How Can I Protect Myself (and Others) from the New Coronavirus and COVID-19?
o help lessen the spread of the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, here are important steps that can help protect you, your family and others. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins Medicine, shares these guidelines: How Can I Protect Myself from the New Coronavirus and COVID-19?
Avoid close contact with others.
It’s important to understand that the new coronavirus spreads mainly from person to person. If an infected person coughs or sneezes, their droplets can infect people nearby. That’s why it’s important to avoid close contact with others. Understand that people (including children) may be infected with the new coronavirus and have only mild symptoms.
Some measures you can take to avoid close contact with others include:
- Stay home as much as possible and reduce visitors.
- Practice social distancing:
- Stay at least six feet away from others in public places.
- Call friends and family or visit by video.
- Ask your employer if it’s possible to work from home.
- Avoid people who appear sick.
- Go grocery shopping and run errands during off-peak times.
Healthy people do not need to wear a mask unless they are caring for someone diagnosed with, or being monitored for, COVID-19, or respiratory illness.
Practice good hygiene wherever you are.
The new coronavirus can survive for hours or even days on some surfaces. Touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face is one of the ways to become infected.
The virus is no longer detectable on plastic after 72 hours, and on stainless steel or cardboard after about 48 hours. With that in mind:
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, especially:
- After being in public places and touching door handles, shopping carts, elevator buttons, etc.
- After using the bathroom
- Before preparing food
- If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
- If you cough or sneeze, do so in the bend of your elbow. If you use a tissue, throw it away immediately.
Take precautions if you are living with or caring for someone who is sick.
- Wear a mask if you are caring for someone who has respiratory symptoms.
- Clean counters, door knobs, phones and tablets frequently, using disinfectant cleaners or wipes.
If you feel sick, follow these guidelines:
- Stay home if you feel sick unless you are experiencing a medical emergency such as severe shortness of breath or a very high fever.
- Call your doctor or urgent care facility and explain your symptoms over the phone.
- If you leave your home to get medical care, wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms.
If you have a cough, a fever or difficulty breathing, and you are worried that you may have COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, here are recommendations from Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins, on what to do, step by step.
1. Stay Home and Call a Health Care Provider
Unless it is an emergency, to reduce your risk of catching or spreading illness, stay home if you feel sick, even if your symptoms are mild. Do not go to work, school or public places, and avoid public transportation.
If your symptoms are severe or you feel like you need medical care, call before you go to a doctor’s office, urgent care center or emergency room. Describe your symptoms over the phone.
If you have a medical emergency, call 911 and tell the dispatcher about your symptoms and recent travel history.
When you call a health care facility, you will be asked about your risks for COVID-19. Risk factors include recent travel to certain countries or areas of the U.S., or exposure to an infected person.
For instance, people calling Johns Hopkins Health System hospitals or clinics are asked:
- Have you had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus? (Close contact means having been within 6 feet of that person for an extended time, or being exposed to their cough or sneeze.)
- Do you have a fever, a cough or difficulty breathing?
- Has a public health officer said you were potentially exposed to COVID-19?
3. Follow Your Health Care Provider’s Instructions
Based on your answers to these questions, the care provider will provide instructions over the phone. You will be told if you need to be evaluated, and if so, what to do next. Based on your risk for COVID-19, your health care provider may recommend that you:
- Continue to monitor your health and call back if you develop a fever or respiratory symptoms.
- Stay home and await further instructions.
- Report to a designated medical care facility for evaluation and treatment. It’s best to go alone to your appointment. Do not bring children or other family members unless you need assistance.
- Go to a clinic or emergency department if you have more severe symptoms, such as higher fever and severe shortness of breath.
4. Practice Hand Hygiene and Respiratory Etiquette
- If you do leave your home to go to a care facility, wear a mask so your coughs and sneezes are less likely to infect others. (Masks are NOT recommended for healthy people in the general population.)
- Wash your hands thoroughly (for at least 20 seconds) after sneezing, blowing your nose, coughing or using the bathroom, and before preparing or eating food.
- If you cough or sneeze, do so into the bend of your elbow, not your hand. Or use a tissue, and then throw it away immediately afterward.
- At home, clean often-touched surfaces such as doors and doorknobs, cabinet handles, bathroom hardware, tabletops, phones, tablets and keyboards regularly with disinfectant.
5. Stay Calm
The possibility of having a contagious illness is scary, but doctors, nurses and other caregivers are learning more about COVID-19 every day. They are working together with national and international agencies to identify and provide care to patients while avoiding spread of the illness in the community.