Several prevention measures can reduce the risk of catching the new coronavirus. People can transmit the virus even if they do not have symptoms, so it is important for everyone to take precautions even if they do not feel ill.

  • Avoid close contact with other people, meaning within six feet.
  • Avoid crowded indoor settings.
  • Wear a mask or cloth face covering when you are around others.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly.
  • Use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose and eyes.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.
  • Get a flu vaccine.

Changes in prevention guidelines over time reflect an evolving understanding of how the new virus spreads. Early guidelines emphasized cleaning surfaces, although it later became apparent that this is not a common route of transmission. Public health experts initially advised against wearing face coverings, largely because medical masks were in short supply and needed to be reserved for frontline workers. This advice changed when it became clear that people could unknowingly spread the virus without having symptoms. Similarly, it has become clear that outdoor activities pose a relatively low risk, especially if people maintain physical distance or wear masks.

Physical distancing, wearing a face covering and moving activities outdoors are key prevention measures. Cloth face masks don’t filter out virus particles like N95 masks do, but they do block respiratory droplets that carry the coronavirus. Masks made from a double layer of heavy-duty cotton appear to work well, but even a bandana can reduce the spread of virus-containing droplets. Make sure your mask fits snugly and completely covers your mouth and nose.

More stringent measures may be implemented if the virus is spreading more rapidly. These include avoiding contact with people outside your household, staying away from public gatherings, working from home and closing schools. Some areas have implemented stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders and closure of nonessential businesses.

Quarantine is a more individualized approach that requires people who might have been exposed to the coronavirus to stay at home or in a designated facility for a certain period of time, usually 10 to 14 days. Stricter isolation practices, including the use of personal protective equipment, are important when caring for a person known to have the virus at home or in a hospital.

Coronavirus tests with a rapid turnaround time and the ability to do quick contact tracing if someone tests positive can reduce the need for stay-at-home orders and quarantines, but these are not yet reliably available in some areas.

As the coronavirus continues to circulate months into the pandemic, some people have established “bubbles” or “pods” that include a small group of people who agree to socialize with one another after testing negative for the virus or isolating themselves for two weeks.

There are also some measures you can take to lower the risk of developing severe COVID-19 if you do catch the virus. These include quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and getting treatment to manage preexisting health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Last Reviewed: August 26, 2020