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Safety Practices Used by Mutual Aid Projects during the Coronavirus Pandemic (part 1)

These guidelines were developed in the context of forming groups in the US that need this knowledge to be able to safely engage in mutual aid (i.e.: to self educate so that we do not cause harm when we think we are helping). We share so that mutual aid groups in different contexts can borrow from them, and adapt them according to the contexts in which they are operating. The main message is that agreed upon protocols are very important.

Increasingly, individuals and loose groups in areas affected by Covid-19 are organizing to safely support those most at risk to suffer from the disease and the social consequences of the pandemic. We repost today two sets of safety rules considered by solidarity initiatives in the US and German contexts. The legal conditions in each place are promptly shifting and each group will need to function in observance of official restrictions in place in their own settings and attend to recommendations of local health authorities (where these recommendations exist, they have primacy).

The first set of safety protocols we post today has been circulating among US mutual aid groups. The version posted here has been edited by an affinity group that includes healthcare workers and doctors, that LeftEast editor Mary Taylor is part of. These guidelines were developed in the context of forming groups in the US that need this knowledge to be able to safely engage in mutual aid (i.e.: to self educate so that we do not cause harm when we think we are helping). We share so that mutual aid groups in different contexts can borrow from them, and adapt them according to the contexts in which they are operating. The main message is that agreed upon protocols are very important.



This document was produced in the US and is adapted from several sources, including the COVID-19/Coronavirus Mutual Aid Projects[i], to help us with mutual aid work and avoid spreading the virus to anyone. It’s important that each member of each collective agrees to and practices a set of protocols.  Ultimately, the protocols of different groups should end up looking very similar to lessen the risk of spreading the virus.


COVID-19/Coronavirus can be spread rapidly by asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals. Infection can be life-threatening, especially for elderly and immunocompromised people.

The virus is believed to be transmitted most commonly person-to-person:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within ~6 feet)
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes
  • Through touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. The virus can live for up to 3 days on various surfaces (as low as 1 hour for cardboard and fabric, longest for non-porous surfaces like metal).[1] [2]

People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest), but may also be contagious in the 1-14 days before they show any symptoms. As they recover and become asymptomatic, people continue to shed the virus for up to 37 days. People with very robust immune systems may be contagious even if they never show symptoms. [3] [4] [5]

This means that someone could become infected by proximity to an infected stranger in a crowded space or by touching a contaminated surface, by rubbing one’s eyes, or maybe just yawning with your hand over your mouth. They can then transfer it to surfaces.  In the many days before they experience any symptoms, if they experience them at all, they could then unwittingly spread the virus to anyone they come in contact with or touch the same surfaces as.   Accordingly, mutual aid participants must take careful precautions to decrease the risk of contracting the virus or spreading it to others, especially to elderly and immunocompromised people whom the mutual aid effort aims to support.


  • Wash your hands frequently between tasks and clean and disinfect surfaces in shared spaces.
  • Closely self-monitor your health.
    • Pay attention to your body. Do not ignore symptoms that you would normally ignore like exhaustion, fatigue, fevers, chills, body aches, or coughs.
    • If you have been exposed to anyone who is or has become ill or if you experience any symptoms of COVID-19/Coronavirus such as fever or coughing, follow CDC guidance and have someone else take over your mutual aid tasks.
  • Implement social distancing at all times, including in your personal life.
    • Avoid crowded spaces – public transit, bars, restaurants, gatherings, etc.
    • Maintain at least a 6′ distance with others.
    • Avoid touching the same items as others (like serving spoons, board game pieces, and joints/pipes/cigarettes/vapes).

          Avoid multiple participants being together to pick up, drop off, or manage supplies of  any kind.

  • Use additional precautions when handling mutual aid supplies.
    • Pick up supplies at off-peak times from less crowded stores/places.
    • Wear gloves and a mask (or clean bandana) when shopping, sorting, or distributing supplies and interacting with other participants and recipients.
    • Surgical masks are not perfect but significantly reduce the likelihood of exposing others or getting the virus yourself.
    • Between tasks and after touching any surface that may have the virus (like your face), change out your gloves and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water.
    • Routinely clean and disinfect storage and transport spaces (see guide here).
    • Clean and disinfect sealed nonporous items before distributing them (see guide here).
    • Transport items by bike, car, or foot instead of using public transit.
  • Minimize physical interaction between mutual aid participants.
    • Avoid multiple participants being together to pick up, drop off, or manage supplies of any kind. Set up shifts of individuals or very small groups.
    • When delivering goods, do not hand supplies off directly to recipients. Leave items outside recipients’ buildings or doors and knock/text/call the recipient; maintain at least 6 feet of distance between deliverers and recipients at all times. You still need to do this even if you have a mask.
    • Hold mutual aid project meetings via phone or video conference.
  • Deciding when to go to the hospital
    • Its important to know that traveling to the hospital or a clinic, and entering such facilities can put someone who is negative for the virus, at risk of exposure. Better to frequently wash hands, use a mask, and practice social distancing during this process.
    • Now that testing is being scaled up, individuals should have more access to such services. CDC still recommends contacting a clinician to get advice on whether to test or not for Coronavirus, however many cities are now expanding mobile testing centers and should search online for the closest testing site and guidelines for accessing such services
    • You are not invincible. There are many people at risk of developing more severe symptoms, including young people! Nearly 40% of hospitalized Coronavirus patients (in the USA) are between 20-54 years old. Other symptoms that require immediate attention in an ER, likely to be found in individuals with preexisting health conditions, include experiencing breathing difficulties, chest pain or pressure, constant dizziness or lightheadedness, difficulty waking up, slurred speech, seizures, and loss of consciousness. These individuals should immediately go to the hospital, or call 911 if they need help with transport. 


     –     Ensure each participant understands and agrees to the safety practices of the mutual aid project.

  • Create a list of mutually agreed-upon principles/practices for different levels of participation, so no individual person has to enforce them.
    • Make sure that people who don’t or can’t agree to the safety practices (ex. people who must continue to travel on public transit and/or work in close proximity to others, are caring for infected loved one, or personally refuse to adopt safety practices), do not handle provisions and take a role that is remote/digital role instead.  
    • Coordinate distribution of gloves, masks (or bandanas), cleaners, and disinfectants to people who join the mutual aid project.
    • Communicate regularly with other participants about safety practices. Create open channels for concerns and ideas. Keep up-to-date with evolving guidance from health officials. Make sure each person understands they are responsible to notice when they must move to a remote role.
    • Publicize the mutual aid project’s safety practices and work with other mutual aid projects to develop theirs. Make sure you have agreements in place with other groups you work with.
    • Watch for signs of stress, trauma, and burnout amongst participants. Encourage self-care, breaks, and honesty about individual and group capacity.  We need to pace ourselves.


According to the CDC, coronaviruses like COVID-19 can survive on surfaces anywhere from a few hours to a few days. While it’s more likely to catch COVID-19 from hard surfaces that are frequently touched, like doorknobs, railings, junglegyms, or subway interiors, there is still a chance it can be transmitted via clothes[6] or masks.

Although masks are efficient at curbing transmission, most of us will be using them in less than ideal situations. Wearing a single mask around town or during multiple “close” interactions likely means that they are not sterile. While they may be somewhat efficient when used by a person who knows they are sick from infecting another, they are less effective in keeping an uninfected person safe. One may infect themself by unskillfully removing their mask and touching their face, or infect other people by interacting with them after they have interacted with an infected person. Be aware of these limitations and do not believe that wearing a mask is a failsafe solution. When all supplies of masks are exhausted, use a scarf, handkerchief, or other cloth covering and wash daily.

Gloves too can carry the virus. Be sure to change your gloves frequently, between tasks. Remove them without touching he outside, and then wash your hands.


While there isn’t specific evidence of the virus infecting anyone by eating food, it’s good to know that scientists say the SARS virus is destroyed when heated to a temperature of at least 140°F (60° C) for 30 minutes. This may be the case with coronavirus. If people are preparing food for distribution, they should wear gloves at every step of preparation, serving or packaging, in addition to washing their hands.

As part of its recommendations to reduce the risk of transmission of emerging pathogens (such as coronavirus) from animals to humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that when buying food from live, wet, or wildlife markets, “The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.” WHO also says that people who work in slaughterhouses, veterinarians, and food inspectors should practice good personal hygiene, including frequent hand washing.

These are good recommendations for anyone who prepares food. Treat your food preparation as you always have,  and should: wash your hands well before preparing food and after handling raw foods such as meats, poultry, and fish. Wash your hands well after blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing, and after going to the bathroom. Don’t prepare food for others if you are sick. And always cook raw meats, poultry, and seafood to safe final internal temperatures, and check those temps with a reliable and accurate food thermometer. Every time.

Related Resources

QueerCare policy for doing support work during COVID-19 pandemic (link)