As the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19), continues to climb around the globe, one of the top questions people are asking is: What can we do to prevent it from spreading? It's a stressful time, to be sure — but there are simple, specific steps you can take to protect yourself and others from becoming infected.
The first defense is washing your hands — often.
You’ve heard it before but we’ll say it again: Get your hands soapy and scrub, scrub, scrub. This is one of the most important things you can do. “It's the most effective way to prevent illness and infection," says Nipunie Rajapakse, M.D., M.P.H., a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist. "We know viral particles that end up on your fingers and hands can be transmitted to other people.”
Whenever possible, get to a sink and wash your hands after being out in public or touching a common surface others may have touched, after coughing or sneezing, and before cooking and eating. Be sure to get every part of your hands and fingers — palms, fingertips, under your nails, between your fingers, and even the tops — and wash them for at least 20 seconds. If there’s no sink nearby, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content until you can get to one.
Stay home, especially if you're not feeling well.
“Limit how much time you spend out in public or around others. It’s unusual for us to be living this way, but it’s one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of germs, and it’s necessary over the next few weeks to see if we can halt the spread of this virus from person to person,” says Carl Fichtenbaum, M.D., of the infectious disease division at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
Work from home if you can, walk or travel by car instead of public transportation whenever possible, and avoid traveling for leisure. When you're not working, “try to keep a positive attitude by catching up on projects you’ve been putting off or watching Netflix shows you haven’t had time to watch,” Dr. Fichtenbaum suggests.
If you have symptoms of the common cold or flu (which coronavirus may mimic) and are a healthy individual with no underlying medical conditions, you should absolutely stay home. For those who live with others, let your housemates handle the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, and whenever possible isolate yourself in your own area. "Social distancing has been shown to be effective in slowing the spread of infection during many outbreaks in the past,” says Dr. Rajapakse.
In the event that symptoms worsen or you suspect that you need to be tested for coronavirus, call a doctor to see where testing is available — avoid just showing up at an urgent care clinic or the emergency room unless you have severe symptoms such as high fever, very low body temperature, shortness of breath, confusion, or feel like you might pass out, Harvard experts recommend.
People who are older than age 60, are pregnant, or have a condition such as heart disease, diabetes, or a suppressed immune system, should call a doctor as soon as any symptoms arise, no matter how mild or severe — these populations seem to be hardest hit by coronavirus, so it’s critical to get medical attention and testing as soon as possible.
Remember respiratory hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette.
Whether you’re under the weather or feeling perfectly fine, it’s a good idea to hit pause on all types of touching — that means kissing, hugging, hand shakes, high fives, fist bumps, and elbow rubs. If you’re around others, keep some space between you — an arm's length, says Dr. Fichtenbaum.
And remember to cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue and then immediately wash your hands. This will help prevent the spread of germs or viral particles.
Be diligent about disinfecting.
Thoroughly sanitize all common use surfaces — countertops, bathrooms, remotes, computers — with disinfectant wipes or spray. You should also clean your cellphone. If you brave the gym, wipe down machines and weights with disinfectant wipes before and after use — and maintain a distance of 3 to 6 feet between you and other exercisers.
We know it's hard, but try to bring down your stress levels.
Stress can deliver a hit to our immune system, so do what you can to remain calm. So that you're getting accurate information, “I suggest signing up for the alert systems provided by your local government," says Jie Xu, Ph.D., professor of communications who conducts public health research at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "Don’t argue with people on Facebook, which just adds another layer of stress, and consider limiting your time on social media so you avoid misinformation and constant bad news.”
Also, get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, hydrate, and exercise, says Kelly Morrow, M.D., R.D., of Bastyr Center for Natural Health at Bastyr University in Seattle. And all of these things will do a lot for your overall health, now and in the future.