Preventing COVID-19: What You Need to Know

It's been many months since COVID-19 changed our lives, and as we leave behind a chaotic spring and summer and approach fall, now is a good time to review the standard and most recent tips on how to stay safe. Washing your hands often, wearing a mask that covers your mouth and nose, and avoiding close contact with people who don't live in the same household are all important preventative measures. Meanwhile, public health experts are urging everyone to get the flu vaccine this year, as it can help reduce the risk of contracting both the flu and COVID-19. And for those who are obese, it's especially important to take extra steps to protect yourself from the virus. Washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to prevent COVID-19 infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, lathering the back of your hands and rubbing between all your fingers, under all your nails, and extending your hand to your wrist. If soap is not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content and rub the sanitizer on your hands until they are dry. It's important to wash your hands before eating or preparing food, before touching your face, after going to the bathroom, after leaving a public place, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, after handling the mask, after changing a diaper, and after caring for a sick person. Visit the CDC website for guidelines on how to wash your hands properly and use hand sanitizer.

Masks are also an important preventative measure against COVID-19. The CDC recommends that everyone age 2 and older wear masks in public places and near people who don't live in the same household when they can't stay 6 feet away from others. Recent evidence suggests that masks may even benefit the user, as they offer a certain level of protection against infections. It's also important to be aware of the current reproduction number (Rt) for each state. Rt is the average number of people infected by an infectious person.

If Rt is above 1.0, it spreads rapidly; if it is below 1.0, it will eventually stop spreading. You can check the number for each state here. When dining out at restaurants, outdoor dining is the safest option. However, if you do choose to dine indoors, make sure that social distancing and mask wearing are being enforced.

A recent CDC study showed that adults with COVID-19 infections were twice as likely to have visited a restaurant in the two weeks prior to illness than those without an infection. If you plan on traveling this fall or winter, make sure you check if the virus is spreading at your destination before leaving. More cases at your destination increase the risk of contracting the virus and of infecting it to others. You can see the weekly number of cases for each state here on the CDC website. Public health experts are also urging everyone to get their flu vaccine this year.

While measures to prevent COVID-19 such as wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing can also protect against the flu, getting vaccinated is especially important and safe. Many people may struggle to tell the difference between the flu, common colds and COVID-19 as they have similar symptoms; however one difference is that COVID-19 is associated with a loss of taste and smell. Finally, it's important for those who are obese to take extra steps to protect themselves from COVID-19 as obesity is emerging as an independent risk factor for severe illness even among younger patients. At a time when routines are disrupted and many people are working at home where snacks are available, some may be gaining weight (so-called quarantine). Now more than ever doctors at Yale Medicine recommend focusing on eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and getting a good night's sleep while finding healthy ways to manage stress.

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