Faced with increasingly widespread fears of a COVID-19 pandemic, what practical measures can a person take to avoid the infection right now? Read our hands-on guide from official sources.
Tens of thousands of cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 have been confirmed by public health officials so far.
This situation has caused many people around the world to feel anxious about becoming infected, and concerns about how to keep COVID-19 at bay are plentiful in social media outlets and public fora.
This Special Feature is a handy guide that describes the best ways to avoid respiratory infection at home, at work, at school, and during travel.
The guidelines we discuss are based on those from official sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Red Cross, as well as our communication with a WHO spokeswoman.
How to stay safe where you live
“Based on the information provided so far and our experience with other coronaviruses, COVID-19 appears to spread mostly through respiratory droplets (for example, when a sick person coughs) and close contact,” Nccmed told a WHO spokesperson.
In light of that detail, the spokesman said, the WHO is recommending preventive measures to reduce droplet exposure.
People can take the following measures to prevent infection during day-to-day activities, in compliance with recommendations from the WHO:
- Clean the hands regularly with an alcohol-based sanitizer, or wash them with soap and water. The CDC also make this recommendation, advising that sanitizer should contain “at least 60% alcohol” and that people should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Clean surfaces — such as kitchen seats and work desks — regularly with disinfectant.
- Avoid crowded areas when going out, for people over 60 years old and people with any underlying health problems.
- Try to avoid close contact with people who display flu-like symptoms, including coughing and sneezing.
- Get accurate information about COVID-19. Some good sources include the Pan American Health Organization and WHO websites.
The American Red Cross often warn against rubbing when out and about the mouth, nose, or eyes, before having a chance to wash the hands.
The CDC also advises that you take the flu shot to avoid any common respiratory infections.
How to stay safe at work and school
In the sense of an outbreak, work and school environments may seem especially overwhelming, but some simple measures may help prevent in-office or classroom infections.
They are nearly identical to the ones mentioned above. According to WHO guidelines, the most effective preventive measures are as follows:
- Regularly clean work surfaces and objects in continual use, such as phones and computer keyboards.
- Regularly wash the hands with soap and water or use sanitizer.
CDC officials have been urging those worried about the potential impact of COVID-19 in recent telebriefings to get in contact with employers and schools and find out exactly what response plans they have in place.
How to stay safe while traveling
For people who are planning to travel, all of the same basic hygiene recommendations apply. The WHO advise:
- cleaning hands on a regular basis
- keeping at least 1 meter’s distance from people who are coughing or sneezing
- following COVID-19-specific travel advisories from local authorities
The CDC provide extensive, frequently updated information.
What if you have flu-like symptoms?
What happens if you start experiencing flu-like symptoms despite your best attempts to stay healthy?
The WHO spokesperson who responded to Nccmed queries offered the following advice:
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue, then dispose of the tissue immediately and clean your hands.
- If you feel unwell, stay home and call your doctor or a local health professional.
- If you develop shortness of breath, call your doctor and seek care immediately.
- If you are sick: Stay home, eat and sleep separately from others in the house, and use different utensils and cutlery.
The spokeswoman for the WHO also gave us some travel-related advice for people who have flu-like symptoms and are either considering traveling or just coming back from a trip.
They explained that:
- Anyone with a fever or cough should avoid traveling.
- Anyone who develops symptoms on a flight should inform the crew immediately and, once home, contact a health professional and tell them about the locations visited.
Be prepared, but do not panic buy
What if you are developing COVID-19, or a health care provider thinks you have it, and you need to stay at home for an extended period of time? How do you prepare? A few experts in public health have offered advice.
“If you or a friend or family member needs some prescription medication, make sure that you have a good supply, for example, worth at least 4 weeks,” says Prof. Peter Openshaw, from Imperial College London, UK.
As for food and other necessities, “Don’t buy panic,” he advises, “but do buy some extra supplies when you go shopping normally. Don’t worry about wildlife.’
Additional public health resources
Here are some other official resources that can help you stay in good health:
- an online course on “nonpharmaceutical countermeasures in relation to COVID-19” from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
- a CDC guide on “when and how to wash your hands”
- CDC guidelines on preventing the spread of COVID-19 in communities
- CDC guidelines on what to do if you have COVID-19
- the WHO Information Network for Epidemics
- the Red Cross COVID-19 info hub
“[It’s] natural and understandable to be anxious, particularly if you’re living in an affected county or community,” the WHO spokeswoman informed nccmed. Speaking to our readers, they added:
“Find out what you can do in your community and discuss how to stay safe with your workplace, school, or place of worship.”