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Four ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19

  1. Pay attention to personal hygiene. Yes, we know you’ve heard all this a million times already. It bears repeating. There are a lot of things we don’t know about this virus, but we do know it spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Other individuals may be infected when they touch a surface that has virus particles on it and then touch their own mouth, nose, or eyes. Hand hygiene is the very best weapon in any fight between human and contagious disease.
    • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Don’t touch your face. This is a lot harder than it sounds and requires conscious effort. The average person touches their face 23 times an hour, and about half of the time, they’re touching their mouth, eyes, or nose — the mucosal surfaces that COVID-19 infects.
    • Cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of your elbow or upper arm.
    • Stay home if you are feeling sick, and seek appropriate medical guidance.
  2.  Practice “social distancing.” Social distancing is exactly what it sounds like: keeping your distance from other people. It’s often used to describe public health measures imposed by local governments — measures like quarantining the sick, closing schools, and canceling public gatherings. And, when it’s done early enough during a pandemic illness, it’s been shown to save lives. Here’s how to do it:
    • Keep your distance. The number of people in any given location is important, but density is even more important. Stay at least six feet away from others — the distance respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze are thought to travel. Protect yourself by staying out of range.
    • Make your meetings virtual. Or postpone meetings entirely.
    • Don’t hug or shake hands. If you have to meet with someone in person, stay at least six feet apart, and find an alternative greeting. While research has shown that fist bumps —and even high fives — transfer far less bacteria than a handshake, no-contact options are better. Tip your hat, wave, or curtsy.
    • Make a conscious effort to avoid crowds.  For example, think about walking or riding a bike to get where you’re going instead of taking the subway or a bus. 
  3. Wear a mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a non-medical-grade, cloth face covering in public settings where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing, such as grocery stores. This is because we now know that people infected with the virus are most contagious during the 72 hours before they develop symptoms. In addition, a significant number of other individuals who are infected with the virus remain asymptomatic but able to infect others. By blocking a significant amount of respiratory secretions, your mask protects others, and their masks protect you.
  4. Keep surfaces clean. While we know that the virus is primarily spread from person to person, it is theoretically possible to contract COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface and then, inadvertently, touching your mouth, nose or face. In any case, we know that the virus is susceptible to disinfectants. Here’s some cleaning tips:
    • Use the right product. According to the CDC, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective against the COVID-19 virus. See the CDC’s environmental cleaning and disinfection recommendations and this list of EPA-registered disinfectants.
    • Use the product right. First, clean dirt off of the surface. Then wipe the surface with disinfectant. Leave the surface wet with disinfectant for as many minutes as the product instructions require. This is a vital step that people often miss. It’s not enough to just wipe the surface and go.
    • Clean the right surfaces.
      • High-touch areas such as door handles, phones, remote controls, light switches, and bathroom fixtures.
      • Horizontal surfaces such as countertops, kitchen tables, desktops and other places where respiratory droplets could land.
      • AND your mobile phone! It’s filthy. Did you wash your hands and then touch that phone? Just like that, you’re re-contaminated.
    • Do not reuse disinfectant wipes on multiple surfaces. This can transfer germs from the used wipe to other surfaces. Use one wipe for each surface and then throw it out.
    • Do not dry surfaces after wiping them down. Surfaces you are disinfecting need to stay wet for the amount of time listed on the label. The contact time with the disinfectant is what actually kills the germs. 

This virus is likely to be with us for many months or years, so developing these habits is a good long-term strategy for keeping our community healthy. And, don’t forget, COVID-19 is not the only germ in town. Seasonal influenza, colds, and other viruses will continue to be a concern, so good hand hygiene and proper disinfection practices are habits that never go out of season.