Despite the gradual reopening of the U.S., the coronavirus is still circulating. Even if you are going back to work, eating out at restaurants, or gathering in groups, it is wise to continue to observe some healthy guidelines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should still be washing their hands, practicing social distancing, and disinfecting surfaces. Vivek Cherian M.D., an internal medicine doctor, says, “The most important 3 things to protect others as well as yourself include practicing social distancing, keeping surfaces clean, as well as monitoring your personal hygiene.”
“Social distancing can actually save lives. … The reason for this is respiratory droplets (when you cough, sneeze, and even talk) can be inhaled by people around you and therefore spread the disease,” says Cherian. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home. Put distance between yourself and other people outside of your home. If possible, maintain 6 feet between yourself and other people. Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread virus. Do not gather in groups and stay out of crowded places. Keeping distance from others is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick, such as the elderly and those with underlying health issues.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Cherian says to remember to, “always cough or sneeze towards the inside of your elbow … and avoid touching your face!” If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. If surfaces are dirty, clean them. Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. Then, use a household disinfectant. Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work. Cherian reiterates that it is, “…extremely important to keep surfaces clean around you, especially high touch areas such as door handles and even your cell phones.”
The CDC now also recommends that everyone in the U.S. 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.
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.
Most importantly, monitor your own health. Be alert for symptoms. Watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19. This is especially important if you are running essential errands, going into the office or workplace, and in settings where it may be difficult to keep a physical distance of 6 feet. Take your temperature if symptoms develop. However, don’t take your temperature within 30 minutes of exercising or after taking medications that could lower your temperature, like acetaminophen. Follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop.