How COVID-19 Spreads (and How to Lower Your Risk)

Here’s why experts are urging you to stop touching your face.

Loading the player...

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, experts want you to avoid close contact with others and avoid touching your face—but why? How does that help?

How COVID-19 Spreads

COVID-19 is a respiratory infection. That means when you contract it, it affects the respiratory organs like the lungs, sinuses, airways, and nasal cavity. Like the flu (another respiratory infection), it’s spread from person to person through tiny liquid droplets that spew from the nose or mouth when people speak, breathe, cough, or sneeze.

Say, for example, that someone who is infected with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes. They release infectious droplets, even if you can’t see them. If someone nearby inhales these droplets, they can become infected. The majority of COVID-19 infections appear to happen this way.

However, you can also pick up COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces. This method of transmission is less common, but it's still a concern. Here's how it works: Someone might cough into their hand and then touch a surface, such as a door knob. This leaves infectious germs on the surface of the door knob. If someone else touches this surface, and then touches their face, they can become infected if the virus enters their mouth, nose, or eyes.

How to Lower Your Risk

There are a few key ways you can reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19. This includes:

  • Wearing a mask or cloth face covering. You should wear a mask whenever you are in a public place or around people you don't live with. You should also consider "double masking." Stay updated on the guidelines about masking since they may evolve as continuous research sheds light on what works (and what doesn't).
  • Practice social distancing around people you don't live with. This means staying at least 6 feet apart and avoided crowded places.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is especially important before eating and preparing food, after using the bathroom, and after coughing and sneezing.
  • Get the COVID-19 vaccine when it's your turn. Check your state or local health department website to learn about the vaccine rollout and your eligibility.

Knowing how COVID-19 spreads, as well as how to slow the spread, can literally save lives. That said, it's not always easy to keep practicing these public health measures. These tips may help if you're struggling: