The College Student's Guide to Germ-Fighting

Last updated: Dec 18, 2020

We’re fighting a pandemic — and each of us is a recruit in the war against COVID-19.

By now, you’ve definitely heard about this pandemic, possibly because your local theater shut down, the beach is closed, your classes are now entirely online, and for some reason there is no toilet paper. Let’s be real: It all feels a little like a zombie apocalypse. So we’ve created a guide to help you succeed in this epic battle of humans versus virus.

Join the war against disease with this zombie-inspired college student's guide to germ-fighting.

Know Your Enemy

Your enemy is invisible. It’s not exactly alive, but it’s not dead either: It could be best described as “near the boundary between the living and the nonliving.” Once inside its victim’s body, it leads a borrowed life. And it wants to use you as its next host.

Your enemy’s name — virus — stems from the Latin for “slimy liquid” or “poison.” For years, we’ve fought viruses that make us sick with the common cold or flu. But now a new enemy has emerged: SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19.

“You can’t scare a virus. You can’t negotiate with a virus. You can’t make a separate peace with a virus. A virus has a biological imperative, which is to infect and spread,” says Max Brooks, the author of the The Zombie Survival Guide.

But we can stop it.

Your first step: Learn everything you can about your enemy.

A woman cleans the screen of her smart phone with disposable wipe

Choose Your Weapons

You wouldn’t fight a zombie without proper gear, would you? A viral invasion is no different. Choose your weapons:

Soap and Water 

This is your basic virus-destruction kit. It may not seem like a glamorous weapon, but that’s only because you can’t see how efficiently it destroys your viral enemy.

“The new coronavirus, coined SARS-CoV-2, is a spherical structure with spiky proteins attached to a membrane, or envelope, that protects the pathogen’s genetic material,” explains this Wall Street Journal article. “Once it comes into contact with soap, this envelope dissolves, leaving behind a dysfunctional virus.”

Hand Sanitizer

Think of it like this: When fighting the undead, you’d like to be working with a handgun. But sometimes you’re caught off-guard and need to reach for the nearest weapon, like a rusty nail to jam through the zombie’s eye socket. 

Hand sanitizer is that rusty nail. Soap and water should be your go-to weapon. But you should also have a backup supply of hand sanitizer, just in case you don’t have access to your top choice of defense.

Pro tip: When buying hand sanitizer, make sure it has at least 60 percent alcohol.

Disinfectant

Disinfectant pickings are slim, but you’re a seasoned germ-fighter now, so you can improvise. Here’s what the CDC recommends:

  • Mix 5 tablespoons bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. (When you’re cleaning with bleach, wear gloves and use proper ventilation by opening a window or turning on an exhaust fan. Be careful not to mix bleach with other cleansers, which can be dangerous.)
  • Look in your medicine cabinet for an alcohol solution with 70 percent alcohol or more.
  • The CDC says that “most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective” as well.

Wield Your Weapons

You’re armed and ready. But do you know how to use your store of germ-fighting weapons? Time to train.

Soap and Water

When washing your hands, follow the classic zombie-fighting advice: Double tap. Sing the happy birthday song once; then sing it again. This ensures you wash your hands for enough time (at least 20 to 30 seconds).

Watch this video to learn how to wash your hands properly. (Trust me, if you’re like most of us, you haven’t been doing it right.)

Take extra care to suds up in these circumstances:

  • After using the bathroom
  • Before preparing or eating food
  • After touching garbage
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After being in a public place

When you’re done washing, don’t forget to moisturize.       

Hand Sanitizer 

Avoid these pitfalls:

  • Not using enough. Make sure you coat every part of your hands with the sanitizer.
  • Not waiting long enough. Give it time to air dry, about 20 seconds.

Disinfectant

Your enemy is not going to crawl, drooling, over the barbed fence of your apocalypse enclosure. It’s going to do something much worse.

Unlike zombies, viruses don’t announce themselves with a hissing snarl. They silently infiltrate every corner of your home, hiding in your most beloved hangouts, without you ever noticing. That’s why you must do a daily perimeter sweep. Arm yourself with disinfectant and get started: 

  • Clean everything. Faucets. Doorknobs. Remotes. Countertops. Light switches. The fridge handle. The bathroom. Wash your hands before and after your perimeter sweep.
  • Don’t forget to disinfect your smartphone. (Clorox wipes or 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipes are a good choice for iPhones.)

A man cleans his keyboard with a disposable wipe

Stay Healthy

You want to be in fighting shape to defeat zombies. The same is true for fighting viruses.

  • Skip the public gym, but exercise daily.
  • Get at least eight to nine hours of sleep every night.
  • Switch from restaurant fare, which could spread the virus, to home-cooked meals. (Here’s a sample menu: For breakfast, this smoothie; for lunch, this spaghetti; for dinner, this lentil soup.)

Learn the Skills of Seasoned Germ-Fighters

Now it’s time to master the real skills for this war.

Don’t Touch Your Face

We are obsessed with touching our faces, but that has to stop. Our eyes, noses, and mouths are doorways into our bodies — and viruses are just waiting to step over the threshold. (Scratching your nose is the equivalent of inviting a zombie for dinner and expecting them not to have you as the main course.)

Give your hands something else to do, like squeezing a stress ball. Set an alarm on your phone that reminds you every hour: DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE.

If you can break the habit, it’s “the one behavior that would be better than any vaccine ever created,” says an expert quoted in this Washington Post article.

Don’t Spread Germs

You may feel fine, but you could be a carrier of the virus (someone who shows no symptoms and gets other people sick). Make sure you aren’t spreading the disease:

  • Before you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Throw away the tissue, and wash your hands.
  • You can also cough or sneeze into your elbow.

Social Distance

Remember how in zombie movies you can never really tell who’s infected? Welcome to the new normal.

Any of us could spread COVID-19 without even knowing it. That’s why we have to practice “social distancing.” Social distancing means you should:

  • Stay home as much as possible. Work from home. Study from home. Do not go to the coffee shop, your favorite restaurant, the mall, the movies, or the local beach. Literally, just stay home.
  • Stay 6 feet away from other people if you must leave your home.
  • Limit grocery store outings, and choose a time when it’s less crowded.
  • Do not invite friends over. Do not invite even one friend over.

If social distancing sounds hard, that’s because it is. But sacrifices have to be made to defeat the enemy.

Seriously, we’ve been joking about the apocalypse (because if now isn’t the time for gallows humor, when is?). But this threat is real. If we don’t team up to stop it, COVID-19 could, according to one worst-case scenario, kill 2.2 million people in the United States. Sitting on your couch instead of going to a bar may seem like a small thing. But the choices you make today will decide who lives and dies tomorrow.

Play with this interactive infographic to understand why social distancing is important, then make a plan to keep yourself entertained while hanging out at home:

  • Binge watch your favorite movies.
  • Bake cookies.
  • Create a DIY puzzle for your dog using cardboard boxes and treats.
  • Start a virtual book club with friends.
  • Invite your classmates (who are 21 and older) to a virtual happy hour.
  • Start meditating.
  • Finish that creative project.
  • Go for a walk in the park. (But avoid sitting on those germy benches.)
  • Keep a journal. You’re living through a historic period, after all.
  • Sunbathe in your backyard instead of going to a crowded beach.
  • Join one of the online events — from remote raves to live flute meditations — happening in response to COVID-19.
  • Sign up for a fully online class.

A woman washes her hands under running water

Have an Emergency Plan

Do not be that person in the zombie movie who leaves the camp, gets their arm bitten, wears suspiciously long sleeves in the summer heat while saying “I’m fine, guys,” and then, bam, starts mouth-foaming and tries to eat everyone in the camp.

If you feel sick — even if you don’t think it’s COVID-19 — play it safe and stay home. Don’t take cold medicine and go socialize. (See above example.)

If you feel sick and your symptoms seem like they could be COVID-19, call your doctor and ask for advice. (Learn more by reading the CDC’s guide for what to do if you think you’re sick.) 

Be Brave; Be the Difference

Most zombie movies feature a dramatic scene where the hero fights off the undead in a theme park or finds a cure to the pandemic. Real life doesn’t always feel this exciting, especially when you’re sheltering in your living room eating lentils. But trust us, if you follow the steps in this guide, you will be saving lives.
Download Our Germ Fighting GuideBe the hero. Stay smart. Keep others safe. And remember that if you need us, USF’s Health and Wellness centers are here to support you