Barefootin' the pandemic, for better health


  The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in early 2020 and knocked the world on its collective ass.  One could argue for years hence over its degree of surprise to society, and even the sectors that acted most quickly still faced a horrendous problem.  Almost no part of the planet has been spared; every country and province and territory dropped just about everything else to deal with this world-changing event.

In the US, this left the barefooter community wondering if there would be so much irrational fear in the streets that they'd never be able to safely barefoot again without facing a hysterical lynch mob.  What seems to be emerging is encouragingly opposite: the science behind how long infectious virus particles can remain viable on different surfaces turns out to be in favor of bare human skin.  And our skin is far easier to clean and sanitize than clothing and shoes.

Kriss, one of the leading lights of the SBL, soon saw a need for public education.  He posted an in-depth blog entry on the topic, referencing a study in the New England Journal of Medicine and some other sources.  Days-long virion viability on metal and plastic clearly dooms things like door handles and public transit to be long-lived contact vectors, whereas the cardboard and paper arriving on the doorstep from Amazon and grocery deliveries and mail are a threat for somewhat less time.  People are learning to be careful about outside material brought into the home, how to treat it, and how long it may remain suspect. But other than floors, we touch none of that with our feet, and when we're concerned about what's on floors we walked on, it's easy enough to sanitize our soles when appropriate.  People rarely if ever wash their shoes, and yet handle them repeatedly in the process of daily living.  Conclusion: better to simply go without, regard our feet as our other two hands, and remain keenly aware of what all four of those extremities come in contact with.

Despite isolation and distancing guidelines, we still need to go out for supplies, and we can sensibly use science to protect ourselves in the process.  To that end, here is my "covid kit" for the road, particularly when intending to be in a closed space near other people such as a store.

COVID protection and sanitizing kit for the road

This is based around 95% pure grain alcohol, commonly available in many liquor stores despite severe shortages in commercial hand sanitizer and isopropyl rubbing alcohol.  Cut with a little water to about 80% alcohol content, the Everclear mix is well over the 60% threshold to dissolve coronavirus lipid envelopes and provides a little "hang time" to finish its virus-busting before evaporating away.  [Rubbing alcohol will still work too; it is typically around 70% concentration.]  Less viscosity than typical hand-sanitizer gel also allows an alcohol solution to flow more easily into crevices and do its work.  Here we see the following components:

  • A small "nip" bottle of the alcohol mix carried on a neck lanyard, so it's always immediately available for hand sanitization on the spot.  The lanyard gives a "third arm" for easier manipulation.  [And it's ironically hilarious that the old trade-show lanyard I grabbed first is from "Coverity"...]
  • A food storage container with tight-fitting lid, with about a half-inch of the same mix in the bottom and some paper towel pieces immersed, for wiping down items.  This can be used over and over again, with occasional top-up as the content is slowly lost.  This can also be used for cleaning feet
  • A couple of generic shop dust masks.  These are not N95 or surgical grade, but still effectively impede airflow to and from the mouth and nose.  Consensus is slowly emerging (particularly in the US) that *something* is better than nothing in a public environment.  (see below)
  • Wraparound safety glasses, to help keep flying droplets/aerosols [and our fingers!] away from the eyes
  • A Ziploc bag for store cashiers to drop change and receipts into if necessary, isolating it away from my wallet for subsequent mitigation
  • Appropriate safety footwear
With this kit carried in a private vehicle [minus the source bottle of alcohol, ahem] one can quickly adapt to public situations and environments, and recover immediately after clearing them.  Ask the haters if they sanitize their shoes before stepping back into their own cars and driving home, let alone walking into the house!  It is up to the barefooter community to continue refuting misplaced fear and prejudice with medical science, in the interest of keeping ourselves and others safe and healthy.  And this doesn't even get into the other physical benefits of staying barefoot; all of that can be readily looked up.  Maybe people can think a little more clearly about such things now, and help curb the spread of misinformation along with the virus.

At the respiratory end of the body, however, the story is different.  Various eastern Asian cultures have long understood the benefits of filtering face masks, even crude homemade types, for helping contain airborne pathogen spread in public settings.  At this time the CDC is finally taking this professor's advice and is close to encouraging their widespread use in the US and elsewhere, especially right now while the world needs to get a handle on curbing the exponential spread of the virus while continuing to (barely) function.  A generic fiber mask can be soaked in the alcohol mix to deactivate whatever may have landed on it, dried out, and safely reused.

Perhaps the CDC should endorse leaving the shoes at home too, for the evident safety benefits over footwear made from synthetic plastics and rubber.  The difference in adhered coronavirus viability is minutes versus days, and minutes essentially drop to zero on simple application of our "killer mix".


  Taking the lead already put forth by a couple of states, the CDC has finally updated its coronavirus prevention guidelines to include wearing some kind of face covering in populated public.  The theory is to prevent infecting *others* with emitted virus particles while simply breathing or talking, not to protect the wearer.  Most homemade / nonsurgical masks leak somewhat around the periphery, especially in the presence of facial hair, and the "official" thought is apparently that pathogens immediately outside the mask will still get sucked right in through there and into the respiratory passages.

I don't 100% buy this, when thinking about directionality and the fact that the bulk of inhaled air would still come through the mask.  Any type of barrier would function at least somewhat in both directions, and it's clear that most people assume *some* self-protective value since we see plenty of still-healthy people wearing a wide variety of masks.  Some sub-micron particles will probably sail right through a mat of generic fibers anyway, so as has been emphasized many times with the recommendation, it's not a substitute for physical distancing.  Unfortunately, responders cannot always do that, and too frequently wind up working inside other peoples' emitted aerosol clouds.  Filter material aside, we still need to be as careful as we can about the edge seal, and a more form-fitting design helps with that.

This is one example when a covering over a body part(s) *is* needed as a protective tool, but of course any tool still has to be used properly.  There are quite a few videos showing hospital personnel wearing generic square masks in a fairly sloppy fashion, with obvious gaps around the edges, and I have to wonder how they're not thinking about the physics involved.


  Chris Cuomo and his chest X-ray If anyone has lent us unwavering confidence in the still-worsening crisis, it's the Cuomo brothers in New York -- Andrew as the governor, for his calm and even-handed management of the US epicentre, and Chris for his in-depth documentation of his own experience fighting the disease itself while still doing his CNN shows from his basement quarantine.  Chris recommends that we can and should take charge of our own health in a holistic way, and possibly the best manifestation of that is his report video on having figured out how to best battle the bug.  Rigorous practice of breathing exercises to help keep alveoli clear is one of his key takeaways.  The critical priority is to not lie down and give up, as much as the brain under such duress may become convinced that the body wants it, but rather to keep moving and actively fighting the problem and the lethargy and the lung inflammation even if it hurts sometimes.

As barefooters we have some experience with that on different planes, both in social and physical aspects.  We need to maintain our self-confidence, not letting others bully us over irrelevant appearance points, and push back as hard as needed.  Our feet may experience a minor ding or two while carrying us through life, but that's how life works -- we patch up as needed and carry on, confident that our bodies will set things back to rights as we allow our immune systems to do what they're best at.  Feet and our choice of their coverings still have absolutely nothing to do with the present problem, and at this point nobody should be stupid enough to try and say otherwise.


  Here's a mention of some recent evidence from health officials, most likely referencing this preliminary paper from the CDC.  While the trade-news article may be more geared toward selling footwear, the paper is an interesting study of subtle virus transmission mechanics.  Among other things it illustrates how shoes create more transport hazard than expected when working in (and out of) infectious environments, concluding
    We highly recommend that persons disinfect shoe soles before
    walking out of wards containing COVID-19 patients.
Given that recommendations are also to thoroughly clean hands whether gloves were worn or not, a solution comes to mind to make this easier.

In crazy times when radical ideas may get a little more consideration, how about this: why couldn't healthcare workers leave their street shoes outside the COVID ward and go barefoot into battle to help their patients, and assume that they're going to be contaminated head to foot anyway by the time they come back out?  Then more attention gets paid to all parts of the disinfection process while coming off shift, including throrough cleansing of hands and feet, and frees everyone from the trouble and uncertainty of messing with bleach treatments or shoes thumping around in the laundry.  A larger version of the alcohol-sump container in the disinfection area could provide an easy first stage for feet, followed by normal washing, and then the workers who don't spend their day in full hazmat suits wouldn't be nearly as likely to be walking contagion into public areas and their own homes.

Sure, many people would be horrified by the idea, thinking "omg needles and disgusting pathogens", but frankly, hospital floors are regularly cleaned and generally a lot safer than the outdoors.  Our skin doesn't give up on its job of keeping bad stuff out just because we're in a particular building.

2020.06.01: [and beyond]

  Things are "opening up" in a mostly staged and careful way, but we are far from out of the woods yet.  Vaccines and even effective therapeutics are still a long way off, and with people behaving in some pretty stupid ways [especially in the US] a second or even third wave of infection spread is almost inevitable.

The entire issue about masks has become politicized, but that doesn't change the laws of physics and virus transmission.  Directives and strong suggestions to wear masks in close public are now mainstream, mostly to constrain one's own dispersal of respiratory emissions, but with that, some people have taken to inappropriately conflating the concept of requiring masks with that of requiring shoes.  Science supports one but not the other; in fact as we're well aware, science supports *not* requiring shoes.  Nonetheless, misguided ignoramuses have already worked "masks" into the same old tired discriminatory rhetoric we occasionally still find at store entrances.  In the process, they're endorsing a resurgence of this hostile garbage.  I laid a countervailing statement on the author of one particularly obnoxious article, that showed up on CNN of all places.

Around the same time, I became aware of a similar screwup on a large scale by the city management of Key West, in which they made and distributed discriminatory posters with the same problem out to the town's businesses.  Talk about confusing the public!  After attempts at phone contact failed, I emailed the Mayor

Then I started to wonder, how widespread is this problem?  A little simple searching returned a disappointingly large pile of hits, showing that the exact same mistake had been made by numerous other sources.  Many of these also further promulgate the idiotic political conflict over face masks, but dragging the old bigoted nonsense about footwear back in along with it just fans more flames of divisiveness.  This is clearly something the barefooter community has to keep watching for and actively fight against everywhere it shows up.  Like we try to do against viral infections. 

I began writing to more of the visible origins of this nonsense, starting with a particularly egregious case where a New Hampshire state councillor had published an opinion piece in several outlets, and the second-order damage was rapidly spreading beyond that as other sources picked up on it and the public reacted.  Sorry, clinging to and endorsing old prejudices in the "live free or die" state is not a good look for someone aiming at its governorship.  With anguished cries for equality and acceptance going up around the world, marginalizing a harmless footwear preference is one more long-standing part of the same problem and should simply be done away with.  That is not a false equivalence, because it began for the same insidious underlying reasons.  Its history is not as long or as widespread, but it still represents more long-standing senseless and artificial bias that should have never existed.  I encourage anyone to use the content of any of these as a template, for sending your own expressions to anyone else who has confused these totally separate concepts.  Write letters and emails, post blog comments, make phone calls.  Support science and fairness, not irrational fear.

_H*   200330 and forward

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