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Last updated January 18, 2021. 3 minute read

How can I prevent and prepare for COVID-19?

There are some best practices you can follow to help lower the risk of spreading any respiratory infection like the common cold or flu (most of these are just common courtesy!).

Written by Rachel Honeyman
Reviewed by Dr. Tzvi Doron, DO

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an illness similar to the flu. It was first seen in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. It is caused by a novel coronavirus called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause contagious illnesses that affect the respiratory system, such as the common cold. SARS-CoV-2 causes mild symptoms (cough, fever, trouble breathing) in ~81% of patients who get it, according to a report of over 70,000 people with COVID-19 in China (Wu, 2020). 

For some people who get COVID-19 (usually those over 70 years old, or who have other health problems, or both), the symptoms can be more severe, and they need to go to the hospital and may even need to be put on a breathing machine.

How to prevent COVID-19

There are some best practices you can follow to help lower the risk of spreading any respiratory infection like the common cold or flu (most of these are just common courtesy!). As the vaccines become more widely available, they will help curb the spread of COVID-19. Until then, and even once you’ve been vaccinated, the CDC recommends the following:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. To help prevent the spread of the disease, practice social distancing, which involves staying at least six feet away from everybody.
  • Wear a cloth face covering in public areas where social distancing is difficult (this helps prevent you from spreading the virus to others).
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • If you’re sick, stay home.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, then throw the tissue away and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using regular household cleaning spray or cleaning wipe.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (one tip is to wash for the duration of singing the song “Happy Birthday” twice), especially after:
    • Using the bathroom
    • Before eating
    • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • If you’re not near a sink with soap and water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used. The exception is if your hands are visibly dirty: In that case, always wash with soap and water.

Also, remember you are also at risk of catching the common cold or the flu. Everybody who is healthy, including kids over six months of age and almost everybody else (there are some rare exceptions), should get a flu shot every year to protect against the flu.

How to prepare for COVID-19

Although most people who get COVID-19 have mild symptoms that go away on their own, it spreads fairly easily. There are still things you can do to help limit the spread of the disease and best help people who need it. The CDC recommends the following for getting your household ready for a potential COVID-19 outbreak:

  • Stay up to date regarding outbreaks in your area by following information provided by local public health officials.
  • Create a list of emergency contacts for your family in the event that someone in your household gets sick with COVID-19. You can include family members, friends, and neighbors, healthcare providers as well as the nearest urgent care or hospital and other community resources.
  • Create a plan of action for your household: Do your best to avoid going places with lots of people. If you leave your house, make sure to wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from people who are not members of your household. Plan for ways to help people who most need it, including older people and people who are living with chronic illnesses. Talk to your neighbors about emergency plans, identify local organizations that might be helpful, and create a list of emergency contacts.
  • Remind everyone of good personal health habits: It can’t be said enough: Wash your hands and cover your coughs and sneezes! Also, if you can, pick a room in your home that could be used to keep sick members away from healthy members of your family. If you leave your house, it’s important to wear a mask.
  • If you are exposed to someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, it’s important that you and the members of your household self-quarantine for 10 days. If you yourself test positive for coronavirus, whether or not you have symptoms, you should self-isolate (even from members of your household, if possible). The CDC recommends isolating until it has been 10 days since your symptoms first appeared and you have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-lowering medications.