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Can you avoid coronavirus when going out in public? These 16 practical tips could help

Take these simple steps when grocery shopping, opening doors and signing your name.

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Social distancing is important in the grocery store, but so is how you shop.

Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Is there anything you can do to keep from getting the coronavirus? There's much that's unknown about the pathogen, other than the fact that it's a highly contagious respiratory virus and is easily transmitted from person to person, through breath, saliva, sneezing and so on. We also know that the medical community is racing to develop a vaccine and discover therapies that might help treat COVID-19, the pneumonia-like disease caused by the coronavirus. 

As far as protecting yourself and those around you, especially people with compromised immune systems and the elderly, recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are more best practices than silver bullets. At this time, there's no pill or shot you can take to keep you from acquiring the coronavirus, or spreading it if you're asymptomatic.

Right now, the best strategies for containing the disease are the ones you already know: Stay away from others as much as possible. Wear a face mask and keep six feet apart from others when you do go out. Thoroughly wash your hands

I'd like to add some more specific suggestions to those broad strokes, which could help you navigate the day to day necessities of going to the store, and thinking about social distancing as coronavirus lockdown restrictions ease and cities reopen: in restaurants, malls, hair salons and the gym.

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It's important to reduce your risk of exposure when you shop.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Don't let your guard down

Unfortunately, the pandemic is far from over. There are now over 5.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world, and over 347,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus. World and local leaders warn that a second wave of infections is possible as cities reopen and people come into closer contact once again.

Being aware that the pandemic is ongoing and could be with us until a vaccine becomes readily available or societies achieve herd immunity, will help you avoid the kind of risky behavior that could get you and others sick. Here are seven things you should think twice about doing when lockdown and quarantine end.

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Wearing a face covering is mandatory in some places, and recommended by the CDC when social distancing isn't possible.

James Martin/CNET

Continue to wear a face mask in public places

A couple months ago, wearing a face mask when going out in public was purely voluntary. In many places, it still is, though the CDC now encourages it as a voluntary health measure in areas with high transmission rates, and in places where people can't maintain social distancing of six feet. The recommendation applies to face masks and coverings you make at home or buy

Some counties and cities are making the order mandatory for places like the store, doctor's offices and while riding public transit. It's not considered necessary while you're alone in your car, or taking a walk where keeping six feet from others is easy to do. At the very least, it's a good idea to keep a face covering on hand if for no other reason than to avoid a stranger's side eye or a lecture while you wait in line to get into a store. 

Even where cities are reopened, expect to find employees wearing face masks, which are part of the CDC's recommendation for phased reopenings of schools, factories and businesses. Chances are they'd feel more comfortable if you do, too. 

Here's where you can buy face masks today and what you need to know about making your own face covering.

Don't make shopping trips a source of entertainment

The point of shelter in place and distancing efforts is to keep you from transmitting the virus to others or acquiring it yourself. Yes, that can be boring, but the list of COVID-19 symptoms is long and frightening for people who have it, even if they do recover, which can take weeks. 

The bottom line: You don't want this, and you want to limit your exposure to others. So shop swiftly and efficiently. Now's the time to get what you want and get out, not to browse aisles as a way to pass the hours. Entertain yourself these other ways instead

Read moreWhat to expect when coronavirus lockdown ends and cities reopen

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Enough with the fingertips: Use your knees, feet, elbows and knuckles instead

If you're still pressing buttons for walk signs with your fingertips, stop. Any time you have to open a door, push a button, pull a lever or digitally sign for something, use a different body part instead. You have plenty.

For example, I'll often tap out a PIN code or make a selection on a digital screen with my knuckle instead of the pad of my finger. I'll push open a door with my shoulder, hip or foot instead of my hands.

You can usually flip on a light switch or sink faucet with your elbow or wrist, and you can wrap the sleeve of your sweater or jacket around the handle of any doors you have to physically pull open. It's easy enough to toss your clothing into the wash later rather than expose your skin now, especially if the chances you'll use your hands to touch food items or your face is high.

Read more: Need a pulse oximeter? These models are in stock starting at $24  

Enforce social distancing even if others don't

Social distancing can mean anything from hunkering down at home and refraining from seeing outside friends and family in person to keeping a boundary between you and others when you do go out. The practice of keeping six feet away from those outside your home group extends to waiting in line at the grocery store, going on walks (you can momentarily walk in the bike lane if you're careful about looking out for street traffic) and picking up food to go.

If you need to keep more distance between you and someone else while on a walk or when reaching for an item at the store, take a step back or wait your turn. Now's not the time to feel bad about moving away from someone, but be polite. 

You can also politely ask a person to give you more clearance. It's perfectly acceptable to say something like, "Oh, I'm really trying to keep my distance from everyone," or "You go ahead, I'd rather wait until there's enough space."

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Automated door openers like this can keep your hands from touching common surfaces.

Slobo/Getty Images

Look for the automatic option

If the doors to whichever building you're entering aren't already propped open or have automatic sensors, look around before you pull a handle. Most modern buildings have accessibility buttons to open doors for people with mobility concerns. You can easily touch this with your forearm, hip or foot (some are pretty low down) and wait a few seconds for the doors to open. 

Consider buying an automatic soap dispenser for home so you don't have to worry about transferring germs to the pump.

Read more: Wine, beer, alcohol delivery: How to get alcoholic beverages delivered to your door

Watch where you put your phone

While we've gotten the go-ahead to use disinfecting wipes on phones, another smart idea is to avoid placing your device on iffy surfaces to begin with. Do you really need to put your phone down, or can you just stash it in a coat pocket or purse? The less you can expose your phone to shared surfaces, the less you need to worry about them in the first place.

If you do put your phone down on a shared surface, say if you're paying for takeout, lay down a napkin and set your phone on that. It'll save you having to disinfect your device quite so often.

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If microfiber cloth doesn't put your mind at ease, you can use disinfecting wipes on iPhones now.

Derek Poore/CNET

Set aside your reusable tote bags

Increasingly, store policy excludes you from bringing outside tote bags and other bags into grocery stores. If you want to lessen your environmental impact, find ways to reuse the store's fresh bags at home.

The stores I shop at continue to make baskets and carts available, and many have assigned gloved staff to wipe down carts and baskets with disinfectant before letting people in to shop. Others might spray your hands with disinfectant before you enter a shop or make some available.

Regardless, it's a good idea to thoroughly wash your hands with hand soap before you leave home to protect others, bring your own sanitary wipes if you have them and the store doesn't offer that option and be sure to wash your hands when you get home. Really, we can't stress that enough.

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Don't sort through produce with your bare hands

At a time when face masks are increasingly common in stores and shoppers might give you a withering look for rummaging through lemons, here's a little advice: Don't poke the bear.

When sorting through food, use a glove or stick your hand inside a fresh, store-supplied bag. Then you can use the outside like a glove to pick up and inspect the garlic and bananas you want, so as not to touch every item with your bare hands. It'll make others feel more comfortable, and is just as likely to inspire them to follow suit.

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Maybe don't rummage through all the fruit and veggies without reinforcements.

Shara Tibken/CNET

Whatever you do, touching's off limits

The best way to prevent acquiring the coronavirus is to limit your social circle, but as cities reopen, getting in other people's proximity will be hard to avoid. There's the loneliness factor, too. After long weeks at home, it's natural to want to see your family and friends. 

If you do make the decision to see others you know, resist the urge to hug, tap elbows or get anywhere closer than six feet. Air hug if you have to. Blow a kiss (minus the actual exhalation). We have 13 clever and satisfying ways to safely greet someone that keeps you and loved ones safe.

For food and package delivery, embrace the awkward 

Keeping your distance means that you'll need to get comfortable speaking through closed doors and hanging back rather than rushing forward to help the person delivering you packages, mail and food. For example, if you happen to be outside, it's not rude to let the mail carrier walk all the way up to the front door and place the mail in the box rather than take it directly -- it's appropriately cautious for the times, and helps protect you and them by keeping your distance.

Equally, if a food delivery person or neighbor drops something off, give a warm thank you through the closed door and wait for them to recede six feet before opening the door to thank them again and wave. They'll appreciate your consideration and seriousness.

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You don't have to spray yourself down, just wash those hands thoroughly.

James Martin/CNET

Wash your hands every time you get 'home'

Along with social distancing, washing your hands thoroughly is one of your best defenses against acquiring the coronavirus. Give your hands a thorough scrub each time you get back. Twenty seconds is the going recommendation, which may seem like ages, but if you wash slowly, it's easy to do. 

I count five long seconds (one-one-thousand) of soaping each hand, in between the fingers and up to the wrists, then count another five seconds for washing each hand thoroughly to get the soap (and any dead germs) off. I often wash the soap dispenser pump and faucet handles, too.

That helps me feel safe enough to adjust my contacts, blow my nose and pick that nagging something or other out of my teeth in the comfort of my own space.

Don't neglect your car and home

After getting back from running errands, it doesn't hurt to wipe down your car and surfaces in your home, especially if you share it with others. Person-to-person contact is the most common vector, but viruses and bacteria do spread through objects and other forms of indirect physical contact. Here's our guide for sanitizing your home and car.

Carry extra napkins, disinfecting wipes and facial tissue

Packing extra tissues, disinfecting wipes, wet wipes and other paper products in my purse is already part of my habit, but now I pay extra attention to how much paper I have on hand. 

Normally, I might use a spare napkin to wipe my hands after an impromptu snack (also in my bag). Today, these products could come in handy to clear away germs, or act as a barrier between you (or your phone) and a surface. For example, opening a door handle if you just saw someone cough into their hands before turning a knob.

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Stop handling cash

While it's believed that the highest risk of acquiring the coronavirus comes from person-to-person transmission, we do know that shared surfaces can harbor the virus. Play it safe by setting the cash aside for now and relying more on contactless payments. Some businesses are even refusing to take cash as a safety measure for employees.

A large number of payment terminals accept Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and credit cards with the contactless logo on them. And remember, if a digital signature is required, you can use your knuckle instead of your index finger. For a physical signature, start packing your own pen.

Banish questionable items to a long time out

The coronavirus can cling to surfaces, such as your jacket or a tabletop, for up to nine days at room temperature, studies have found. However, the CDC found that the coronavirus RNA remained in cabins about the Diamond Princess Cruise ship up to 17 days after passengers departed.

We know that a thorough cleaning with good ol' soap and water will kill the virus' structure, but if you're not sure how to disinfect an item, like a dry-clean-only jacket or pair of boots, setting it aside for three or four weeks is another option. 

Read on for where we are with the coronavirus vaccine, if a second round of stimulus checks is possible and more information about coronavirus testing.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.