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Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Prevention

The best prevention is to have no contact with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, to follow safety precautions, and to get vaccinated The FDA has approved vaccines to prevent COVID-19 in people older than 18. (One vaccine has been approved for people as young as 16.) Talk with your healthcare provider about your risks and which vaccine may be best for you.

Pregnant or breastfeeding people may choose to be vaccinated. Expert groups, including ACOG and the CDC, advise pregnant or breastfeeding people to talk with their healthcare provider about the vaccine.

The vaccines are being rolled out to the public in phases. Check your local health department for your community's roll-out plans. The vaccines are given as a shot (injection) in the arm muscle. A 1-dose or 2-dose vaccine may be given. If you get the 2-dose vaccine, the second dose is given several weeks after the first. You are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after getting the 1-dose or the second shot of the 2-dose vaccine.

During a pandemic, it's especially important to keep up on recommended vaccines for other illnesses. This is more true if you're at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, the flu, or pneumonia. This includes older adults and those who have long-term (chronic) health conditions. Getting a yearly flu vaccine is advised for everyone 6 months old and older, with rare exceptions. Health experts advise the flu vaccine to protect you and others. The flu vaccine helps protect those at high-risk for serious illness, and lowers the strain on hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take precautions: Travel and other outings

Stay informed about COVID-19 in your area. Follow local instructions about being in public. Be aware of events in your community that may be postponed or canceled, such as school and sporting events. You may be advised not to attend public gatherings. 

You will be advised to stay at least 6 feet from others as much as possible. This is called "social distancing." You may be advised to stay at home and isolate yourself as much as possible if COVID-19 is in your area. You may hear terms such as "self isolate, "quarantine," “stay at home,” and “shelter in place.”

The CDC recommends not traveling until you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This is because travel raises your chance of getting and spreading the infection. Be aware of travel precautions, both within the U.S. and abroad. When traveling in the U.S., be aware of mask requirements on public transportation such as airplanes, subways, and trains. Here are the most current CDC travel guidelines.  

When you are at home

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and clean, running water for at least 20 seconds.

  • If you don't have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often. Make sure it has at least 60% alcohol.

  • Don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have clean hands.

  • Don’t kiss someone who is sick.

  • If you need to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue. Then throw the tissue into the trash. If you don't have tissues, cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow.

  • When possible, don't touch "high-touch" shared surfaces such as doorknobs and handles, cabinet handles, and light switches.

  • Clean frequently-touched home surfaces often with disinfectant. This includes desk surfaces, printers, phones, kitchen counters, tables, fridge door handle, bathroom surfaces, and any soiled surface. Closely follow disinfectant label instructions. You can find them at the CDC’s detailed cleaning website.

  • Check your home supplies. Consider keeping a 2-week supply of medicines, food, and other needed household items.

  • Make a plan for childcare, work, and ways to stay in touch with others. Know who will help you if you get sick.

  • Don't be around people who are sick.

  • There is no evidence right now that animals spread SARS-CoV-2. But it's always a good idea to wash your hands after touching any animals. Don't touch animals that may be sick.

  • Don’t share eating or drinking utensils with sick people.

If you leave home

Woman outdoors in cityscape wearing a face mask

  • Stay informed about safety instructions in your area.

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from all people as advised. This is called "social distancing."

  • When possible, don't touch "high-touch" public surfaces such as doorknobs and handles, cabinet handles, and light switches. If you touch these surfaces, try to clean them first with a disinfecting wipe. Or touch them using a tissue or paper towel.

  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often. Make sure it has at least 60% alcohol.

  • Don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have clean hands.

  • If you need to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue. Then throw the tissue into the trash. If you don't have tissues, cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow.

  • Don't attend public gatherings if possible. If you do attend public gatherings, follow social distancing rules. Don't share food or personal items such as water bottles.

  • See the CDC's guidance on face masks. The CDC advises wearing a cloth face mask with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric. Or you can wear a disposable paper mask with a cloth mask over it. You can make a cloth face mask of your own. The CDC has instructions on how to make a mask. Wear the mask so that it covers both your nose and mouth.

  • Be aware of your community's mask requirements. Generally, the CDC advises people ages 2 and older who are not vaccinated to wear masks in public places and when around people who don't live in their household. CDC's guidance for when to wear a mask is a bit different for fully vaccinated people. Fully vaccinated means 2 weeks after getting either the 1-dose or the second shot of the 2-dose vaccine. People fully vaccinated:

    • Don't need to wear a mask outdoors except in crowded settings. For example, at an outdoor concert or sporting event.

    • Can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or social distancing.

    • Can visit indoors without a mask or social distancing with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19. This includes children.

    • Should continue to wear masks in indoor public settings.

     

  • Certain people should not wear a face mask. This includes:

    • Children younger than 2 years old

    • Anyone with a health, developmental, or mental health condition that can be made worse by wearing a mask

    • Anyone who is unconscious or unable to remove the face covering without help.

     

If you are at a work site

  • If you haven't been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and are exposed, go home and stay home if you feel sick in any way.

  • Tell your supervisor if you are well but live with someone who has COVID-19.

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from all people.

  • Don't shake hands with anyone.

  • Don't attend in-person meetings, or limit how many you attend. Meet over phone or video if possible.

  • Don't use other people's desks, phones, equipment, or offices, if possible.

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and clean, running water for at least 20 seconds.

  • If you don't have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often. Make sure it has at least 60% alcohol.

  • Don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have clean hands.

  • Wear a face mask as advised by your employer, CDC guidance, and your community's instructions.

  • When possible, don't touch "high-touch" public surfaces such as doorknobs and handles, cabinet handles, and light switches. If you touch these surfaces, clean them first with a disinfecting wipe. Or touch them using a tissue or paper towel.

  • Use office kitchens one person at a time.

  • Consider not having office coffee or tea, or group foods.

  • Don’t have meals in groups.

  • Clean work surfaces often with disinfectant. This includes desk surfaces, photocopier, printer, phones, kitchen counters, fridge door handle, bathroom surfaces, and others.

  • Don’t touch other people’s personal work tools, such as phones, keyboards, pens, and other items.

  • Don’t touch other people’s eating or drinking utensils.

  • If you need to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue. Then throw the tissue into the trash. If you don't have tissues, cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow.

If you have been exposed to a person with COVID-19

If you've been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you don't need to stay home away from others if you've been exposed and don't have symptoms.

If you are not fully vaccinated and have been exposed to someone who is suspected of having COVID-19 or has tested positive for it:

  • Call your healthcare provider and follow all instructions. Stay home away from others and monitor your health. This is called quarantine. The CDC advises that you quarantine to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 once you've been exposed to someone with the infection. The CDC still supports quarantine for 14 days after exposure, but they recognize the hardship for many who need to work. The CDC now recommends two options for how long quarantine should last. If you have been exposed but don't have symptoms, you can stop quarantine:

    • 10 days after exposure if you don't get a diagnostic (viral) test, or

    • 7 days after getting a negative viral test result.

     

  • Take your temperature every morning and evening for 14 days after exposure. This is to check for fever. Keep a record of the readings. If possible, stay away from others, especially those who are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.

  • Watch for symptoms of the virus such as cough or trouble breathing. If you develop any symptoms, isolate yourself right away. Call your provider first before going to any clinic or hospital. See the CDC's symptom checker.

  • Your limits are different if you've had COVID-19 in the last 3 months but are fully recovered without symptoms and you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. If you are symptom-free, you don't need to quarantine or be retested. The CDC doesn't recommend retesting unless you have symptoms of COVID-19 and your new symptoms can't be linked to another illness. Contact your healthcare provider if you have any questions. If you develop symptoms, stay home. If you had COVID-19 more than 3 months ago and have been exposed again, treat it like you've never had COVID-19 and stay home, limit your contact with others, call your provider, and monitor for symptoms.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you think you have COVID-19 symptoms. These can include fever, cough, and trouble breathing. They may also include body aches, headache, chills or repeated shaking with chills, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, or diarrhea. Don’t go to a healthcare facility before speaking to a healthcare provider.

Last modified date: 4/30/2021

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry S Zingman, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson, MSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2020
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