You are using an older version of Internet Explorer that is not supported on this site. Please upgrade for the best experience.

How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine, along with frequent handwashing, avoiding direct personal contact with unvaccinated or sick people, and avoiding large crowds are at the center of how to protect yourself. Below, learn how to keep from spreading illness.

CDC Guidance for Vaccinated People

Fully vaccinated people CAN be infected with COVID-19. While breakthrough infections happen in a small percentage of people, evidence suggests that vaccinated pepole can spread the virus to others. Therefore, it is important to take precautions to protect unvaccinated people.

The CDC released updated guidance, summarized here. Fully vaccinated people can:

Fully vaccinated people should: 

  • Wear a mask in public indoor settings if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
  • Fully vaccinated people might choose to mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in their household is unvaccinated. People who are at increased risk for severe disease include older adults and those who have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, overweight or obesity, and heart conditions.
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Get tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.
  • Isolate if they have tested positive for COVID-19 in the prior 10 days or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Follow any applicable federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations.

How can you limit the spread of COVID-19?

In addition to getting vaccinated, it is important to take preventive actions to help limit the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wear a face covering in public places. Learn how and why.
  • Avoid close contact (keep a distance of at least 6 feet) with people who are sick and people outside of your household.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol alcohol.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily – including tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, cell phones, and cabinet handles. Using a regular household detergent and water.
  • Take special precautions if you fall into high risk groups (older people and people with severe chronic conditions).

What happens when you get sick with COVID-19?

Many people who get the infection will get only a mild illness, like a cold, but the elderly and frail are at increased risk of severe infection, requiring hospitalization or even critical care. There are also long-term effects of COVID-19 that researchers are watching closely.

If you are have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 or develop symptoms of COVID-19, call your healthcare provider and tell them about your symptoms and your exposure. They will decide whether you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill are able to isolate at home. If you are sick, find out what to do next

How do coronaviruses spread?

Coronaviruses spread from person to person through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can infect people nearby if the virus gets into their body through their eyes, nose or mouth.

You could get COVID-19 through close contact with an infected person who is coughing and sneezing. You may also be able to get it from touching a contaminated surface (for example, if someone coughs over a table and then you touch that table). 

Focus on controlling what you can:

Be prepared in case you or a family member gets sick

Pick your person and make it official.

We can’t control everything, but we can control who will speak for us. Talk to a friend, a family member or other trusted person about becoming your medical care decision-maker if you can’t make decisions for yourself. Make sure the person you choose knows what is most important to you. Then, document that in an official healthcare proxy or Advance Directive form.

The healthcare proxy, MOLST, and advance directive (or living will) are three documents that allow you to give direction to medical personnel, family, and friends concerning your future care when you cannot speak for yourself.

Talk about it.

What do you need the person who would make medical decisions for you to know about what matters to you, so they could speak up for you if you can’t?

We can’t plan for everything. But we can help manage life’s unknowns by talking openly about what matters to us and what we’d want most if we became seriously ill with coronavirus disease. Conversations about things we can’t control can actually help to give us a sense of control. We may not be able to predict every choice we’ll have to make, but we can give those we love the guiding principles to confidently make decisions for us.

Our caregivers may need to make decisions for us, whether we’ve told them what we want or not. We can’t simply assume they know. Open conversations can pave a way to clarity, provide comfort, and bring people together.

Know where your loved ones stand.

There may be a time when we have to help the people closest to us—our friends, our spouses, our parents or grandparents—get medical care if they become seriously ill with coronavirus disease. This means understanding what is important to them so we can speak on their behalf if they can’t.

Learn more about Advance Care Planning

Wear a face covering in public places

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public places in areas of high community transmission. The cloth face coverings recommended are not N-95 respirators, which are critical supplies that must be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.

According to the CDC, cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

Learn more about why and how to wear a mask.

Clean your home or workspace to limit exposure

Clean dirty surfaces using a detergent and water before disinfecting.

To disinfect, refer to this list of products from the American Chemistry Council Center for Biocide Chemistries (CBC). Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products.

More on house cleaning from the CDC.