As the number of coronavirus cases increases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US is advising businesses and employers to socially distance employees from one another, and from the general public, to minimise person-to-person exposure to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
In response to this guidance, companies are encouraging their employees to disinfect their desks, work from home, limit non-essential business travel, and now, some are limiting the use of reusable personal items, like cups, in their workplaces. On Wednesday, Starbucks announced it was no longer allowing customers to bring their own cups to use and refill in its stores.
For employees who are still working closely with one another in a shared space, you may be wondering: Is it OK to use my own reusable water bottle and coffee cups in the workplace during the outbreak?
Here’s what you need to know.
Reality check: COVID-19 mainly spreads through coughs and sneezes, not your water bottle.
The virus is believed to mainly spread through respiratory droplets created when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the CDC.
Because this is the main way of transmission, Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease expert at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, said that minimising exposure should focus on washing hands, not eliminating the use of a reusable water bottle at work.
“I don’t think that people’s office water bottles are going to be the way that this pandemic unfolds. It’s coughs and sneezes,” Adalja said. “But there are people that are worried about the most esoteric means of transmission, and I think that kind of detracts from the main message here, that this is a respiratory virus: Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, cover your coughs.”
You shouldn’t be touching the communal spigot, regardless of a COVID-19 outbreak.
If you have a hands-free electronic drinks dispenser at work, you should have no problem with continuing to stick your water bottle underneath, Adalja said.
And if you have a communal spigot for getting water or coffee, be conscientious about not touching it.
“You should not touch water jugs or coffee spouts with your used bottles or cups in any event,” said Erin Sorrell, an assistant research professor in Georgetown University’s department of microbiology and immunology. “During this outbreak it’s smart to rinse and wash your reusable cups after each use.”
Cleaning your reusable water bottle should already be a regular habit. If you want to maintain the hygiene of your reusable bottles, coffee mugs and bowls for eating and drinking at work, keep washing them daily with dish soap and warm water, regardless of an outbreak, Sorrell said. She noted that if you use a sponge at work, “Make sure the sponge is cleaned daily with hot water and allowed to dry before the next use.”
Know that highly touched surfaces in a workplace kitchen, like a coffee pot or a water spigot, should be cleaned daily. “Be sure to wash your hands before meal prep, prepping a pot of coffee, and before/after using shared spaces,” Sorrell said.
And despite these recommendations, you should keep in mind that some people may accidentally touch the communal spigot.
If you want to be extra cautious, fill up your reusable water bottle at home, said Robyn Gershon, an epidemiology professor at the NYU School of Global Public Health. “During this fast-moving pandemic and out of an abundance of caution, maybe [it’s] better to fill from the tap or bring from home.”