During a global pandemic, there are several ways an individual can help prepare for and prevent the rapid spread of a novel coronavirus like COVID-19. While some are simple and others more challenging, knowing which options might be relevant for your circumstances will help you understand your risks and how to reduce them.

Reducing Exposure through Limited Outings

Even if your local officials have not declared a state of emergency and issued a subsequent stay-at-home order due to a coronavirus outbreak, you should reserve outings for taking care of necessities only. This can include grocery shopping, personal banking, attending medically necessary appointments that cannot be arranged for at-home or telehealth services and work that is considered an essential service.

Although the virus is spreading through airborne droplets, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not suggesting that we stop all activity. Being outdoors while at home, in your neighborhood or at local outdoor spaces should be safe as long as everyone maintains a safe social distance. In order to prevent large crowds from forming, many municipalities have closed public parks and recreation sites. Hiking trails and beaches are inaccessible to the public in some areas, and law enforcement is monitoring these areas to avoid public gatherings.

Shopping trips should be carefully planned to avoid the need to return to the store multiple times. Consider prioritizing shelf-stable or freezer-friendly food items so that you can wait longer between necessary trips. Make sure you have the prescription medications you need, and call ahead to the pharmacy to make sure your order is ready to be picked up before you head out.

Keeping Safe Distances in Social Situations

Social distancing has been encouraged during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to help “flatten the curve.” As a virus spreads, it reaches a peak infection rate before that rate begins to decline — pictured on a graph, this is shown as a curving arc. Without social distancing, this peak infection rate rapidly rises and it results in a much higher percentage of infected individuals (creating a higher curve) than when social distancing measures are in place (creating a flatter curve). This spike can cause hospital systems to be overwhelmed with patients, putting stress on medical providers and concerns over adequate numbers of beds, ventilators, and personal protective equipment.

The CDC recommends maintaining a 6-foot distance between people who are not quarantining together, or for those who are not diagnosed with COVID-19 but are quarantined with someone who is. To make visualizing the distance easier, some stores and public spaces have created markers for every 6 feet wherever a crowd or line may form. Without a marker, the best way to visualize this distance is to think of it as about the same length as a twin-size bed.

Knowing When to Use Masks and Gloves

It’s believed that wearing something that covers the nose and mouth while out in public can help minimize the chance of an infected individual from spreading COVID-19 to others or non-infected individuals from contracting the virus from others. However, this does not mean it stops the spread of the virus entirely. Unless the mask is a made to medical-grade standards that are proven to filter out contagions like COVID-19, it should not be assumed to be a totally effective against the virus. Unfortunately, there has been a shortage of appropriate masks available for health care workers, so the CDC has suggested making masks at home and leaving the commercial-grade N95 masks for those essential workers who are caring for COVID-19 patients.

Like masks, gloves can help minimize, but do not erase, the chance of contracting COVID-19. When in use, gloves should be changed regularly to avoid cross-contamination. This means wearing gloves while touching several potentially contaminated surfaces is no better than not wearing gloves at all, but some people prefer to wear gloves while out in public as a reminder to not touch their face or to wash their hands when they return home.

Masks and gloves can become limited during a health crisis like a novel coronavirus outbreak. Your local health services agencies or your own health care providers may be able to help you locate these supplies if you need them and can’t find them.

Practice Proper Hand-washing Timing and Techniques

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe the following situations as key times for hand-washing that helps prevent the spread of germs:

  • Prior to, during and after the preparation of food and after touching garbage.
  • Prior to eating food, treating wounds, taking care of someone with a contagious illness or who has been vomiting and had gastrointestinal distress.
  • After treating wounds, taking care of someone with a contagious illness or who has been vomiting and had gastrointestinal distress.
  • After using a bathroom toilet or cleaning up after a child or adult who has used a toilet.
  • After you blow your nose, sneeze or cough.
  • After you touch pet food or animal feed, pet treats, animals or their waste.

The CDC lists these five steps for following proper hand-washing standards:

  • Begin with wetting hands in running water, warm or cold.
  • Next, use soap to lather both hands, being sure to include the back of the hand, palms, between each finger and under the nail of each finger.
  • Continue to scrub your hands for 20 seconds or more. You can count or sing a short melody, like the “Happy Birthday” song to help you track the time.
  • Hands should be rinsed completely under clean, running water.
  • You should dry your hands with a towel you know is clean, disposable or not, or allow them to air dry.

Continue to monitor information from the CDC for the most up-to-date consensus on proven tips and tricks for preventing the spread of a novel coronavirus outbreak and managing your risk of exposure to COVID-19. To find out more from the CDC, click here.

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