You’ve gotten the basics down: you’re washing your hands regularly and keeping your distance from friends and family. But you likely still have questions. Are you washing your hands often enough? How exactly will social distancing help? What’s okay to do while social distancing? And how can you strategically stock your pantry and medicine cabinet in order to minimize trips to the grocery store and pharmacy?
What can I do to protect myself and others from COVID-19?
The following actions help prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as other coronaviruses and influenza:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces every day. High touch surfaces include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables. A list of products suitable for use against COVID-19 is available here. This list has been pre-approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
What do I need to know about washing my hands effectively?
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and after handling anything that’s come from outside your home.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry.
- Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
- The CDC’s handwashing website has detailed instructions and a video about effective handwashing procedures.
What is social distancing and why is it important?
The COVID-19 virus primarily spreads when one person breathes in droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. In addition, any infected person, with or without symptoms, could spread the virus by touching a surface. The coronavirus could remain on that surface and someone else could touch it and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes. That’s why it’s so important to try to avoid touching public surfaces or at least try to wipe them with a disinfectant.
Social distancing refers to actions taken to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease. For an individual, it refers to maintaining enough distance (6 feet or more) between yourself and another person to avoid getting infected or infecting someone else. School closures, directives to work from home, library closings, and cancelling meetings and larger events help enforce social distancing at a community level.
Slowing down the rate and number of new coronavirus infections is critical to reduce the risk that large numbers of critically ill patients cannot receive life-saving care. Highly realistic projections show that unless we begin extreme social distancing now — every day matters — our hospitals and other healthcare facilities will not be able to handle the likely influx of patients.
What types of medications and health supplies should I have on hand for an extended stay at home?
Try to stock at least a 30-day supply of any needed prescriptions. If your insurance permits 90-day refills, that’s even better. Make sure you also have over-the-counter medications and other health supplies on hand.
Medical and health supplies
- prescription medications
- prescribed medical supplies such as glucose and blood-pressure monitoring equipment
- fever and pain medicine, such as acetaminophen
- cough and cold medicines
- antidiarrheal medication
- fluids with electrolytes
- soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- tissues, toilet paper, disposable diapers, tampons, sanitary napkins
- garbage bags.
Should I keep extra food at home? What kind?
Consider keeping a two-week to 30-day supply of nonperishable food at home. These items can also come in handy in other types of emergencies, such as power outages or snowstorms.
- canned meats, fruits, vegetables, and soups
- frozen fruits, vegetables, and meat
- protein or fruit bars
- dry cereal, oatmeal, or granola
- peanut butter or nuts
- pasta, bread, rice, and other grains
- canned beans
- chicken broth, canned tomatoes, jarred pasta sauce
- oil for cooking
- flour, sugar
- coffee, tea, shelf-stable milk, canned juices
- bottled water
- canned or jarred baby food and formula
- pet food
- household supplies like laundry detergent, dish soap, and household cleaner.
What should and shouldn’t I do during this time to avoid exposure to and spread of this coronavirus? For example, what steps should I take if I need to go shopping for food and staples? What about eating at restaurants, ordering takeout, going to the gym or swimming in a public pool?
The answer to all of the above is that it is critical that everyone begin intensive social distancing immediately. As much as possible, limit contact with people outside your family.
If you need to get food, staples, medications or healthcare, try to stay at least six feet away from others, and wash your hands thoroughly after the trip, avoiding contact with your face and mouth throughout. Prepare your own food as much as possible. If you do order takeout, open the bag, box or containers, then wash your hands. Lift, fork or spoon out the contents into your own dishes. After you dispose of these outside containers, wash your hands again. Most restaurants, gyms and public pools are closed; but even if one is open, now is not the time to go.
Here are some other things to avoid: playdates, parties, sleepovers, having friends or family over for meals or visits, and going to coffee shops — essentially any nonessential activity that involves close contact with others.
What can I do when social distancing?
Try to look at this period of social distancing as an opportunity to get to things you’ve been meaning to do.
Though you shouldn’t go to the gym right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. Take long walks or run outside (do your best to maintain at least six feet between you and non-family members when you’re outside). Do some yoga or other indoor exercise routines when the weather isn’t cooperating.
Kids need exercise too, so try to get them outside every day for walks or a backyard family soccer game (remember, this isn’t the time to invite the neighborhood kids over to play). Avoid public playground structures, which aren’t cleaned regularly and can spread the virus.
Pull out board games that are gathering dust on your shelves. Have family movie nights. Catch up on books you’ve been meaning to read, or do a family read-aloud every evening.
It’s important to stay connected even though we should not do so in person. Keep in touch virtually through phone calls, Skype, video, and other social media. Enjoy a leisurely chat with an old friend you’ve been meaning to call.
If all else fails, go to bed early and get some extra sleep!
Should I wear a face mask?
The CDC now recommends that everyone in the US wear nonsurgical masks when going out in public.
Coronavirus primarily spreads when someone breathes in droplets containing virus that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes or when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. But people who are infected but do not have symptoms, or have not yet developed symptoms, can also infect others. That’s where masks come in.
A person infected with coronavirus — even one with no symptoms — may emit aerosols when they talk or breathe. Aerosols are infectious viral particles that can float or drift around in the air. Another person can breathe in these aerosols and become infected with the virus. A mask can help prevent that spread. An article published in NEJM in March reported that aerosolized coronavirus could remain in the air for up to three hours.
What kind of mask should you wear? Because of the short supply, people without symptoms or without exposure to someone known to be infected with the coronavirus can wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth. They do help prevent others from becoming infected if you happen to be carrying the virus unknowingly.
While N95 masks are the most effective, these medical-grade masks are in short supply and should be reserved for healthcare workers.
Some parts of the US also have inadequate supplies of surgical masks. If you have a surgical mask, you may need to reuse it at this time. But never share your mask.
Surgical masks are preferred if you are caring for someone who has COVID-19 or you have any respiratory symptoms (even mild symptoms) and must go out in public.
Masks are more effective when they are tight-fitting and cover your entire nose and mouth. They can help discourage you from touching your face (be sure you’re not touching your face more often to adjust the mask). Masks are meant to be used in addition to, not instead of, physical distancing.
The CDC has information on how to make, wear, and clean nonsurgical masks.
The WHO offers videos and illustrations on when and how to use a mask.
Is it safe to travel by airplane?
Stay current on travel advisories from regulatory agencies. This is a rapidly changing situation.
Anyone who has a fever and respiratory symptoms should not fly if at all possible. Even if a person has symptoms that feel like just a cold, he or she should wear a mask on an airplane.
Is there a vaccine available?
No vaccine is available, although scientists will be starting human testing on a vaccine very soon. However, it may be a year or more before we even know if we have a vaccine that works.
Can a person who has had coronavirus get infected again?
While we don’t know the answer yet, most people would likely develop at least short-term immunity to the specific coronavirus that causes COVID-19. However, that immunity could want over time and you would still be susceptible to a different coronavirus infection. Or, this particular virus could mutate, just like the influenza virus does each year. Often these mutations change the virus enough to make you susceptible, because your immune system thinks it is an infection that it has never seen before.