What really works to prevent COVID-19?

You may have noticed people wearing surgical masks or respirators in order to prevent COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. If so, you should know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, face masks are not an effective method for preventing the illness.

That’s right. Wearing surgical masks may help keep sick people from spreading the illness, but it won’t keep healthy people from getting COVID-19. Nor will N95 respirators, which filter out 95% of airborne particles. Nor will reusable dust masks.

That may be good news, since you probably can’t find any such masks to buy. Even if you can, the United States surgeon general has asked all Americans to stop buying these masks so that medical professionals will be able to get hold of them.

Furthermore, surgical masks and N95 respirators are meant to be worn once and then discarded. If you reuse them, it is possible they could be contaminated.

Seriously, though: Masks are uncomfortable and won’t help you stay healthy. What they can do is keep sick people from passing on so much virus, so we need to leave them for the sick and those who are caring for the sick.

If you are sick or a caregiver and do need to wear a mask, it’s crucial to learn how to wear the masks properly:

  • Wash your hands before handling the mask and try to avoid touching it after you have it on.
  • If you do touch the mask, wash your hands again to remove any virus.
  • Discard the mask as soon as it is damp. Do this by handling the elastic straps, not the mask itself. Throw the mask away in a sealed plastic bag or in a trash can with a lid. Never reuse a mask.
  • Wash your hands again after removing the mask.

So, what should a healthy person do to avoid COVID-19?

“Impeccable hand hygiene is key,” an epidemiology professor told Consumer Reports.

COVID-19 is transmitted only by close contact with a sick person, which means getting within about six feet. Handshakes or facial kisses could transmit the illness. Getting the virus on your hands and then touching your face is a typical way for the illness to be transmitted.

Wash your hands frequently to keep the virus levels down. Scrub thoroughly from your fingertips to your wrists for a full 20 seconds. If you can’t get to a sink, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Also, try to stop touching your face. This is easier said than done, but try. Hand-to-face contact is one of the main ways the virus is spread.

If you have any respiratory illness, assume it may be COVID-19 and stay home. If you can’t, carry tissues with you and cough or sneeze into the tissues. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow.

To the extent you can, avoid large gatherings of people. Don’t hoard, but keep enough food on hand for a couple of weeks.

Most important of all, don’t panic. Keep yourself as well as possible so that if you do get the illness, you have the best chance of a speedy recovery.

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