By John Swartz
By now, one hopes most people have adjusted to washing their hands frequently. Many are taking various other measures to keep their distance from the COVID-19 virus. Some people are likely still finding they forgot to do some part of the new routine because whatever it is not habit yet.
For Dav Langstroth, it feels like old times. He’s a retired Canadian Armed Forces warrant officer and he’s done a fair bit of training, in more intense way, of the kind we’re all experiencing right now.
“We would spend weeks learning decontamination drills, getting in and out of protective gear and maintaining our weapons and equipment. It was critical to be alert to the possibility that every surface we touched was contaminated. Just moving from a living space to outside was a task and returning was even more difficult,” he said.
“We trained for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. They call it something else now,” Langstroth said. Today the training is called Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive materials defense. All members of the Canadian Armed Forces get the training and are tested every three years. His last unit was the 49th Highlanders and he spent part of his 26 year career with the Royal Canadian Dragoons.
“Any infantry soldier in Canada has had the same training. The only difference with me is I’ve been exposed to a few things that were dangerous. The drills and the protocols you go through are just unbelievably intense,” he said. “I’ve had two occasions to operate in an NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) environment and the slightest variation of the drills cost people their lives.”
They had to treat everything as a threat and drill for everything from eating and drinking to using the facilities to survive. It’s not just button up and put on a gas mask.
“It’s a bit more than that. It’s a charcoal lined suit with double seals on the zippers, plus gloves, boot covers, gas masks. You’re pretty well insulated from anything outside.” The training includes how to make and get into safe spaces.
“Eventually you do have to get out of your gear.” They would create an airlock, with an exterior shower, move to the next room to dry and then start removing gear, boots, suit, then gloves, then mask – “you leave all of your equipment there.”
“We worked on the basis of biological weapons are anywhere and everywhere,”
Part of the training also included what happens when exposed to some of the things they are trying not to come in contact with.
“We all had to do our turn in the gas huts (being exposed) with masks and without masks, just to know what it’s like. It’s a good way to clear your sinuses and practice your coughing.”
Langstroth is mystified about how many people he sees who aren’t taking the few simpler steps we are asked to do to protect themselves from the virus when he considers the elaborate protocol he had to learn and internalize.
Because he is in a high risk group with COPD, asthma, emphysema, and he’s over 65 and smokes (“I’m right smack-dab in the middle of the demographic,”) he takes few more precautions, but he thinks the few things people have been asked to do they should pay attention to. Describing his routine might give others the same kind of respect for what can happen he has.
He mostly stays indoors, but when he ventures out into his neighbourhood for exercise he bundles up – not because of the cold and (lately) snow. He wears regular cotton/leather gloves and a mask.
“I use those as an everyday walking around, if I’m going to be handling things like groceries a rubber glove or a latex glove. To dispose of them properly you have to one of two things,” he said. First is washing your hands – with the gloves on and then take them off.
“When you remove your gloves you never touch the outside surfaces, you always touch the inside.” He also said if the gloves are disposable, then dispose of them, properly, in a closed container. Then you continue to wash.
“You wash your hands and dry them off, then you wash your face.” The washing bit applies even if you haven’t been out in the great outdoors.
“We worked on the basis of biological weapons are anywhere and everywhere,” he said. “Any time you handle anything that’s been outside, wash your hands.”
Masks are another point of special care. Until recently many health organizations were saying it’s not necessary to wear a mask, something Langstroth ignored. There is good advice available about how to clean cloth and certain other types of masks (soap and water being one of the most effective solutions), but some types are not worth saving.
“If you have a mask that’s disposable, dispose of it. Don’t keep on reusing it. If you get it heated up with humidity, it will attract any kind of animal as opposed to keep it away.”
He also has some advice for some men of a specific, maybe heartbreaking nature.
“Having a beard and wearing a mask, it’s useless,” he said. So beards are out until November. If you think only 3 or 4 day’s growth isn’t an issue, think again, he recommends shaving any day you are outside and intend to wear a mask.
“Shaving is a huge thing because if you don’t shave the seal on your mask won’t be as effective.”
Getting groceries and supplies is another activity Langstroth takes precautions with. Because of the risks he has, someone does the shopping for him. He has a routine for bringing those things into his home.
“Anything that comes into your house needs to be decontaminated, with gloves on and then dispose of the gloves in the proper way,” he said. “Use common sense, use distance and time. By time I mean consider anything coming into your house as a hand grenade and you want to be very careful with it.”
He wipes everything and then puts them in a closet for three days (the length of time it’s been determined the virus stays active on plastic) before he fills his shelves and uses the new items.
He thinks everybody should practice the basics of protection as health communities and the government has been recommending, especially since those things are not as onerous as what he had to do. The entire genesis of this story was his amazement with how some people he sees who don’t practice the basics, and of how many he hears of who think doing these things is not necessary.
“It is my hope that when people self-isolate themselves they understand their responsibility. Their families, neighbors and friends are counting on them. Most people have no idea what I’m talking about and it’s this group that will be the carriers of COVID-19 and ultimately kill their loved ones.”
“I hope it (this story) delivers the message that needs to be sent. Be careful. Don’t touch anything. Wash your hands. Dry them properly, and be patient with your loved ones,” he said, chuckling at the last addition to the list.