HealthHealth | Infections | March 5, 2020 | By Lauren Smith

What to Do If Coronavirus (COVID-19) Affects Your Community

#3: Wash your hands.

What to Do If Coronavirus (COVID-19) Affects Your Community

Milos Dimic / Getty Images



Luckily, the majority of people who have fallen victim to COVID-19, the disease causing the global outbreak that started in December 2019, have experienced mild to moderate symptoms. Still, you want to do your best to prevent the spread of the disease. After all, you might handle the disease fine, but you could pass the virus on to someone who is more vulnerable to serious, life-threatening complications—and you don’t want to be a conduit for someone else’s tragedy.

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COVID-19—commonly known as coronavirus—is very contagious. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report on February 24, 2020, of COVID-19’s effect in China: In Wuhan, each infected person resulted in two to three more cases, on average. These are early statistics, but they give a potential picture into what the United States might expect.


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What happens if COVID-19 shows up inside your city limits? It’s important to accept this may be a possibility, and to be prepared. Here’s what experts at WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend to reduce the spread of COVID-19:


1. Cover your coughs and sneezes—either with a tissue or elbow.


Throw tissues away afterwards and wash your hands (see #3). Like the cold, flu, or other respiratory illnesses, COVID-19 spreads through tiny, infectious droplets emitted from an infected person’s nose or mouth when they talk, sneeze, cough, etc.

Coughing or sneezing into your hands is better than not covering your mouth at all, but it can aid the spread of the disease because you could contaminate surfaces that you touch afterwards. If you cough or sneeze into your hands, make sure to wash or sanitize your hands ASAP.


2. Isolate yourself at home if you have respiratory symptoms.


The most common symptoms associated with COVID-19, according to the previously mentioned WHO report, were fever, dry cough, fatigue, mucus production, and shortness of breath.

Staying at home when you are sick—even if it’s not COVID-19—can help reduce the spread of diseases. Fewer people who are sick (whether from COVID-19, the seasonal flu, or other infections) means fewer beds and resources being taken up in healthcare facilities, allowing doctors to give better care to vulnerable populations.


3. Wash your hands.


This is one of the most effective things you can do to protect yourself, your family, and your community. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating, after using the bathroom, or after coughing or sneezing. No sink around? Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Whether using soap or hand sanitizer, be sure to lather up easy-to-miss areas of the hands, such as the back of the hands, the wrists, and in between fingers.


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4. Sanitize frequently touched surfaces.


Pathogens can spread if someone touches an infected surface and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. (This is why you commonly hear experts recommend trying not to touch your face.) Regularly clean countertops, bathroom sinks, doorknobs, faucet handles, and anything that gets touched frequently in your home.


5. Limit face-to-face contact with others.


Infected individuals may take five or six days before showing symptoms, and in rare cases, they may carry the virus without showing symptoms at all. In other words, your friend could be sick and contagious, even if they don’t feel sick. (But don't panic: Asymptomatic cases are not common.)

When COVID-19 is in your community, your local officials may even respond by closing schools and other facilities, or by canceling major events. Even if they don't, reconsider attending events with large crowds.


6. Talk to your doctor if you have a risk of complications.


Your healthcare provider may have additional recommendations for you, such as following a voluntary home quarantine to prevent contracting the novel coronavirus. Those at risk of complications include people over 60 years of age, and people with underlying conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer, according to WHO.

Notably, misinformation about COVID-19—and the best ways to prevent the disease or cure it—has been rampant, so be cautious about whom you are receiving advice from. Despite what you may see on social media, there is no single food, nutrient, herb, etc., that can prevent or “cure” COVID-19. The best you can do is have good hygiene practices to protect yourself and others.

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It’s important to know the risks during an outbreak, and to stay informed about the best ways to protect yourself. Learn more about preventing respiratory illnesses here.

Reviewed by: Preeti Parikh, MD . Review date: March 4, 2020
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