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Watching the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases grow can make you feel helpless. And although we all need to take steps to stay safe, some people have become needlessly fearful.
Some worry they may get infected when they handle mail or groceries, or just by breathing in the air when they run errands. In most cases, this fear is based on misinformation or by lack of information about how to protect yourself.
It helps to understand how you can get infected. If someone with the virus coughs or sneezes close to you, droplets with virus in them can spread to your eyes, nose or mouth. Or, if that person coughs or touches an object (such as a doorknob) which you touch, virus can get onto your hands. If you then touch your face, virus can get into your eyes, nose or mouth. These are the most likely ways people will become infected.
There are simple things you can do to help stop the virus’ spread and keep yourself and your community safer. A great place for more information and advice on coronavirus is on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
DO stay home
If you feel sick, stay home. If you feel fine, stay home. The goal is to avoid exposing others to the virus (especially those who are elderly or people who are medically vulnerable) and to prevent yourself from being exposed. It’s one of the best ways we can contain the spread of the virus and keep our hospitals from becoming overloaded.
DO plan carefully for trips outside
You may need to leave your home to work, buy necessities or get some exercise and fresh air. Be prepared when you do.
- Keep hand sanitizer with you and use it every time you re-enter your car or house.
- If you must touch doorknobs, push plates, elevator buttons, handrails or handles on sinks and paper towel dispensers, bring a tissue or other clean object to use and discard it after use.
- If possible, only ride an elevator when there’s no one else in it.
- After returning home, wash your hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or clean them with an alcohol-based sanitizer. (Even better: do this while you’re away from home, too.)
DO cover your cough or sneeze
Whether you’re at home or not, and whether it’s allergies, the common cold, or COVID-19, make this an everyday habit. Here’s how.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue, throw it away and then wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or clean them with an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- If you cough or sneeze into your arm or sleeve, your arm or sleeve may now be contaminated and can spread infection to anyone who touches it. You should regularly clean clothing, especially frequently worn items such as outer layers.
- If you cough or sneeze into your hand, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or clean them with an alcohol-based sanitizer.
DON’T visit crowded places
If you can, avoid going to areas where you could be in close contact with others. Stay at least six feet away from as many people as possible. Try to avoid:
- Public restrooms
- Buses, trains and airplanes
- Movie theaters
- Sporting events
- Meetings and conferences.
DON’T touch your face
- Don’t rest your face in your hands while sitting at a table or desk.
- If your face itches and you can’t resist scratching, don’t use your hands. Instead, use a clean object, such as tissue or a clean scrap of paper.
- If you have to touch your face, for example to use eyedrops, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitizer first, or wear clean, unused nitrile or vinyl gloves.
DON’T touch shared objects
There are more shared objects — things other people have touched — than you might realize, both in your home and out. If you have to touch these objects with bare hands, clean the objects with alcohol- or bleach-based sanitizing wipes first if possible. Be careful with:
- Cell phones
- Pens and pencils
- Water bottles and drinking glasses
- Dishes and eating utensils
- Cooking utensils
If you have to touch a shared object, wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer afterward and before you touch your face.
None of us have ever faced a pandemic like this before. But with commitment from everyone, we will get through it. We’re in this together and protecting yourself will protect those around you. Actions such as these will limit the number of people who get infected and make getting health care easier for those who need it.
Dr. Sam Dooley is a physician and medical epidemiologist who retired in January 2020 after 31 years of service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.