Since late December 2019, the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has infected well over a hundred thousand people in various parts of the world and killed more than 4,000 of them. Despite strict quarantine rules for millions of possibly affected people, the virus continues to spread. It is believed that the virus can lie dormant in its victims for up to two weeks, which means several people could be infected by the same carrier before he or she even knows about the illness.
As COVID-19 escalates to a true pandemic state, more and more people are beginning to worry about the threat of disease and how they can protect themselves and their families from harm. Experts are still trying to learn more about the transmissibility and severity of this virus, and in the meantime, the fear of the unknown is real for many of us.
Here are 10 things you can do to help keep yourself and your loved ones safe from COVID-19 during a potentially dangerous outbreak.
1. Wash your hands
We know you’ve heard this a thousand times before, but that’s because it’s important. Make sure you wash your hands often, especially before preparing or eating food, after using the bathroom, and after touching any shared surfaces. Scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds before rinsing.
2. Quit touching your face
You increase your likelihood of contracting the coronavirus if you use your unwashed hands to touch your face, especially your eyes, nose, or mouth, which are prime routes for the virus to enter your body. Try to avoid touching your face (unless you wash your hands first) to keep from contracting the virus.
3. Avoid contact with sick individuals
COVID-19 is believed to be transmitted through respiratory droplets produced by an infected person who sneezes or coughs. These droplets can linger in the air and be breathed in or can land on surfaces and be transmitted by touch. Your best bet to avoid illness is to stay away from large crowds, events, or social gatherings.
4. Clean frequently used surfaces
Cleaning the things you and your family touch frequently is another way to avoid contagious diseases. Remember to clean and disinfect surfaces like sinks, counters, door handles, railings, and light switches regularly. Cloth items, such as children’s lunch bags and backpacks, can be thrown in the washing machine and/or sprayed with disinfectant during flu season to keep them sanitary.
5. Don’t bother with a mask or a giant stockpile
Wearing a face mask is unlikely to keep you from contracting the coronavirus if you’re around someone who has it. Only N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) are really capable of filtering out tiny particles like harmful bacteria and viruses, and only if properly fitted tight to your face. Cheaper medical masks and dusk masks will not be very useful for preventing the COVID-19 virus from reaching your respiratory system.
The CDC currently does not recommend wearing any type of mask as a protection against COVID-19. Precautions such as frequent hand-washing and staying away from people who are ill are much more effective ways to prevent the disease from spreading. At this time, only healthcare workers in China and immunocompromised people who need to visit crowded public places should truly need to wear FFRs.
Similarly, there’s no point in hoarding large stockpiles of supplies. It may sound like a good idea just in case you have to go into quarantine, but please take a moment to think about how stockpiling makes the pandemic situation worse. Buying too much medicine, soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, masks, and other products means that those items become scarce and are no longer available to those who truly need them and maybe can’t go out to the store easily, such as the elderly and immunocompromised. It also contributes to the unnecessary mass hysteria, which perpetuates the cycle. If we’re going to combat this virus, we need everyone to have access to soap and other essentials. Buy only what you need so that everyone can have some!
6. Avoid traveling to infected areas
Because the virus can be spread before symptoms begin to show, it is best to avoid traveling to locations where COVID-19 is known to have spread. Older adults and immunocompromised people should suspend all travel at this time, according to the CDC, as the COVID-19 outbreak has now reached a global scale.
The CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China, Iran, South Korea, and most of Europe, as these areas have the greatest concentration of coronavirus cases. In some countries, such as Italy, the entire population is on lockdown, and people have been advised to stay home as much as possible.
7. Know the symptoms to look for
The more you know about the coronavirus, the better you can be prepared to do something about it when you spot it either in yourself or in someone else. Spreading knowledge about the virus (in lieu of hysteria) can help contain it and make sure it’s treated swiftly in those who have it. Some symptoms of the coronavirus include headache, cough, sore throat, fever, and an overall feeling of not being well. More severe COVID-19 infections may result in pneumonia or bronchitis and may have more serious symptoms, such as high fever, cough with mucus, shortness of breath, and chest pain or tightness.
8. Self-quarantine while ill
Chances are that if you get sick this season, you probably don’t have the coronavirus. All the same, it’s best to avoid giving your illness to anyone else by staying away from others, especially small children and the elderly, as much as possible for as long as symptoms persist.
If you or anyone in your household experiences any of the symptoms of COVID-19, however, please stay home from work or school and reach out to your doctor. Those who believe they may be infected with COVID-19 should quarantine themselves at home unless symptoms become severe (which may require hospitalization) or until symptoms disappear and the 14-day quarantine period is complete.
9. Cover your cough
If you have to be near others while you are sick (or even if you don’t), avoid spreading any illness by covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow every time you sneeze or cough. Then throw away the tissue and wash those hands again!
10. If you believe you or a family member may have COVID-19, stay home
The coronavirus can be deadly for the elderly and immunocompromised, so as soon as you believe you or someone in your household may have it, you should avoid being near others who might catch it and should seek medical advice on whether you need treatment. Self-quarantining for at least 14 days is very important to prevent the spread of the virus, regardless of whether symptoms persist for that long.
For many of us, the coronavirus is nothing to worry about, and it certainly isn’t worth panicking over. However, a little extra precaution won’t hurt anyone and could save lives. Use good common sense and personal hygiene and pay attention to news updates so that we can all stay as safe and healthy as possible!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?