The outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an emerging and evolving situation. Because there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure to the virus. There are several steps you can take to protect the health of you and your family from COVID-19.

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Know How it Spreads

Spread from person-to-person happens most frequently among close contacts (within about six feet) via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs. These droplets can be inhaled through the mouths or noses of people nearby and into their lungs.

Transmission of COVID-19 to people from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not yet been documented; however, evidence suggests the virus may remain viable for hours or even days on surfaces. This can lead to exposure to the virus by touching the infected surface and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth.

Protect Yourself and Others

Follow these practices to halt the spread of COVID-19.

  • Clean your hands frequently. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, using the restroom, eating food and anything else that leaves significant germs on your hands. 20 seconds is roughly the length of singing Happy Birthday twice, but you can shake things up with choruses of other songs, as well, like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” or “Africa” by Toto. If soap and water aren’t readily available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. In general, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of your elbow or a tissue, which should be thrown in the trash. Immediately wash your hands or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Practice social distancing. Avoid close contact with others, especially large crowds; staying at least six feet apart is a good rule of thumb. Find alternatives to handshakes. Avoid public transportation. Utilize delivery services such as grocery and food deliveries to prevent person-to-person contact. If you have children, discourage them from gathering in public spaces and notify your child’s school immediately if they contract COVID-19.
  • Get a flu shot if you haven’t already. Flu season is still spiking.
  • Avoid non-essential travel to countries or areas where cases of the novel coronavirus have been identified.

Launder items often using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry completely. Items like clothes, blankets, towels and washable plush toys should all be laundered consistently.

  • Avoid sharing personal items like drinks and clothing.
  • Stay home if you are sick. Simply put. Do not return to work or school until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours. If you must leave to get medical care, wear a facemask. (Note: Do not wear a facemask if you are not sick or not caring for someone who is sick. Facemasks are in short supply.)
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily, including doorknobs, light switches, tables, countertops, desks, handles, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks. Soap and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work.

Risk to Immunosuppressed Individuals and the Elderly

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The preventative measures outlined above are especially important if you are at higher risk of getting sick. Older adults and people who smoke or suffer from underlying conditions (such as cancer, hypertension, or chronic conditions like diabetes, respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease) are more likely to develop serious complications from the novel coronavirus illness. In the United States, roughly 60% of adults have an underlying condition that could affect the severity of contracting COVID-19.

Older adults are particularly susceptible to the virus. Early findings from China revealed that the median age of people who contracted the novel coronavirus was 75. A study found that of people in their 70s who contracted COVID-19, 8% died, along with nearly 15% of those 80 and older – compared with about 2% for overall confirmed infections.

It appears there are two main reasons for the elderly’s increased susceptibility: they are more likely to suffer from underlying conditions that hinder the body’s ability to cope with and recover from illness; and their body’s immune response is different compared to younger people. COVID-19 affects the lungs and as you get older your lungs are not as elastic or as resilient as when you are younger, so that coupled with underlying conditions severely impacts respiratory functions.

Individuals who are immunosuppressed and/or aged 70 years and older are encourage to self-isolate for three months.

Risk to Pregnant Women and Children

While some children and infants have been sick with COVID-19, children don’t appear to be at higher risk for the novel coronavirus than adults. Adults make up most of the known cases to date. However, you should still teach them the same techniques to stay healthy.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults: fever, cough, shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, and/or bluish lips or face. However, children have generally presented mild cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported. You may want to seek medical advice sooner for your child than necessary for an adult.

It isn’t known if pregnant women have a greater chance of contracting COVID-19 than the general public nor whether they are more likely to have serious illness as a result. One study found that nine women who became infected with COVID-19 did not pass the virus on to their babies. Yet because pregnant women experience bodily changes that may increase their risk of infections and illnesses, it’s important for them to remain vigilant and healthy by following the same practices outlined above.

Risk to Pets

At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received no reports to suggest any animals, including pets, livestock or wildlife, might be a source of the novel coronavirus. However, because all animals carry germs that can make people sick, it’s still smart to practice healthy habits.

  • Wash your hands after handling animals, their food, waste or supplies.
  • Clean up after pets properly and maintain good pet hygiene.
  • Take pets to the veterinarian regularly.

If you are suspected or confirmed sick with COVID-19, restrict your contact with pets and other animals just like you would with people. If possible, have another household member care for your animals while you are sick; if you must solely care for your pet, wash your hands before and after interaction. While there is little information about pets and the virus, this can help ensure both you and your animals stay healthy.

Create an Action Plan

Preparing an action plan in case of an outbreak in your community can help protect your health and the health of your household members.

  • Continue to practice everyday preventative actions as described previously.
  • Follow the news and public health reports for up-to-date information about local COVID-19 activity. Stay informed if there is an outbreak in your community.
  • Research a list of local organizations you can contact in case you need access to information, healthcare services, support and resources.
  • Create an emergency contact list including family, friends, neighbors, healthcare providers, teachers, employers and community resources.
  • Communicate with your employer about procedures – like remote work and office closures – if an outbreak occurs in your community, particularly if you or a household member become ill.
  • Stock up on or make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home. Make sure you have up to a 3-month supply of prescription medications. Purchase two weeks’ worth of food in case stores temporarily close. Other basic medical supplies include: a thermometer, to monitor your temperature if you develop symptoms of a virus; over-the-counter remedies, like fever and pain reducers (such as ibuprofen) and cough syrups; and fluids, mainly water.
  • Consider alternative child care options if daycares and schools close.
  • Choose a room in your house that can be used as quarantine should someone in your household contract COVID-19.
  • Speak to your healthcare provider if you develop fever, cough or shortness of breath. Seek medical attention immediately if you develop emergency warnings for the novel coronavirus: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; persistent pain or pressure in the chest; new confusion; and/or bluish lips or face. (This list is not all-inclusive.)

By following the above-outlined practices to hinder the spread of COVID-19 and by creating an action plan for your household, you can best protect the health of you, your family and your community during this global pandemic.