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Here are a few things you can do to help protect yourself – and the people around you – from coronavirus.

There’s no denying that the new strain of coronavirus causing COVID-19 is of special concern to seniors and those with chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease. But it’s important to remember not to panic and that there are steps you can take to help protect yourself.

What you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19

“COVID-19 is a respiratory virus of the upper and lower respiratory tracts,” says Dr. Alison Marie Brodginski, an infectious diseases specialist at Geisinger. This respiratory tract infection can lead to pneumonia and breathing issues.

Along with taking practical steps, it’s important to know how the virus spreads — which is the same way the flu and colds spread.

COVID-19 spreads like most respiratory viruses, including the flu or a cold:

  • Droplets traveling through the air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it

“Keeping these things in mind, there are a few additional key steps you can take to help protect yourself against coronavirus,” says Dr. Brodginski.

Tip 1 – Practice physical distancing

As much as you love to hug your kids and grandkids, it’s wise to keep some physical distance between yourself and other people right now.

“The virus transmission zone is about six feet when someone coughs or sneezes,” says Dr. Brodginski. “So you should keep a safe distance from people in any interactions.”  

Remember that some people who carry the virus may only show minor symptoms that go undetected. So, even if the person who’s reaching out to shake your hand looks healthy, they could unknowingly be putting you at risk. Politely decline. They’ll understand.

As much as you’ll want to keep your distance from others, remember to keep them in mind if you have to cough or sneeze, too. And always cover your mouth and nose.

But remember that physical distancing is different from social distancing. Schedule video or phone chats with your loved ones and friends to keep in touch!

Social distancing infographic
Tip 2 – Wash your hands

We all know about the importance of washing your hands, but it can’t be emphasized enough. Soap and water are the most effective means of stopping transmission and you should wash your hands often, especially if you’re coughing or sneezing.

“Washing your hands for just 20 seconds can help prevent the spread of viruses, including COVID-19,” says Dr. Brodginski.

Hand sanitizers and wipes can help, too, when you aren’t near a sink. If you can’t find any at a local store, try making your own at home. You can make a simple hand sanitizer spray with distilled water and rubbing alcohol. You can even add some essential oils, if you have them on hand. Try lavender for a calming scent.

Look for recipes online, but make sure your DIY hand sanitizer meets the suggested minimum of 60% alcohol for it to be most effective. And don’t forget to moisturize your hands regularly to help them from getting too dry, especially during the colder months.

Tip 3 – Stay home as much as possible

If you can avoid public places for a while, you can help protect yourself. Consider laying low as much as possible and keep your distance from others until the pandemic passes.

If you must leave your home, wear a cloth or fabric face mask.

“In addition to practicing physical distancing, we suggest avoiding unnecessary travel and staying out of places where crowds gather, like theaters, restaurants or grocery stores, so you’re less likely to encounter the virus,” says Dr. Brodginski.

Keep surfaces clean and disinfect your home, too. And it probably goes without saying that you’ll want to steer clear of anyone who’s exhibiting symptoms.

COVID-19 symptoms: What to look for

Some COVID-19 symptoms mimic the colds and flu that get passed around each year. Be especially alert to the following symptoms — which might not appear for up to 14 days after exposure:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

If you have these symptoms, the best thing to do is:

  • Stay home 
  • Rest 
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Keep an eye on your symptoms and call your doctor if they worsen.

If you do encounter someone with these symptoms, avoid contact and keep your distance.

Emergency warning signs for COVID-19 include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Bluish lips or skin 
  • Sudden confusion or inability to arouse

If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. 

What if I have COVID-19 symptoms?

If you have any concerns, call your doctor right away. They can give you advice on what to do next and whether additional care or testing is needed. And if you’re not sure which number to use or have additional questions, call the Geisinger COVID-19 hotline at 570-284-3657 for care guidance or to talk with a nurse.

If you are advised to visit your doctor, wear a mask or request a mask as soon as you arrive for your appointment. The more we work together to protect each other, the sooner we’ll contain the virus.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) websites.

Next steps:

What is coronavirus? Learn more
Visit our online Coronavirus Resource Center
Coronavirus FAQs

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