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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.

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 mask in public places.
  • Avoid close contact (keep a distance of at least 6 feet) with people who are sick and people outside of your household.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Being in crowded places like restaurants, bars, fitness centers, or movie theaters puts you at a higher risk for COVID-19.
  • Get tested if you have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. Learn more.
  • 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 and disinfect 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)
  • Monitor your health daily. Watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.

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 have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 or develop symptoms of COVID-19, get testedIf you are sick, find out what to do next

How does COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. These droplets and particles can be inhaled by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouth. In some cases, they may contaminate surfaces they touch. People who are closer than 6 feet from the infected person are most likely to get infected.

COVID-19 is spread in three main ways:

  • Breathing in air when close to an infected person who is exhaling small droplets and particles that contain the virus.
  • Having these small droplets and particles that contain the virus land on the eyes, nose, or mouth, especially through splashes and sprays like a cough or sneeze.
  • Touching eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them.

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 mask in public places

The CDC recommends wearing well-fitted face masks in public places in areas of high community transmission.

Many pharmacies provide free N95 respirators. Use the CDC's tool to locate a pharmacy, then check with the pharmacy for availability.

Find Free Masks Near You

How to wear a mask:

  1. Choose a mask with two or more layers that completely covers your mouth and nose and fits snugly against the sides of your face, leaving no gaps.
  2. Be sure that the mask is not too loose on the sides. Do not pull the mask low on your nose, below your nose, or below your mouth or chin.
  3. Wash your hands before and after wearing the mask and use only the loops of the mask to put it on and take it off.
  4. Do not touch the front of the mask while wearing it.
  5. If you use a cloth mask, wash it and dry it daily.

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.