Corona Virus, Smartphone Transmit ?

Will touching an infected user’s smartphone help spread the Corona Virus?

Photo serves as metaphor: a doll with say eyes has a a facemask partially covering her visage. This raises a question about the hygiene and safety of using the touchscreen on our phones.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: With the Covic-19 virus spreading, should I be worried if someone shares a smartphone with me? I was looking at some pictures my friends had on their phones,  and I had to touch their screens to scroll. Meanwhile, it seems like my kids are always passing their phones back and forth to look at YouTube.  And, how about those TV screens on airplanes?  Lance, San Francisco.

Dear Lance:  I am a doctor of social science, not a medical doctor, so I cannot fully give you the advice you seek. But, on the social science side of things, some years ago Stephen King wrote a thriller called ‘Cell.’ Phones were at the heart of the pandemic. It was the signal, not germs, that spread the illness.

But, what is spreading COVIC-19? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) site says it might spread by touching the surface of an object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes….but they don’t think that’s the main way. Still, it’s good practice to be careful if you have a shared phone that passes among people you do not know well. This is not uncommon among groups of itinerants, the homeless, and poor. They are more likely to share a common phone and might be at a higher health risk to begin with.

Assuming you have a personal phone, you will likely touch it up to 2000 times a day. Good hygiene, in any season, says keep your phone out of the bathroom. Also, make it a regular habit to wipe down the screen with a soft cloth (not soap and water). A Web-MD story says ultra-violet light might be a way to eliminate airborne flu viruses, but other experts, like a clinical professor of pathology, says these effects are superficial.

Time-tested sage advice from the CDC is to routinely wash your hands with a 60% + alcohol based cleaner, or with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

That said, transmission is not only about germs.  This gets us closer to social science and to the pandemonium Stephen King predicted. Speed of information and fragmented, half-truths can also broadcast fear and panic.

Phone Watch for Me?

Maxwell Smart, Agent 99, and their wearable devices

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I have never worn a phone watch, and am old enough to remember when Dick Tracy, the comic strip detective did have one. I see lots of folks my age wearing these watches and I am wondering if there are useful things to do with them or it just for style?  My kids got me one for Christmas but I have the option to return it. J. McQueen, Tiburon

Dear J. McQueen: So apropos that you remember Dick Tracy and his wrist gadget, rather than another pop-hero, Agent Maxwell Smart. Smart had to use footware, namely his covert shoe-phone for conversations!

I do worry, if people chose the wristwatch, that it could be  a constant source of distraction. It’s said that people  will glance at their check their wrist about 60 to 80 times a day. 

That said, your kids are on to something healthy!


There is lots of interest in the watch among older people. Business Insider did an informal survey and found that fifty-six percent of their panel over 73 years of age and 48 percent of Baby Boomers said they plan to buy an (Apple) watch.  Why? The watch hooks them up with FDA approved health features like an electrocardiogram (EKG) app, fall detection, diabetes monitoring, and the like.

Apple sold an estimated 33 million units of these watches in 2019 and one of the interesting trends is that so many older people are interested and more than half of the owners of the watch are women. This is unheard of in the geeky-gadget world.


From a transportation perspective, the watch may help you take ‘bigger footsteps’. You can use it to set a walking goal each day, and count your footsteps. One  very useful application  is to get directions and navigation.

In a different blog, I wrote about using devices with voice commands (like a pinkie ring) to have seamless, integrated travel trips. Hopefully you could use voice commands to navigate when you need directions, just like using WAZE in the car.  And, it’s entirely feasible  to use that watch to book a ride, pay the fare, get walking directions, and send updates to the people you are meeting up with. It will just take some time to learn all the steps (!), as well as putting a credit card on file.


These digital watches are said to be a “gateway product” to the future. If you chose to enter just be sure that when you wear it on your wrist, you wrestle with data sharing and privacy.