it
vulnerable in others. If you imagine the virus being a drop of cooking oil, if it absorbs into the
surface you drip it on, the virus is vulnerable to decay. That means that a porous material like
cardboard is good at breaking down the protective shell around the virus, but materials like
rubber, plastic, and glass are good at preserving it. This is also why soap and water are a better
preventive measure than other disinfectants, as it breaks down the lipid layer.
● This virus is at least droplet borne, but it might be airborne. The difference is subtle, but
important. Droplet borne means it would require a cough or sneeze to be transmitted.
Airborne means that even talking or breathing in proximity could spread the virus. Because
our work requires people to work in close proximity, masks should be worn at all times, not

just when retrieving or returning animals. While cloth masks aren’t impenetrable, they’re safer
than using nothing at all. And remember, the mask is to keep the people around you safe if
you’re an asymptomatic carrier, not the other way around. Continue to practice good hygiene
and if you must adjust your mask, wash your hands before and immediately afterward.
● The possibility for human-to-animal, animal-to-animal, and animal-to-human transmission is
largely unknown. We do know of a handful of cats, including a tiger at the Bronx zoo, and a
single dog that have tested positive for COVID-19. We don’t know if these animals are able to
spread the virus as efficiently as humans are. Although nothing is certain, it does not appear
the animals were life-threateningly ill, and it can be presumed that even if animals can contract
COVID-19, it’s not as fatal as in humans. However, if an owner has an active COVID-19
infection, it’s best for the pet to be kept away from them.

What you should do to protect yourself and those around you

  1. Quarantine your home. Create a spot near your entry door to act as a clean room. If you’ve
    been outside, especially to work or around other people, don’t wear anything past that space.
    If it can’t be a laundry room, keep a laundry basket available to put dirty clothes in. Here’s a
    typical routine for me:
    • Lay out everything in my pockets or that I brought home with me. Take off my shoes.
      Take off my clothes and put them in the washer/laundry basket.
    • Wash my hands and anything that can be safely washed in the sink, including house
      keys, ID and credit cards, cloth face mask, etc.
    • Wipe down anything else I brought home with disinfectant wipes. In lieu of Clorox or
      Lysol wipes, since I can’t find any, I’ve filled a Tupperware container with folded
      paper towels and 70% isopropyl alcohol.
    • Wash my face, and, if I’ve had any other bare skin showing, I also take a shower,
      making sure to use soap anywhere that was uncovered.
  2. Keep yourself safe outside of your home. Because we know this virus can be transmitted by
    asymptomatic carriers, we all have to act like we’re keeping ourselves safe and keeping others
    safe at the same time. It’s a Schrӧdinger’s virus.
    • The newest CDC recommendations are to wear a face mask anytime you are in public.
      Wash it with soap or detergent and water for at least 20 seconds when you get home
      and hang to dry to preserve the elastic. Or, launder with the clothes you just wore
      outside.
    • Stay home as much as possible. It’s been said thousands of times, but it’s the absolute
      most important thing we can do right now.
  3. Stay mentally and physically healthy.
    • Try to get some exercise every day, whether or not it was a part of your routine before
      the pandemic. I notice a big difference in my mental health when I get outside for a
      walk or do a simple exercise routine in my apartment. There’s plenty of bodyweight
      strength training exercises, and yoga or cardio routines available for free on the
      internet. Get out for a walk or a hike whenever you can, but beware of getting on the
      trail with everyone else who had the same idea.
    • Eat as healthy as you can. There’s nothing wrong with some comfort food now and
      again, but letting it become a routine can be detrimental. Many people have scooped
      up bulk amounts of flour, rice, canned goods, etc., but these foods can contribute to
      blood sugar spikes and weight gain. Focus on incorporating fresh produce into your
      diet. Many veggies last at least a week in the fridge and provide essential nutrients that
      dry goods cannot.
    • Take care of your mental health. Do the things that can still bring you comfort or joy.
      If you need to talk, many mental health professionals have started offering online
      services. Reach out if you need support. Or, you can escape to another world if you
      need a break. Books or video games can provide a rich world with different problems
      than those we face on a daily basis.
    • Stay connected. Social distancing doesn’t have to mean emotional distancing. Keep in
      touch with your family and friends through video chat or texts. Many games can be
      played online with friends on your laptop, like Cards Against Humanity, and Netflix
      Party allows you to watch shows together. Reach out to someone you haven’t seen in a
      while, or help keep any vulnerable people stocked up on food or supplies they might
      need.

The veterinary community is made up of caring, compassionate people. We come together every day
to take care of other people’s pets out of our love for animals and the human-animal bond. But we are
humans with needs as well, and no one should feel like they are a martyr. This is a time like no other,
and the best we can do is focus on taking care of ourselves, our loved ones, and each other. We will get
through this, and we are stronger by holding each other up.