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25 Smart Ways to Stay Safe From Coronavirus

How to protect yourself and others during the pandemic

spinner image triptych of a hand covered in soap bubbles holding a bar of soap a six foot physical distancing sign on  floor and a face maska
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When it comes to the novel coronavirus, experts agree that everyday actions such as wearing a mask and staying home if you're sick are key to slowing the spread of COVID-19. But there's more. Here are 25 steps that doctors, experts and public health organizations recommend to protect your health — and the health of those around you.

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The Basics

1. Wear a mask. When you are around people who aren't part of your household — in public or not — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a nonmedical-grade face covering. Fabric masks and coverings can be purchased or fashioned from a variety of household materials — like this no-sew, DIY version from a sock.

2. Stay 6 feet from others. Social distancing isn't always easy, but it's another CDC recommendation. Whether you're at a local park or a grocery store, keep your distance from other people in public. Why? It helps slow the transmission of COVID-19, which is thought to spread mainly when respiratory droplets from an infected person's mouth or nose land in the mouth or nose of someone nearby.

3. Keep your hands clean. Yes, it's super basic. But make regular handwashing (like before cooking a meal and after using the restroom) a part of your routine. Pretend you are a surgeon, and lather with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. No soap and water? Use hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Also important: Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

4. Turn to trusted sources. It's easy to come across myths and misinformation about the coronavirus — especially online. For up-to-date, evidence-based information, visit trusted websites like those maintained by the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as AARP's coronavirus page. WHO also maintains an active COVID-19 "myth-busters” list. For example: Bleach and other disinfectants can help sanitize surfaces, but they should never be ingested or injected.

Running Errands

5. Go with “grocery alternatives.” Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist and professor at North Carolina State University, says that older adults and those at higher risk of COVID-19 complications should opt for alternatives to in-person grocery shopping. That includes delivery services, curbside pickup, or asking a family member or friend to shop on your behalf. If you need to shop in person, look for chains offering special hours for older customers.

6. Give online banking a go. Instead of visiting a local brick-and-mortar branch, create an online account via your bank's or credit union's website or app. This will allow you to perform most day-to-day banking activities — like checking account balances, making transfers and paying bills — from home, or wherever you have access to your smartphone or computer.

7. Disinfect at the gas pump. When it's time to fill up your tank, the CDC recommends using disinfecting wipes on gas pump handles and buttons before you touch them. Afterward, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol (and wash your hands again when you get home).

8. Go cash-free. Paying with cash requires handing off money to a cashier — plus there's no easy way to clean bills. Whenever possible, pay with a card (which can be safely swabbed with a disinfecting wipe) or look into touchless payment options, which let you scan your card or smartphone to pay — no swiping or keypad contact required.

At Home

9. Sanitize surfaces. Get in the habit of routinely cleaning “high-touch” surfaces such as tables, toilets and doorknobs. (FYI: Proper cleaning requires a wipe-down with soap and water before using disinfectant.) Cleaning is particularly important after a caregiver, family member or another guest has been inside your home.

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10. Keep pets socially distanced, too. Sorry, Fido. According to the CDC, pets are considered part of your household — meaning they shouldn't interact with people outside of it, or with any family members who become sick. (While a small number of pets have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, the risk of transmission from pets to people is thought to be low).

11. Limit gatherings. Move the party outside! The CDC recommends hosting social gatherings outdoors whenever possible and adhering to social distancing guidelines. If you must be inside, make sure the space is well ventilated. Regardless of location, encourage guests to bring their own food and beverages. Any guest who feels ill, or who has been in contact with someone with COVID-19, should not attend.

Recreation and Social Activities

12. Embrace the great outdoors. A day at the beach or a park is likely a safer option than gathering inside someone's home or at an indoor venue. Remember to keep your distance from others, even in outdoor spaces, and to wear a face covering when maintaining 6 feet of distance isn't possible.

13. Try online activities. In-person hobbies — from choir practice to book clubs — are going digital, thanks to videoconferencing platforms like Zoom. If you were previously part of a club or group that is no longer meeting in person, consider finding a virtual alternative, or ask your group leader about the possibility of moving meetings online.

14. Dine smart. Restaurants in certain states have returned to serving patrons indoors or at outside tables. The CDC recommends opting for outdoor seating with 6 feet of space between tables whenever possible. Takeout and delivery are also options for those tired of home cooking — and experts say the risk of contracting COVID-19 from either food or food packaging is low.

15. Put a pause on sharing. Normally, sharing during a social outing — whether it's sunscreen, towels or cooler storage space — is a sign of goodwill. Not so during a pandemic — not even at the swimming pool. “One can sort of say, ‘Well, it's been in chlorinated water.’ But I would just make sure that we get into the habit of what's mine is mine,” says Boris Lushniak, M.D., dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health and former acting and deputy U.S. surgeon general. “The whole issue of sharing things should become passé in the near future, at least."

16. Avoid handshakes and hugs. Greetings and goodbyes can be tricky at a time when avoiding close contact is key to staying safe. Etiquette expert Myka Meier recommends alternatives to traditional gestures — including a simple nod to say “hello.”


17. Be aware of advisories. You may face restrictions (like a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon entering certain states) when traveling domestically. Other forms of travel are discouraged by the CDC, including international travel and all cruises, including river cruises. Taking a plane? Get familiar with new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening procedures before you arrive at the airport.

18. Plan for “plan B." These days, it's important to have a backup plan in case you can't access restrooms, restaurants or trip activities as expected. For instance, AAA recommends that road trippers plan their routes — including gas, food and rest stops — and make arrangements for activities such as national park visits in advance, if possible.

19. Know before you book. Many hotels have announced ramped-up sanitization procedures and other practices (like contactless check-ins) to help maintain health and safety. Rental homes or condos are another option for travelers looking to avoid contact with staff or other guests and to cook their own meals. Don't be shy about asking how your accommodations are adapting during the pandemic.

Health and Wellness

20. Consider rescheduling nonurgent medical appointments. While some appointments can be safely delayed, others — such as follow-up cancer screenings — shouldn't be avoided because of pandemic fears. The bottom line? “It's really complicated,” says A. Mark Fendrick, M.D., a professor of internal medicine and director of the Center for Value-Based Insurance Design at the University of Michigan. Get in touch with your doctor for help determining whether you should head in for an office visit.

21. Ask your provider about telemedicine visits, which can be used to diagnose and treat a variety of routine concerns and to monitor chronic conditions. Mental health providers and specialists such as dermatologists also offer telemedicine appointments.

22. Be prepared for new in-office protocol. Depending on your health care provider, you may be asked to wait in your car or outside the office until you're called in for your appointment. Other changes, like a temperature check upon arrival, might also be in place.

23. Find in-person pharmacy alternatives. Drive-through pharmacy windows, curbside pickup, mail-order pharmacies and at-home delivery services are all alternatives to in-store visits. Another tip? If you have to go in person, ask your doctor about receiving a larger supply of medicine at one time, like increasing from a 30- to 90-day supply, to cut down on visits.

24. Stay home if you feel ill. If you develop symptoms such as a cough or fever, stay at home except to receive medical care (and call ahead before heading to the doctor's office). People who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should also isolate at home for 14 days after exposure, per CDC guidelines.

25. Know when to call 911. Don't put off medical treatment in an emergency if you or a loved one is experiencing a medical crisis such as a heart attack or stroke. People with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 should also seek emergency treatment if they experience warning signs such as trouble breathing or persistent chest pain, according to the CDC.

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