As we move into a second summer living with the coronavirus, we continue to learn more about how to protect ourselves and our community against a disease that has caused nearly 600,000 deaths in the US. Prevention is still our best tactic against COVID-19, and right now, the best thing you can do for your health is to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
While preventive measures have been highly politicized in the US, we know that a few other key behaviors -- wearing a face mask, practicing good hygiene, and keeping distance from others -- are effective and can prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Here, we touch on old and new information on methods to protect yourself and others from getting sick.
How likely are you to get the coronavirus?
Anyone can contract the coronavirus, which causes the disease 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.
Everyone, regardless of health status, 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.
How does the coronavirus spread?
The coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets that are expelled from the body when you cough or sneeze, but can also be expelled when you speak or breathe. That vapor can get into the air, where someone else breathes it in and then gets infected. You can also spread the coronavirus by sneezing or coughing into your hand and then touching a surface that someone else then touches, such as a door handle or elevator button.
Aerosols are much smaller than droplets and contain microscopic virus particles that can remain in the air for hours and spread several meters. Estimates range from 4 meters, or about 10 feet, up to 10 meters or 32 feet.
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.
How to protect yourself from the coronavirus
Despite the public frenzy in response to the CDC's acknowledgement of airborne transmission, not much really changes in terms of precautions and preventive measures, says Dr. Nate Favini, physician and medical lead at Forward.
"Those of us who have been following this closely have suspected that the coronavirus is airborne for a long time," he says, "and frankly, the public health authorities have been very behind in identifying and announcing this.
"I don't think that that means the guidelines will necessarily change because a) it's probable that most transmission still comes from larger droplets, and b) the current guidelines do protect from airborne viruses," he says.
In any case, the following tactics are steps everyone should take to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Vaccination is your best bet to protect yourself and those around you -- and the best shot to reach herd immunity.
Wear a face mask
The CDC continues to recommend that everyone wear a face covering (not a mask meant for a health care worker) when out in public, such as at the grocery store. This protects you and other people from you, in case you unknowingly have the virus and have the potential to transmit it.
"A lot of the transmission is happening via superspreader events," Dr. Favini says, "where people are in close proximity and not wearing masks."
Wash your hands
Yes, this is still the best way to prevent getting the coronavirus, Dr. 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."
Now that we know COVID-19 can spread through aerosols, we must pay attention to the air quality and ventilation quality in our homes and other indoor areas, Dr. Favini says. Air purifiers, high-quality AC filters and allowing outdoor air inside (i.e., opening the windows) can improve the air exchange rate in your home.
Your risk of infection varies depending on the amount of virus you were exposed to, the CDC reports, and this risk is amplified in indoor areas, as the virus can survive in the air even after an infected person has left the room. If you must be indoors, like when grocery shopping or eating at a restaurant, decrease your risk through poor ventilation by making your shopping trip quick, or by choosing a restaurant you know enforces COVID-19 guidelines.
Avoid close contact those who are sick or have been exposed
This might be common sense, but don't get too close to people who are sick (whether with the novel coronavirus or something else) or who have been exposed to the coronavirus. 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.
Fighting coronavirus: COVID-19 tests, vaccine research, masks, ventilators and more
It's still smart to avoid indoor public places 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 -- and consider takeout.
Obviously, we can't all stay home and avoid leisure activities forever, so when you do leave your house, follow some basic preventive measures.
Follow local public health guidelines
Nearly every state and local government has published guidelines of what to do to slow the spread of the coronavirus. These include social distancing, restricting what kinds of businesses can operate and what kinds of activities -- such as outdoor exercise or private gatherings -- are allowed.
For example, restaurants might offer outdoor seating or need to operate at a limited indoor capacity.
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, Dr. 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," Dr. 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.
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.
Dr. 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," Dr. 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 bottom line
Dr. Favini says he fully acknowledges pandemic fatigue.
"Folks are just tired of this, and we all want to get back to our normal way of life," he says. "That's so understandable and natural for us to want that, but it's critical for people to understand that nothing about the way the virus spreads has changed since the start of the pandemic.
"We need people to hang in there and keep doing the right thing and taking care of each other," he adds.
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.