Health and Safety in the Time of COVID-19

How do we disinfect pushrims/wheelchairs to keep our homes virus-free?

The easiest method of disinfecting your wheelchair or other assistive devices is to use bleach wipes or other sanitizing wipes, though washcloths or paper towels with soap are effective when you don’t have access to anti-microbial wipes. Any surfaces of your chair that you or anyone else regularly touches should be disinfected every time you return from a public space. For manual wheelchair users, these include handrims, tires, brake handles, backrest bars or push handles, arm rests and any part of the frame that you place your hands on when you transfer. For power chair users, high-touch areas include arms rests, joysticks and controls.

Pushing the chair forward while applying soap will clean your handrims.

Pushing the chair forward while applying soap will clean your handrims. Illustration by Ben Hubbard.

Consider keeping a container of disinfecting wipes at the sink nearest to your entry door. If wipes aren’t available in your area, keep a supply of washcloths or paper towels there. Start by washing your hands for 20 seconds. After washing, but before touching any part of your chair, grab a wipe or a soapy towel. Wipe down all high-touch areas until they’re visibly wet, and wait for them to dry before touching.

If someone in your home is at high-risk, you could set up a disinfecting station with wipes and hand sanitizer immediately outside your entry door. Follow the same procedure, but use the hand sanitizer instead of washing your hands. If your hands or arms are visibly soiled, go directly to the sink once you get inside to do a more thorough cleanse.

“It is important to remember that direct contact with an infected surface does not guarantee the spread of infection, so long as you continuously wash your hands and keep them away from your face,” says Peter Axelson, a manual wheelchair user, owner of Beneficial Designs and author of the most comprehensive disinfecting guide for wheelchair users we’ve seen yet.

The most critical part of chair disinfection is making sure you wash your hands and disinfect your chair at the same time after returning home — otherwise you will re-soil your hands as soon as you touch your chair.

To read Axelson’s full “Wheelchair and Assistive Technology Users Precautions for COVID-19” guide, go to

Are there any specific nutrition and grocery shopping recommendations?

For this question, we turned to Joanne Smith, a certified nutritionist, wheelchair user and longtime contributor to NEW MOBILITY. She says that while eating a balanced diet won’t prevent you from getting COVID-19, having the strongest immune system possible will help you fight it if you do contract the virus.

Smith has a number of recommendations for immune-boosting nutrition. On the vitamin front, she says, “Don’t do a multivitamin. They have a little bit of everything, but it’s not enough to give you the boost that you want.” Instead, she recommends looking for an immune-boosting formula that includes vitamins A, C, D and zinc. If you can’t find one, then take those vitamins separately.

Probiotics are also extremely important for immune function, so regularly ingest yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha or other fermented foods. In addition, a rampant inflammatory response is one of the drivers of severe COVID-19 symptoms, so Smith recommends a diet rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3. Fish, like salmon and sardines, are a good source, as are nuts and seeds.

To stock up on groceries that are healthy, Smith says it’s OK to switch over to frozen fruits and veggies, as the way produce is now flash-
frozen maintains nutrient values. For her shopping list, Smith is cutting down to the basics. “I’m sticking to canned chickpeas and kidney beans, frozen food and supplements as much as I can. I’m not doing a lot of fresh stuff.” Other recommendations include to skip sugar, but make sure you have some butter on hand, as it can last for months in your fridge, up to a year in your freezer and is a great source of vitamin A. Also, buy turmeric powder, which is a cheap anti-inflammatory, and protein powder for those times your grocery store may be out of your protein of choice.

For an extended Q&A with Smith, including an anti-inflammatory turmeric tea recipe and a healthy, non-perishable, cost-effective shopping list, see our online article, “COVID-19 Nutrition and Shopping Guide,” at

Quad Tip: Don’t use your mouth to grasp things that other people have touched.


How can I keep fit without leaving my house?

There are a million disruptions to life during this pandemic, but exercise doesn’t need to be one of them.  Having a few workout aids on hand, like resistance bands and wrist weights, would be ideal. But even if you can’t get any, it’s still possible to get your heart rate up and your muscles firing with nothing but your body. One of our favorite resources is the Youtube channel Adapt to Perform, which features a myriad of quality home workout videos. Most can be performed with minimal, or sometimes no, specialized equipment right from your wheelchair.

Additionally, the series, “Yoga for Paralysis,” by Quinn Brett is a great way to get an in-depth lesson in the multitude of physical and mental benefits that adaptive yoga can provide. For more info, check out “Stay at Home Wheelchair Workouts” at

Are deliveries safe to touch?

The short answer is yes. The CDC and the WHO agree that both food delivery packaging and packages received through the mail are considered very low-risk for COVID-19 transmission. Most important is to eliminate contact with delivery people — let the drivers drop packages outside and retrieve them after they’ve left, and whenever possible use delivery services with contactless payment for food. The WHO says, “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low, and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.”

It is possible that the virus could be present on locally delivered goods, like groceries or restaurant food, if it was handled by an infected person, but public health authorities don’t believe this to be a driver of transmission. Instead of sanitizing packaging, authorities recommend immediately throwing it away and washing your hands after transferring your food to your own plates or bowls. If you want to be extra cautious, consider following a more thorough disinfecting method, as Jean Dobbs outlines in her blog, “Five Strategies for Safe Shopping in the Time of COVID, at

How do I isolate when I need personal assistance?

If you use personal care assistance, there is no way to truly quarantine yourself. All you can do is be as proactive as your situation allows. If you have multiple PCAs, it is worth taking their individual situations and reliability into consideration so you can prioritize shifts for the people you are most confident in. Whether you have that flexibility or not, make sure to communicate to your aides how important it is for them to be careful in their personal lives and diligent about hygiene and proper COVID-19 protocol. If possible, provide protective gear for your employees and for yourself. Your PCA agency or service coordinator may help you with this.

If your homecare has been affected by this crisis, United Spinal Association wants to hear your story at

** This post was originally published on

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