Traffic is down, danger is up on the nation’s roadways


speeding car approaching a city
If you need to venture out on the roads, be sure to drive defensively! According to recent reports, many streets and highways have turned into a dangerous environment of deserted streets given over to drag racing and speeding competitions. With so many businesses shut down and people under a stay-at-home advisory during the coronavirus crisis, nationwide, traffic has dropped by  more than 40%, according to transportation-data firm Inrix. Some large metro highways report even higher drops of between 50% to 70%. But if you think less volume makes for safer roads, think again! Unfortunately, people seem to be driving much more recklessly.

According to a report in Agency Checklists, new data from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shows that despite a 50% reduction in overall traffic on Massachusetts roads, fatalities doubled in number during April. But this troubling trend is not unique to Massachusetts. Standard Publishing talks about a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA):

“State highway safety officials across the country are reporting a sharp spike in speeding incidents. Multiple states have reported speed increases, with Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska and Utah noting a significant surge in vehicles clocked at 100 mph or more.”

In addition to the increase in MA fatalities, Rhode Island and Nevada state officials report that pedestrian fatalities are increasing. Even before the recent reports, pedestrian fatalities have been creeping up over time and pedestrian deaths are now at their highest level since 1988.

The Washington Post cites both the GHSA report and law enforcement and traffic experts throughout the country, and the story is the same: speeders have taken over the roadways. In addition to drag racing and high-speed competitions, the post Post reports:

What’s more, those speeding drivers are also more distracted. A study released Thursday by the data analytics company Zendrive found motorists are braking harder and using their phones more while driving. The analysis of millions of miles of driving data based on smartphone sensors found speeding is up by 27 percent on average, while hard braking climbed 25 percent. Phone usage on the nation’s roadways steadily increased in the weeks following the stay-at-home guidelines, up by 38 percent in mid-April, according to the report.

The Post says that people may think they can get away with reckless driving because law enforcement have limited resources or have reallocated resources during the pandemic. And some psychologists think it may be for excitement to counter the boredom or as an emotional release.

Hopefully, this troubling trend is a shutdown anomaly that will ease as states begin gradually reopening. But if and when you need to be out on the roads – particularly the highways – be super alert, avoid distractions, wear your seat belt, and keep your own speed down!

 

What you need to know about wearing face masks


young woman wearing a face mask

It’s not yet clear when stay-at-home restrictions might be lifted – they’ll vary by state. NPR maintains a handy state-by-state list of How Each State Is Responding To COVID-19 that talks about various restrictions. But one thing is clear – until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, we won’t be going back to life as we knew it in the foreseeable future. It’s likely that restrictions on public places will be lifted gradually and that we will still be practicing advanced hygiene, and social distancing. And more and more of us will be wearing face masks or face coverings in public places to protect ourselves and others. The CDC has recommended this practice, and many communities and states are requiring them in all or some public places.

Whether they are required or not, many health experts point to the advantages in a pandemic. We know that the people can have coronavirus for a period of time before they show symptoms; in fact, the CDC says that up to 25% of people with coronavirus may not show any symptoms at all, but they can still be shedding the virus when they cough or sneeze. A face mask protects others against this. Plus, although face coverings aren’t a replacement for other protections, they offer an additional measure of safety for the wearer, particularly in places and situations where it may be difficult to maintain 6 feet of distance.

The New York Times has a handy User’s Guide to Face Masks (They are making coronavirus-related content freely available to all). The guide has many useful tips about the various types of masks, ideas for how to make masks and where to find patterns, and a brief video of how to make an easy no-cost, no-sew reusable face mask out of an old t-shirt. They also offer tips for how to put a mask on, how take it off, and how to clean it. It pretty much covers any questions you might have and offers links to other resources.

We’ve summarized some of their best-practice mask tips as well as tips from the CDC:

  • Wear a mask at all times in public spaces
  • Unless you have a health condition requiring it, don’t use a surgical mask or PPE intended for healthcare workers
  • Wash your hands before putting on a face mask and after taking it off
  • When removing it, avoid touching the front of the mask
  • A mask should cover your nose and mouth, going from near the bridge of your nose to down under your chin and stretch about halfway or more toward your ears.
  • Avoid touching your face while you are wearing the mask
  • Continue maintaining 6-feet of social distancing between you and others
  • Wash the mask after use

Children and masks

Your young children may be afraid to see their parents, loved ones – indeed, everyone, suddenly all covering their faces. Masks could provoke fear, sadness or just general anxiety about a stressful time. The New York Times talks about children who fear masks, noting that “One reason children may find masks disconcerting is that the ability to recognize — and read — faces is much weaker in young children than it will be by adolescence.” Children start developing facial identification skills around age 6, but it’s not until about age 14 that they have fully developed this skill. The article offers ideas for how to help children acclimate to face masks by explaining how they help others. Among their suggestions are to make the association between masks and superheroes.

The CDC says that children under 2 years of age should not wear masks. Should kids above that age wear masks? While children are less likely to become seriously ill from coronavirus, they still might be infected and therefore potentially infecting others. The New York Times talks about the issue of young children wearing face makes, noting that:

Masks are most useful in public places where your child is likely to come within six feet of another person (for example in a grocery store or pharmacy) and in areas where the virus has been spreading quickly, the C.D.C. said.

They offer tips for parents about when masks are advisable and ideas for how to persuade your children to use them.

More resources on face masks

 

Coronavirus Stay-at-Home Care Kit


bored couple at home furing coronavirus

If you are one of the millions who are confined to home during the Coronavirus outbreak, we have scoured the web for some of the best advice, tips and tools to help you make the most of things .. from working at home, keeping safe, stocking up, keeping kids safe and amused and dealing with anxiety and boredom.

Working from home

8 Tips To Make Working From Home Work For You – “Never before have workers telecommuted on such a broad scale. Millions of people are trying to work from home — if they can, of course. NPR’s Life Kit wants to help WFH work for you, especially if you’re doing so for the first time.”

Working From Home Because of COVID-19? These Tech Ideas Can Make It EasierConsumer Reports offers tools and services, to help you  increase productivity.

How to Set Up a Home Workstation to Avoid Muscle Strain, Headaches, and Sore Eyes – If the coronavirus outbreak is forcing you to work from home, follow CR’s advice for your home office, kitchen, or bedroom

How to Stay Sane When Working From Home With Kids – tips from Wirecutter

Keeping safe!

These Common Household Products Can Destroy the Novel CoronavirusConsumer Reports shows you how to use them and tells you which products to stay away from.

How to Clean and Disinfect Yourself, Your Home, and Your Stuff – Wired magazine offers their best in-depth best practices for keeping yourself (and just about everything else) clean and virus-free.

How You Can Kill Coronavirus in Your Car Without Damaging Interior Surfaces

Should You Disinfect Your Phone? Here’s How.

List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 – EPA.gov lists common household products and their effectiveness in protecting against Coronavirus.

Beware: Scams & hoaxes

Beware of Products Touting False Coronavirus Claims – Regulators and watchdogs warn consumers of hucksters playing on fears to make profits.

Phishing in the Time of COVID-19: How to Recognize Malicious Coronavirus Phishing Scams – good tips from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

How to Avoid Coronavirus Phishing Scams – Watch out for a surge in emails from cybercriminals pitching COVID-19 health information and fake cures

Stocking Up

Grocery shopping during the coronavirus: Wash your hands, keep your distance and limit trips Washington Post offers tips, including ideas for people who are 65 or older, or immune compromised.  .

How to Protect Yourself From Coronavirus When Grocery ShoppingConsumer Reports offers precautions to take whether you shop in-store or online

Grocery rules for your coronavirus lockdown: Buy beans, freeze milk, don’t hoard, and more – Who knew you could freeze milk? CNN offers tips for the best foods to buy when  you’re going to be stuck at home.

Wirecutter: The Best Meal Kit Delivery Services

Keeping Kids Safe & Engaged

How to Cope at Home With Kids During the Coronavirus Outbreak – Keep your family healthy—physically and mentally—and minimize spread of the virus

How Parents Can Keep Kids Busy (and Learning) in Quarantine – from The Atlantic: As American schools close, parents are suddenly faced with the challenge of keeping their children occupied at home. Here are some ideas.

Wirecutter: Our Favorite Educational Apps and Learning Games for Kids

PopSugar: A List of Indoor Activities That Will Keep Kids Entertained While Stuck at Home

Passing the Time

New York Times: Comforting Streaming TV Shows for Stressful Times

Time: A Guide to the Most Calming, Anxiety-Free Content You Can Stream Right Now

NPR’s Fresh Air Archive

Fun for you & for the kids: Monterey Bay Live Web Cams

NY Times: Can I Jog Outside? Is That Drinking Fountain Safe? Exercise in the Time of Coronavirus

Bicycling: How to Ride Safely Amid Coronavirus Concerns

A 20-minute workout is perfect for social distancing – video and tips from the Washington Post

Dealing with stress

Coronavirus anxiety: Why the outbreak feeds worries and five simple ways to reduce coronavirus anxiety

Cleveland Clinic: 5 Ways to Manage Stress During the Coronavirus Outbreak – Tips for preventing a mental meltdown

Anxiety can be a general feeling of apprehension, fear, nervousness, or worry. It can also be a sudden attack of panicky feelings, or fear of a certain situation or object. Learn more about anxiety disorders and treatment options from Medline.

Coronavirus facts, myths, travel issues and more


coronavirus

The coronavirus, also known as COVID19, originated in China, and has spread to at many other countries – the New York Times has an updated coronavirus tracking map where you can follow the outbreak across the globe. As of today, there are 60 identified cases in the U.S. – check the map for state breakdowns. We don’t yet know how we will be affected in the U.S. – we can only see that it spreads rapidly and viruses don’t respect borders.

As with many emerging illnesses, there’s a lot of fear about the potential impact. There’s also quite a bit of misinformation and many myths are circulating already. Fear and over-reaction create many additional problems. In times of health emergencies, it’s important to rely on trusted and authorized sources of information. Here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has a dedicated coronavirus site with information for the public about how the illness spreads, symptoms, testing, FAQs, fact sheets and more. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, web resources from the World Health Organization (WHO), includes helpful, reputable information. Be careful about any information that you see posted on social media – make sure you know your source.

It’s important to keep perspective.  From what we know now, coronavirus has high contagion but relatively low number of deaths in proportion to cases. Like influenza, it is of most concern to elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Remember, our usual flu season is still in progress, and the CDC estimates that between Oct. 1 and Feb. 15, seasonal influenza, aka “the flu.” has claimed the lives of 16,000 people.

This 10-minute video interviews two pathologists about the most common myths about the coronavirus, while presenting many facts about the disease and offering sensible advice for self protection.

CDC Coronavirus Prevention Guidance

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus, but the best way to prevent the disease includes the everyday prevention methods that help spread of respiratory diseases, influenza and other viruses. The CDC says:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.: CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Travel issues and travel insurance

One big issue that people are questioning is whether it’s safe to travel. Right now, the countries on highest alert for travel are China and South Korea. The CDC is also warning travelers to Italy, Iran, and Japan to “practice enhanced precautions.” Check the CDC travel health advisories and the State Department’s travel advisories for the current status of countries you may be planning to visit. For more information, see CDC Travel.

The next question people have is if they should reschedule travel, and whether travel insurance will cover them if they have to cancel or have travel disrupted due to coronavirus. The bad news is, not always – it depends. It’s important to know the extent of your travel coverage and understand what is and what isn’t covered. PropertyCasualty360 addresses this in their article: Will travel insurance cover coronavirus?

“Tour operators and travel insurance brokers are reporting an increasing number of requests from customers asking to change their travel plans. Meanwhile, many U.S. airlines, including United, America and Delta, have canceled several flights to China.

Consumers may be surprised to learn that in either situation, their travel policy probably wouldn’t cover them.”

Most travel insurance is designed to protect you in case you need to cancel a trip, lose belongings, or require medical attention. But for cancellations related to coronavirus, only certain reasons qualify.”

They discuss the various scenarios in which a traveler may be covered, and those in which the traveler would not be. If you are planning a trip, it’s worth reading. And for more good travel planning advice, see Consumer Reports: How the Spread of Coronavirus Could Affect Your Travel Plans.

Additional coronavirus resources

Here are a few other resources that we’ve found helpful:

Home & yard safety: Deterring coyotes


lone coyote in the road

Over the last day or two, headlines are filled with the story of a New Hampshire hero Dad who killed a coyote with his bare hands after it attacked his 2-year old son. There had been reports of coyote attacks in the area for a few days. Authorities caught and killed the animal and testing showed that it had rabies. This is a frightening story, but the Humane Society reports that thankfully, coyote attacks on humans are relatively rare.

Coyotes live in every US state except Hawaii. They are very adaptable to almost any environment – including cities and suburbs. They are scavengers that will eat just about anything. Right now, we are in peak breeding season, which generally runs from January to March.

One of the problems with living close to humans is that coyotes start to lose their fear of people. Instead of hiding, they can become bolder. Many pet owners have heartbreaking stories about having small pets grabbed from their yard by a coyote – or even snatched  right off a leash in front of a horrified pet owner. While coyotes tend to be nocturnal, they can also roam around during the day. They are often spotted at daylight and dusk.

The Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services offer steps you can take to reduce the chance of human-coyote conflicts:

  • Do not feed coyotes!
  • Eliminate sources of water, particularly in dry climates.
  • Bird feeders should be positioned so that coyotes cannot get feed.
  • Do not discard edible garbage where coyotes can get to it.
  • Secure garbage containers and eliminate garbage odors.
  • Feed pets indoors whenever possible. Pick up any leftovers and store pet and livestock feed where it is inaccessible to wildlife.
  • Trim and clean, near ground level, any shrubbery that provides hiding cover for coyotes or prey
  • Fencing your yard could deter coyotes. The fence should be at least 6 feet high with the bottom extending at least 6 inches below ground level for best results.
  • Don’t leave small children unattended outside if coyotes have been frequenting the area.
  • Don’t allow pets to run free. Keep them safely confined and provide secure nighttime housing for them. Walk your dog on a leash and accompany your pet outside, especially at night.
  • Discourage coyotes from frequenting your area. If you start seeing coyotes around your home or property, chase them away by shouting, making loud noises, or throwing rocks.

This last tip is commonly referred to as “coyote hazing”. The Humane Society has great resources on this topic – see Coyote hazing: Guidelines for discouraging neighborhood coyotes that focus on steps to change coyote behavior. Hazing is method that makes use of deterrents to move an animal out of an area or discourage an undesirable behavior or activity. Hazing can help maintain a coyote’s fear of humans and deter them from backyards and play spaces. The article suggests dog-walking tools and ways to keep them out of your yard.

Prior wildlife posts:

 

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