Skin, mucous membranes, and social distancing

I see so much conflicting information on what I can touch and what I can't, can you clarify?

We’ll see, but this may be my last post related to Covid-19 because I’m thinking we will all be up to speed on most of it by then.  You all please write me with Covid-19 questions, if you still have them any left.  Let’s all be aware of what we’re doing, and try to spread calm, fact-based behavior, and kindness to our fellows.

One thing I’ve noticed in Seattle is that there are the facts and what’s required, and then there is what the social pressure from people around us is doing.  For example, hospital systems have a policy now of mandatory PPE and mandatory masking for doctors and nurses caring for Covid-19 patients.  That makes sense.  Other hospital personnel can mask now generally (supplies taken into account) but are not required to, because we are not at high risk.  We ALL need to hand wash and hand sanitize still.

Then, there’s the social pressure.  I have friends tell me they are masking now when they go for walks outside alone.  When I ask why it’s “because they see other people doing it.”  They feel better if they seem to be taken extra precautions.  But this is not rational; please see the post below.  I’m voting for reason, common sense, and human ingenuity over fear-based speculation.

If you are in a lower risk group (not older, immune-compromised, or ill), you don’t need to mask.  The grocery store, if crowded, being the possible exception. Plus, be aware now that some of the masks sold on the web, look like the real thing, but are counterfeit.

Can I catch Covid-19 through my mucous membranes (mouth, nose), if I’m social distancing?

You can’t catch Covid-19 from going for a walk outside alone while staying 5-6 feet away from your companion.  If you have a quarantine buddy or partner, you can walk the normal distance together because you are already sharing everything in your home.  This is because there is a difference between droplet spread and aerosolization. Covid-19 spreads through coughing and sneezing in rather heavy visible and microscopic droplets.  These droplets fall, they don’t just stay randomly in the air.  It spreads approximately 5-6 feet and also gets onto surfaces, which is why the handwashing/sanitation is so important.  Unless you have the incredibly bad luck to pass by someone (non-masked) who coughs or sneezes in the instant you are passing, you don’t need a mask outdoors.  If YOU are coughing or sneezing, please stay home.

Can Covid-19 spread from my hands to my mouth and nose?

Yes.  This is why it’s really important, for example, at the grocery store to hand sanitize several times while there, and on check out.  You are reducing what you pick up on your hands.  Many people touch their faces unconsciously, and that’s how it can spread to the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose.   Gloves by themselves are not as effective, unless you change them a lot, or use the hand sanitizer.  Many people seem to have the idea that the gloves are protective and just leave them on without the aforementioned measures.


I hope this helps, and stay well!

Dr. Irwin
Founder, SkinTour
Director, Madison Skin & Laser Center
Follow my skin tips and travels on Instagram!


Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

Ask me your skincare question!

Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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