It’s a recurring headline these days: New cases of coronavirus are surging around the country, along with hospitalization rates and Covid-19 deaths.
And with winter coming, health experts say it’s only going to get worse, as more people gather indoors to avoid cold weather.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended that Americans should stay home for Thanksgiving and not mingle with people outside your household.
How else can you protect yourself and those you love? Here’s a refresher on the basics.
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Wear a mask properly
It’s simple, but wearing a mask properly is one of the most important ways you can protect yourself and those around you, health experts say.
A recent report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington found that if 95% of Americans wore masks, almost 70,000 lives would be saved.
N95 masks offer the best protection, but they are in short supply, and the CDC is asking people not to go out and buy them, because they are urgently needed by health care workers.
Washable, breathable cloth masks will do the job, but they should have at least two layers — three are better — and you can add a filter for more protection.
Masks should cover both your nose and mouth, and should fit snugly, with no gaps.
Goggles or face shields aren’t necessarily recommended for eye protection if you are not a health care worker or are in high-risk situations, health experts have said.
Not sure how to choose a mask? Check out these guidelines.
Wash your hands
Washing your hands frequently is still one of the most basic and simple things you can do.
Work up a good lather and scrub your hands, fingers and under your nails for at least 20 seconds. Use clean, running water to thoroughly rinse, then scrub them dry.
Washing for at least 20 seconds has been shown to remove more microbes than washing for shorter periods. Singing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing can work as a “timer.”
Frequent hand washing will also protect you from all sorts of harmful bacteria and viruses other than the new coronavirus, including influenza and the common cold.
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Use hand sanitizer
It’s not as good as washing your hands with good old soap, but hand sanitizer can be used when that isn’t an option.
It’s important that both of your hands are covered completely, including between the fingers and under the nails. Rub your hands until they are dry. Use it generously if your hands are greasy or really dirty, since the sanitizer might not be as effective in that case, according to the CDC.
Unlike in the beginning of the pandemic, hand sanitizer is relatively easy to find in stores, so don’t try to make your own. Health experts say it’s critical that you get the right concentration of alcohol to disable the virus.
Check out this list of more than 100 dangerous hand sanitizers to avoid. Some contain methanol, which can be lethal. Others don’t have enough alcohol.
Reduce your risk
The best thing you can do is stay home, if possible, and reduce your risk by cutting down on errands and trips to the store.
Not everyone has the luxury of doing that, of course. But social distancing — keeping 6 feet between you and others outside your household — and wearing a mask are critical.
The safest place outside your home is the outdoors. But even there, you should keep a safe distance from people you don’t live with.
You can also reduce risk by getting take out food instead of dining in restaurants and avoiding public transportation, if possible.
Going to bars and nightclubs is considered one of the riskiest things you can do.
With coronavirus infections soaring around the country, the coming winter is only going to make things worse as people spend more time indoors together.
And there’s always the possibility that you will have to quarantine if you come into contact with someone who has the virus.
Reduce your exposure and be prepared to stay home by stocking up.
Public health officials advise having two weeks of food on hand. Having the pantry stocked will also reduce your trips to the grocery store.
Make sure you have enough cleaning and disinfecting supplies and that your medicine cabinet is stocked with cough drops and syrup for coughing symptoms, decongestants for congestion, acetaminophen and ibuprofen for pain and fevers, and antidiarrheals. Keep adhesive bandages stocked for wounds.
If you take prescription drugs, ensure you have enough on hand.
Check for symptoms and get tested
Fever, coughing and shortness of breath are among the most common symptoms of Covid-19, the disease that the new coronavirus causes.
But there’s also diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, loss of smell and taste, body aches, mental confusion and even delirium.
Have a runny or stuffed-up nose? Unless you have a fever, it’s probably just allergies, like that caused by leaf mold at this time of year.
If you have been exposed to the coronavirus, symptoms will probably show up within a week, health experts say. That is, if you are going to have them at all — which some people don’t. Any or all symptoms can appear between two to 14 days after exposure to the virus, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you suspect you have been infected, go to a testing center near you. Contact your local or state health department to find out where to get a test.
Unless you have serious symptoms, avoid emergency rooms, which are overrun in many places. Call your doctor and follow her or his instructions.
Serious symptoms include difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in your chest, new confusion, the inability to stay awake or wake up and bluish face or lips, according to the CDC.
In that case, call 911 or call ahead to the emergency care facility near you, the CDC advises.
Don’t stress about disinfecting packages
When the virus first started spreading in the US, we were told to disinfect our groceries and takeout packages after bringing them home. We now know that’s not necessary — even the US Food and Drug Administration has said there’s no real risk of contracting the virus from those packages.
The same goes for washing fruits and vegetables, according to the FDA. Just rinse them in plain water.
We know now that the main way the virus is transmitted is through the air, in respiratory droplets or aerosols from an infected person. But it’s still important to disinfect surfaces and wash your hands after being out or touching objects from outside your home.