The COVID-19 Q&A

I've been getting a few camera gear questions that relate directly to COVID-19 in some way. I'll treat these like I do other email questions I get where I believe a group answer would be useful. So here goes:

"How do I sanitize my camera? I put it up against my face, after all."

No one knows for sure what the survivability of the virus is on various surfaces, so if you're concerned about your camera being up against your face and possibly transferring the virus (or bacteria, or fungi, or whatever), the general practice most of us use is pre-wet Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) wipes.

This is where it gets a little tricky. Alcohol is most effective at killing a coronavirus with some water content. That's why everyone recommends Purell-type sanitizers for your hands, which are 60-75% alcohol. A little bit of water (or gel) content breaks down the outer surface of the virus, the alcohol does the rest. You can get 60% IPA wipes, but they'll have water moisture in them, and you definitely don't want any of H2O getting into the camera where it might touch the electronics, so be much more careful when using them. 

Personally, I use Klex Technical Cleaning Wipes, which are 99% IPA. Not as effective at disabling the virus, but also not likely to cause water damage to anything. 

No matter which wipe you use, you don't immediately dry the camera off. Let the wetting dry on its own. If that leaves streaks, use another wet cloth and dry immediately. Obviously, don't over wet things if you're using a diluted IPA that has water.

I suppose you could also use a UV-C sterilizer light, but these are pricey, aren't usually standards tested or rated, and UV-C isn't something you want to be fooling around with, as improper exposure can have the same effect on your skin as it does to viruses (e.g. penetrates the cell walls and damages the thymine molecules in the DNA). 

Finally, remember that one way that the virus might be transferred to your camera (and eventually to your face) is your hands. Wash your hands frequently, preferably using soap and water for 20 seconds+. 

"What about packages I receive? Particularly stuff coming over from Asia."

Again, we don't know the exact surface survivability rates of COVID-19. There does not seem to be any anecdotal evidence that the virus is spreading via packaging. That said, you'll note that all the package delivery services have their employees using gloves now. If you want to feel safer, wear your own gloves before handling the package, open and dispose of the outer packaging quickly (it's more likely to have been handled by multiple people on its way to you). If the item you received is washable, consider washing it (or consider the IPA wet wipe method noted above). Generally, most camera gear is cleaned at the factory before boxing, so I'm not worried if I skip the last step. When done with unpacking and have disposed of your gloves properly, wash your hands thoroughly.

"Why did the government shut down the National Parks and other lands? I wouldn't be anywhere near another person while taking landscape photos."

The important words here are "an abundance of caution." And it's not caution about you catching COVID-19 while out in the middle of a field photographing. Instead it is caution concerning two things: (1) availability of local health resources; and (2) the "pollination" effect of people moving around between areas. 

No matter how hard you try, you're going to be interacting with people on your way out to the woods and back. Gas stations, drive-throughs, bathrooms, officials at gates, etc. The whole notion of self-isolate is simple: stop the movement and interaction between as many random sets of humans as possible. The more you control that, the faster the virus dies out. If we all truly self-isolate to the max, the R-naught is driven down well below an R-effective of 1, and as close to 0 as possible. 

Thus, the government doesn't want you to be a bee that can cross pollinate. Moreover, if you think you're healthy but actually are carrying the virus, you're pollinating into those remote communities that simply don't have the level of healthcare they'd need to deal with a severe crisis like this were it to spread there. Seriously.  

I understand that some people want someone, something to be mad at. I'd say this: you should turn your anger at your government for not having following established pandemic plans and having resources in place when they knew this was coming. Most governments ignored the early warning signs and didn't follow their long-established procedures. It's almost like your Fire Station didn't train for and then follow procedures at a fire, and, oh, by the way, they also didn't have enough hoses for a big fire. You'd vote out the folk that caused such a problematic fire response, and you should vote out the folk that are badly fumbling the COVID-19 response in our governments. 

Moreover, you should now be realizing that this global pandemic virus shows us just how unready we would be for actual climate change. Climate change will likely also be a full-blown global crisis at some point if we don't start acting more responsibly. Elect officials that know how to prepare and plan, and have shown they know how to execute plans.

"At least this virus will stop all the cross-border wildlife trafficking."

Nope. Not even close. While I believe the so-called wet markets in China need to be completely shut down—and not just for food, but more importantly for all the faux medical uses—doing so will just drive the market underground. Prices would go up, and because of that, the potential payout to poachers would go up, too. 

Unfortunately, this is already happening. With the tourism trade completely shut down in Botswana, for example—I'd be there teaching a workshop right now if it weren't for the virus shutdown—the poachers have gotten more aggressive. That's because the tourists aren't there to see them. Poaching was already happening more extensively in Botswana in 2019, mostly along the Northern border. According to local sources, the poachers are even more active at the moment. The BDF (Botswana Defense Force, which does the primary poaching patrols) engaged in a gunfire exchange with poachers within Chobe National Park. Meanwhile in the Okavango Delta, a black rhino apparently was killed by poachers. This was after an earlier incident where both a BDF officer and a poacher died in a shootout at a rhino poaching on Chiefs Island, one of the more famous tourist locations in Botswana. 

To stop wildlife trafficking of any sort, we need stronger regulation and enforcement, and we'll need to chase the practitioners down into the black markets when the easier to see commercial markets are shut down. If anything, getting the remaining trafficking shut down will take more effort, not less.

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