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How to protect yourself from the coronavirus

Good hygiene and social distancing remain the top two tactics.

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As the coronavirus spread throughout the world, people quickly adopted ways of protecting themselves from getting sick.

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

The novel coronavirus and the resulting COVID-19 respiratory infection has spread across the world, including the US, with cases expanding into the millions in the weeks since the World Health Organization officially declared the disease a pandemic in March. Though COVID-19 cases seem to be flattening out or even dwindling in some places, they are on the rise in others. Whether those increases are still the first wave of the viral spread or a second wave is beyond the point: It's important to know that the virus is still here and everyone should still take steps to protect themselves and others from this infectious disease. In this article, you'll learn how to protect yourself from COVID-19.

How likely are you to get the coronavirus? 

Anyone can contract COVID-19, although certain groups of people have a higher risk of developing serious complications from the virus and requiring hospitalization. Many people who get the coronavirus will experience cold- or flu-like symptoms, and some people who get the virus will be completely asymptomatic. But no matter which group you fall into, everyone has a responsibility to limit the spread to other people, especially to those who may develop deadly complications, Dr. Tom Moorcroft, an osteopathic doctor who specializes in infectious disease, tells CNET. 

Thankfully, many of the actions you would take to protect yourself can also protect other people. 

Read more: 6 devices to keep tabs on your aging family members without invading their privacy

How to protect yourself from the coronavirus

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The virus under a microscope. You can get the virus if someone who has it sneezes or coughs on you.

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The coronavirus is spread through respiratory vapor, such as when someone sneezes or coughs into the air around you. It can also spread if someone who is infected sneezes or coughs into their hand, then touches a door handle, light switch or other "high-touch" surfaces that people touch all the time. As of May, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has specified that surfaces aren't the main way the virus spreads. Avoiding close person-to-person contact is the best way to protect yourself.

Influenza viruses and common cold viruses also spread similarly to the coronavirus, so if you're ever unsure of what to do to protect yourself, consider how you would act if you knew that everyone around you had the flu. With that, here are the best ways to protect yourself from the novel coronavirus.

Wash your hands

Yes, this is still the No. 1 way to prevent getting the coronavirus, Moorcroft says. "The things you should do to protect yourself from the coronavirus are things you should do every day," he points out. "The No. 1 thing you can do to prevent any respiratory illness is to practice good personal hygiene."

Washing your hands correctly -- using soap and water and washing for at least 20 seconds -- or using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren't available, still stands as the best way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, according to the CDC.

Wear a face mask

The CDC still recommends that everyone wear a cloth face covering (not a mask meant for a health care worker) when out in public, such as at the grocery store or bank. This is less to protect yourself and more to protect other people from you, in case you have the virus and have the potential to transmit it. 

Avoid close contact with people who are sick

This might be common sense, but don't get too close to people who are sick (whether with the novel coronavirus or something else). The CDC reports that person-to-person contact is the primary method of transmission for the coronavirus, so take care to distance yourself from people showing symptoms. 

Avoid unnecessary trips

Though most states have eased their stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, it's still smart to avoid going out when you can, especially if you're someone who has a high risk of developing serious complications. Try doing your banking online instead of going to the bank, for example. Carefully plan out your grocery list so you don't have to make a second or third trip. If you used to go out to eat three times per week, start with just one night. 

Obviously, we can't all stay home and avoid leisure activities forever, so when you do leave your house, follow some basic preventative measures.

Follow local public health guidelines

As of June, most states, counties and cities have eased up on the protective measures they implemented in earlier stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Many places still have guidelines in place, however. For example, in most cities, restaurants and bars have limited hours, outdoor-only seating or must operate at a limited capacity. Other establishments, such as clothing stores, also may be operating at limited capacity. Your city might still have limits on group sizes or even have curfews.

If your state or local government has imposed guidelines, you should follow them to the best of your ability. 

Boost your immune system

On top of basic illness prevention, Moorcroft says the best (and only real) defense against disease is a strong immune system. Your body is better able to fight off illnesses when your immune system is really humming, he explains, and everyone should put in an effort to get theirs into tip-top shape. 

"This is a time to focus on all the health habits you may have been putting off," Moorcroft says. "Start daily activities and food choices that support your health and turn them into habits that will lead to lifelong improvements in health. During this time, get adequate sleep and some fresh air and sunlight daily." 

Also, stay hydrated, minimize overly processed foods and make sure to get enough vitamin D, vitamin C, antioxidants and other essential nutrients. 

Stay calm

In addition to your physical health, you should take care of your mental health. High stress levels can take a toll on your immune system, which is the opposite of what you want if you're trying to avoid the coronavirus. If you're feeling overly anxious about COVID-19, follow these tips from a psychotherapist to keep your nerves calm.

Read more: 12 meditation apps for better sleep and less stress

Other tips

Moorcroft also reiterates the CDC's advice for avoiding coronavirus (and other respiratory diseases): 

  • Sneeze and cough into tissues or the crook of your elbow. If you get mucus or spit on your skin, clean it off right away. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, especially people exhibiting respiratory symptoms and fever.
  • Stay home when you're sick.
  • Regularly and thoroughly clean surfaces, such as counter tops and doorknobs, with a disinfectant. 

Read more: The best thermometers for cold and flu

How can I protect myself while traveling?

Even if you're traveling to (or through) locations with reduced infection numbers, avoiding discretionary travel is smart. For travel guidelines, check with your local or state officials, and stay up-to-date with federal travel restrictions, CDC recommendations and WHO recommendations.

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Stay informed

Moorcroft encourages everyone to stay armed with the facts. Specifically, he recommends monitoring the CDC website and the WHO website, where both agencies post daily updates on the number of cases in the US and in the world, as well as continually updated guidelines on how to protect yourself and others. 

It's easy to get swept up in the ever-increasing amount of information available online, as well as the fear and misinformation that spreads on social media, and your best bet is to get your information from the actual health organizations that are investigating the issue firsthand. 

"I hope that people will feel empowered by knowing the facts," Moorcroft says, "and say, 'I have access to the information, I know how to take care of my body and I can keep myself safe.'"

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.