It’s a running headline these days: New cases of coronavirus are on the rise across the country, along with hospitalization rates and deaths from Covid-19.
And with the onset of winter, health experts say it will only get worse as more people congregate indoors to avoid the cold.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended that Americans stay home for Thanksgiving and not mix with people outside your home.
How else can you protect yourself and those you love? Here’s a reminder on the basics.
You Asked, We Answer: Your Top Coronavirus Questions
Wear a mask properly
It’s simple, but wearing a mask properly is one of the most important ways to protect yourself and those around you, health experts say.
A recent report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington found that if 95% of Americans wore masks, nearly 70,000 lives would be saved.
N95 masks offer the best protection, but they are rare and the CDC is asking people not to go out and buy them because they are urgently needed by health workers.
Washable, breathable sheet masks will do the job, but they should have at least two layers – three are better – and you can add a filter for extra protection.
Masks should cover both your nose and mouth and should fit snugly with no gaps.
Goggles or face shields aren’t necessarily recommended for eye protection if you’re not a healthcare worker or are in high-risk situations, health experts have said.
Do not know how to choose a mask? Check out these guidelines.
wash your hands
Washing your hands frequently is still one of the most basic and easy things you can do.
Lather and rub your hands, fingers and under your fingernails for at least 20 seconds. Use clean running water to rinse well, then scrub them to dry.
Washing for at least 20 seconds has been shown to kill more germs than washing for shorter periods. Singing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing can work as a “timer”.
Frequent hand washing will also protect you from all kinds of harmful bacteria and viruses other than the novel coronavirus, including the flu and the common cold.
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Use hydroalcoholic gel
It’s not as good as washing your hands with good old fashioned soap, but hand sanitizer can be used when it’s not an option.
It is important that both of your hands are completely covered, including between the fingers and under the fingernails. Rub your hands together until they are dry. Use it liberally if your hands are oily or really dirty, as the sanitizer might not be as effective in this case, according to the CDC.
Unlike the start of the pandemic, hand sanitizer is relatively easy to find in stores, so don’t try to make your own. Health experts say getting the right strength of alcohol is essential to deactivate the virus.
Check out this list of over 100 dangerous hand sanitizers to avoid. Some contain methanol, which can be fatal. Others don’t have enough alcohol.
Reduce your risks
The best thing to do is stay home, if possible, and reduce the risk by reducing errands and trips to the store.
Not everyone has the luxury of doing this, of course. But social distancing – keeping six feet between you and others outside your home – and wearing a mask are essential.
The safest place outside your home is outdoors. But even there, you need to keep your distance from people you don’t live with.
You can also reduce the risk by buying take-out food instead of eating in restaurants and avoiding public transportation if possible.
Going to bars and nightclubs is considered one of the riskiest things you can do.
With coronavirus infections soaring across the country, the coming winter will only make matters worse as people spend more time together indoors.
And there is always the possibility that you will need to quarantine yourself if you come into contact with someone infected with the virus.
Reduce your exposure and be prepared to stay home stocking up.
Public health officials advise having two weeks of food on hand. Having the pantry fully stocked will also reduce your trips to the grocery store.
Make sure you have enough cleaning and disinfection supplies and that your medicine cabinet is stocked with cough drops and syrup for cough symptoms, decongestants for congestion, acetaminophen and ibuprofen for pain and fever, and anti-diarrhea drugs. Keep adhesive bandages stored for sores.
If you are taking prescription medication, make sure you have enough on hand.
Check for symptoms and get tested
Fever, cough and shortness of breath are among the most common symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
But there is also diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, loss of smell and taste, body aches, confusion and even delirium.
Do you have a runny or stuffy nose? Unless you have a fever, it’s probably just allergies, like those caused by leaf mold this time of year.
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, symptoms will likely appear within a week, according to health experts. In other words, if you’re going to have any at all – which some people don’t. Some or all of the symptoms can appear between two and 14 days after exposure to the virus, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you think you have been infected, go to a testing center near you. Contact your local or national health department to find out where to get tested.
Unless you have severe symptoms, avoid emergency rooms, which are overcrowded in many places. Call your doctor and follow their instructions.
Serious symptoms include difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to stay awake or wake up, and bluish face or lips, according to the CDC.
In this case, call 911 or call the emergency care facility near you ahead of time, the CDC advises.
Don’t worry about disinfecting packaging
When the virus began to spread in the United States, we were told to disinfect our groceries and take-out packaging after bringing them home. We now know it’s not necessary – even the United States Food and Drug Administration has said there is no real risk of getting the virus from these packages.
The same goes for washing fruits and vegetables, according to the FDA. Simply rinse them with clean water.
We now know that the main means of transmission of the virus is through the air, in respiratory droplets or aerosols of an infected person. But it’s still important to sanitize surfaces and wash your hands after going out or touching things outside your home.
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