How COVID-19 Spreads + How to Prevent It

It all comes down to a little thing called “infectious respiratory droplets.”

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“A lot of my patients, family, and friends are all asking me, 'Well, how do I get coronavirus and how do I protect myself from it?'” says Preeti Parikh, MD, pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital and Chief Medical Officer at HealthiNation.

COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) is a respiratory infection, just like the common cold and the seasonal flu. While these are all caused by different types of viruses, they spread in similar ways: through infectious respiratory droplets. 

Here’s an uncomfortable truth: When people cough and sneeze, they emit these tiny respiratory droplets that can travel as much as 6 feet. If that person is carrying an infection, those droplets help the virus travel and infect others (gross, but true). 

To minimize your risk of COVID-19, follow these tips:

Keep your distance.

“If you’re standing within 6 feet of a person who is infected, you have a higher likelihood of contracting the infection,” says Dr. Parikh. That’s why public health experts recommend keeping at least 6 feet of distance between you and others to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Learn more about social distancing practices here.)

Avoid touching frequently touched surfaces.

“These infectious droplets can also be found on multiple types of surfaces, so when you’re out using public transportation or in public, be careful of touching multiple types of surfaces because we don’t know exactly how long these droplets can last,” says Dr. Parikh. If you must touch something in public, wash your hands afterwards.

Cough + sneeze into your elbow.

This can help keep any infectious droplets off your hands (even if you don’t think you have COVID-19). Once they’re on your hands, it’s too easy to spread those viral particles on other surfaces, so you can avoid that by sneezing into your elbow instead.

Avoid close physical contact.

“Please don’t shake hands. Instead, use an elbow bump,” says Dr. Parikh. “When you are hand-shaking with somebody else, they may not realize that they have the virus, and [when] they shake your hand [then] those virus particles get transferred.”

If you are in a group who is considered to be at a higher risk of complications or severe symptoms from COVID-19, you might want to practice additional precautions. Here are tips for at-risk individuals to prevent COVID-19.

“Doing these small steps can really help protect you, your family, and friends from getting sick,” says Dr. Parikh.