Coronavirus Prevention

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 03, 2023
8 min read

The best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid getting it in the first place. There are vaccines and updated boosters for COVID-19 and they are free to the public, so you should consider getting one.

You can lower your chances of getting or spreading the virus by taking these steps:

  • Wash your hands well and often. Use hand sanitizer when you’re not near soap and water.
  • Try not to touch your face.
  • Wear a high-quality face mask when you go out.
  • Follow your community guidelines for staying home.
  • When you do go out in public, leave at least 6 feet of space between you and others.
  • Don’t leave your house if you don’t feel well.
  • Cover your mouth with your elbow when you cough or sneeze, or use a tissue.
  • Clean and disinfect places and things you touch a lot.

The virus spreads mostly through droplets that people send out when they talk, sneeze, or cough. Droplets usually don’t stay in the air for long or go farther than 6 feet. But the coronavirus might also travel through tiny aerosol particles that can linger for up to 3 hours and travel farther away. This is why wearing a facial covering can be important. It can keep you from giving it to others as well as helping you avoid breathing it in.

You might also catch the coronavirus if you touch something that an infected person has touched and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Even if you don't show symptoms, you could carry the COVID-19 virus. People more than 2 years old should wear a face mask in public or indoors where there's a high risk of infection. Look for a mask that:

  • You can fit it snugly over your nose and mouth with no gaps.
  • You can tie it behind your head or hook it onto your ears.
  • It is high filtration
  • It allows you to breathe.
  • You can wash it without damaging it.

Before you put on your mask, wash or sanitize your hands to be sure they’re clean. Replace your mask if it gets damp. When you take your mask off, do it from the back and don’t touch your face as you do. Wash your mask in your washing machine to clean it after you wear it in public.

Soap, water, and some scrubbing are all it takes to kill viruses on your hands. You probably already know the usual times you should wash your hands, including before and after you handle food and after you:

  • Use the toilet
  • Change a diaper
  • Blow your nose
  • Touch garbage
  • Care for a sick person
  • Touch animals or their waste

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you should also be sure to wash your hands:

  • After being in a public place
  • Before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • After touching a surface other people have touched, such as an elevator button, door handle, gas pump, or shopping cart

Proper hand-washing takes five simple steps:

  • Get your hands wet with warm or cold water.
  • Apply soap and lather up. Be sure to include the backs of your hands, in between fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse hands under clean running water.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel, or let them air-dry.

Soap and water are the best tools for keeping clean hands. But when they’re not nearby, you can use hand sanitizer. It should be at least 60% alcohol. To use it:

  • Apply it to your hands.
  • Rub all over your hands and fingers until they’re dry.

Your eyes, nose, and mouth are a direct path into your body for viruses. Scratch your nose, rub your eyes, or bite a hangnail, and you let germs inside. You probably touch your face all day long without noticing. Breaking the habit takes practice. Try the following tips:

  • Notice the habit. Wear scented lotion or perfume on your hands so the smell alerts you each time it happens.
  • Give your hands something else to do. Use rubber bands or a stress ball to keep your hands busy.
  • Keep tissues nearby. Make sure you use them for itches or a runny nose or eyes.
  • Switch up your posture. If your hand habits are tied to the way you sit at your desk, for example, try a new position.


The fewer people you’re around, the lower your chance of infection. When you stay home, you help stop the spread to others, too. Try to stay out of crowded places. 

Follow the guidelines set up in your community regarding masking and occupancy indoors. Your local officials are monitoring the amount of infection in your community and should be able to guide you.

The main way COVID-19 spreads is from person-to-person contact. “Contact” is more than touching. When someone coughs or sneezes near you, droplets from their nose and mouth go into the air. Droplets from a person with COVID-19 have the virus in them. If you breathe the droplets in, the virus gets into your system.

The CDC reports there is evidence the virus can be transmitted if you get within 3 to 6 feet of someone who is infectious for a total of 15 minutes throughout a day. It had previously been believed the exposure had to be 15 minutes at a time.

To protect yourself, you should practice social distancing. This includes staying at least 6 feet away from other people.  

If you start to have mild symptoms like a runny nose and headache, stay home for 5 full days until you feel better. When you do go out, continue to wear a mask for 5 more days. Get tested as soon as possible. Your symptoms could mean you have the infection and could spread it to others.

Also, hospitals and doctor’s offices are dealing with many cases of COVID-19. Going to the doctor for mild symptoms will raise your chance of getting the virus, and make clinics busier.

Call your doctor to get advice on what to do before you head to a clinic or hospital if you have more severe symptoms, such as:

  • Coughing
  • A fever
  • Trouble breathing/shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Loss of taste and/or smell
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose or congestion


If you sneeze or cough into your hands, you coat them with germs. If you don't cover your sneezes and coughs at all, it rockets your germs into the air around you toward others. Cover your mouth with the crook of your elbow to protect both you and others. Always wash your hands afterward.

You can also get COVID-19 if you touch something that has the virus on it and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. It’s less likely you’ll be infected this way, but it’s still possible.

The virus can survive on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, so you should regularly wipe down surfaces that you and others touch a lot in your house. These include:

  • Tables and chairs
  • Countertops
  • Light switches
  • Doorknobs
  • Keyboards and touch screens
  • Remote controls
  • Toilets
  • Sinks
  • Cabinet handles

Cleaning and disinfecting are two different steps. Cleaning removes dirt and germs, but it doesn’t kill germs. To kill germs, use a chemical disinfectant on surfaces you’ve already cleaned. Most disinfectants you buy in a store should work to kill the virus that causes COVID-19 on surfaces.

To disinfect electronic surfaces or other things you can’t disinfect with bleach, read their instruction manual, or use an alcohol-based wipe.

Wash clothes and other washable materials as normal to disinfect them. If you’re washing clothes or linens of someone who is ill, use gloves to handle them, and wash your hands afterward. 

COVID-19 is a serious illness. It’s important to take steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus because:

  • Anyone can spread the virus. Research has found that you can spread it even if you don’t have symptoms or up to 2 days before symptoms start.
  • Some people are more likely than others to become seriously ill. This includes older people, people with other medical conditions, pregnant and recently pregnant people, and newborns.
  • If you get very sick from a COVID-19 infection, you may need to be hospitalized or put on a ventilator to help you breathe. In severe cases, you may die.
  • Even if you’ve had a COVID-19 infection, you might be able to get sick again and spread it to others.


Anyone can get COVID-19. But you have a higher chance of getting seriously ill from it if you:

If you fall into one of these categories, it’s especially important for you to follow the general safety guidelines. Also, take these steps:

  • Take all your medications as usual. Don’t change your treatment plan without talking to your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about keeping at least a 4-week supply of prescription and over-the-counter medications so you can cut down on trips to the pharmacy.
  • Make sure you’re up to date on vaccines.
  • Call your doctor if you have any questions about your condition or if you think you might have come into contact with the virus.
  • Don’t hesitate to go to the hospital if you need emergency care for your underlying condition.

The FDA has approved four vaccines and follow-up booster shots for added protection.

  • The Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine includes two primary shots given 21 days, or 3 weeks, apart. Anyone 5 years old and above is eligible to get it.
  • The Moderna mRNA vaccine requires two shots given 28 days, or 4 weeks, apart. It is available to those 6 months or older.
  • The Novavax vaccine is protein-based and is available through two shots to those 12 years and older. Shots are given three to eight weeks apart.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine requires just one shot. It’s recommended for anyone 18 years of age or older.

You can get the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster shot 5 months after your last primary vaccine dose. People ages 12 to 17 years old should get a Pfizer-BioNTech booster 5 months after the last dose.

Novavax can be used as a booster in people aged 12 years or older if no other COVID-19 vaccine brand is suitable for that person.

If you’ve taken the J&J/Janssen vaccine, the CDC recommends taking the Pfizer or Moderna booster shot at least 2 months after your first dose.

All four vaccines have proven to be very effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and lowering your chance of getting very sick. They’re also effective against most variants. But the CDC says it’s preferable to take an mRNA vaccine if one is available near you.

If you notice any allergic reactions or side effects after taking the vaccine, let your doctor know.

Show Sources


CDC: “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions,” “How to Protect Yourself & Others,” “People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness,” “When and How to Wash Your Hands,” “Show Me the Science -- Why Wash Your Hands?” “Household Checklist,” “Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19,” “How COVID-19 Spreads,” “Cleaning and Disinfection for Households,” “Information for Healthcare Professionals about Coronavirus (COVID-19),” “Quarantine and Isolation,” “COVID-19 Information for Specific Groups of People,” “Different COVID-19 Vaccines.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Top 10 Tips From Your Family Doctor.”

Harvard Medical School: “If you are at higher risk,” “Preventing the spread of the coronavirus.”

Cleveland Clinic: “How to Actually Comply With the Don’t-Touch-Your-Face Advice From Health Experts.”

World Health Organization: “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public,” “Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19),” “Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines – 20 April 2020.”

American Medical Association: “Helping private practices navigate non-essential care during COVID-19.”

UpToDate: “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Epidemiology, virology, clinical features, diagnosis, and prevention.”

Mayo Clinic: “COVID-19 (coronavirus) vaccine: Get the facts.”

National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine: “Rapid Expert Consultation on SARS-CoV-2 Survival in Relation to Temperature and Humidity and Potential for Seasonality for the COVID-19 Pandemic (April 7, 2020).”

View privacy policy, copyright and trust info