It seems like every day, experts are learning more about the new coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, which means also seemingly every day, the recommendations about what’s needed, what you should do, and what you probably (or definitely) shouldn’t shift. To date, nearly 1 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 54,000 have died, according to USA Today. So it’s important to take real precautions, but what exactly should those precautions look like?
To answer that very important question, we turned to NBC News’ Vicky Nguyen. As the network’s investigative and consumer correspondent, Nguyen is a vital part of NBC’s coronavirus coverage, diving deep into how this new virus is impacting the lives of everyday Americans. You can see more of her reporting on TODAY and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. Nguyen answered all of our most pressing questions about navigating life during the pandemic, including what to know about wearing masks and gloves, if it’s really safe to order takeout, and what we all need to know as parts of the country and the world begin to open back up.
What do people need to know about wearing masks? Should I wear a mask when I’m out walking if I’m staying at least 6ft from everyone else? Do I need to put one on to go to the mailroom in my building? Do I need to wear a mask when I’m out on my balcony, in my backyard, or on the front porch? Should I just wear one whenever I’m outside of my home?
The CDC recommends you wear a cloth face covering over your mouth and nose “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” This is primarily to prevent the spread of the virus from people who don’t have any symptoms. The cloth helps to contain anything coming from your nose or mouth. It also provides some degree of protection for you against viral droplets if someone coughs or sneezes near you, but the CDC says the primary intent behind wearing masks is to prevent asymptomatic people from spreading the virus.
If you are out walking and keeping your distance, it is still a good idea to wear a face covering because some studies have shown viral particles can travel much further than 6 feet. If you’re on your balcony, backyard or front porch with the same people you live with, no need to cover your face.
Remember, masks are not a substitute for staying home or social distancing when you must leave for essential trips.
Is ordering takeout safe? Are there extra precautions I should be taking?
Yes, doctors and epidemiologists say it is considered safe and low risk for infection. The FDA has said there’s no evidence of food or food containers linked to the transmission of the new coronavirus. But you should take extra precautions: request no-contact delivery, pay with credit card, try to maintain 6 feet of distance if you are picking up food in person. Once you bring the food packaging inside, put it on a counter or sink. Remove the food with utensils and put it on a plate. Throw away the packaging. Clean the sink or counter and wash your hands. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Use clean utensils to eat.
Do I need to wear gloves when I’m out in public? If so, what kind of gloves should I be wearing? Do winter gloves offer any protection (to me or to other people)?
The CDC only recommends people wear gloves if they are caring for a sick person or cleaning up after a sick person. The new coronavirus is not transmitted through the skin. Gloves can be just as easily contaminated as your hands and they make you less likely to practice hand hygiene, plus if you don’t know how to remove them properly, that defeats the purpose and creates more waste. Leave the gloves for healthcare workers or those caring for actively sick people and just remember to wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
Is it OK to see friends or family members if we’re far apart? Or should we just refrain until the experts determine it’s safe? And should we just expect that we won’t see anyone until the fall?
We have seen people practice social distancing outside of nursing homes and from sidewalks to front doors of their loved ones. The guidance now from health officials is to refrain from leaving home except for essential activities, because that is the most effective way to prevent the virus from spreading. Every time you leave your home, you increase the risk of coming into contact with others if you are walking or using public transit or a car accident if you are driving. Think about the risk vs the reward. If you are waving to your family that lives across the street, very low risk and worth the reward. If you have to travel to see them, is it worth it? These are difficult and isolating times and we can’t rely on public health officials to make every decision for us, but we should understand what risks our actions may introduce.
What do I need to know about picking up mail or packages?
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed the new coronavirus can live on cardboard up to 24 hours, and 2-3 days on hard plastic and stainless steel, in ideal conditions. However, for you to get sick, an infected person would have had to touch your package, then you would have to touch it, and then transfer enough of it to your eyes, nose or mouth. While the risk is very low, you can protect yourself by leaving your mail or packages out for a day so that any potential virus is inactivated. A sunny spot is even better because sunlight also kills the virus. If you can’t wait, just open the mail or box, dump out the contents, then dispose of the box or envelopes and wash your hands after handling.
Leave the gloves for healthcare workers or those caring for actively sick people and just remember to wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
How should new and expecting parents (and their family and friends) navigate visitors?
They shouldn’t have visitors right now. The CDC says studies show 25-50 percent of people don’t show symptoms but can be spreading the coronavirus. It’s tough not to be able to share these special times in person, but for the safety of everyone in the family, the advice now is to stay home. Rely on technology for virtual visits.
If two people or households are totally isolating from others, is it OK for them to see each other? Or do they need to stay apart?
Any contact with others outside your immediate home introduces risk. The guidance from health experts is to stay home except for essential trips out. How much do you trust those other families or individuals and who they may have come into contact with? It’s very difficult and isolating but remember, until there is a cure or vaccine for the virus, we are all trying to take measures to reduce our risk of being infected.
If you can’t wait, just open the mail or box, dump out the contents, then dispose of the box or envelopes and wash your hands after handling.
What sort of precautions need to be taken on public transportation, particularly once more people begin to go back to work?
Maintain as much distance as possible, cover your nose and mouth with a cloth or mask, train yourself not to touch your face, and wash hands as soon as you get to work.
Is it really OK to work out outdoors? Or should I try to stay in for that?
Working alone outdoors is great. Getting fresh air and sunshine when you can is important. But try to refrain from any work that could put you at risk of getting hurt because you don’t want to be going to the hospital right now.
How much do you trust those other families or individuals and who they may have come into contact with? It’s very difficult and isolating but remember, until there is a cure or vaccine for the virus, we are all trying to take measures to reduce our risk of being infected.
As businesses begin to open up again in some places, what sorts of things do I need to remember when I’m thinking about going out?
Maintain as much distance as possible from others, cover your nose and mouth with a cloth or mask, train yourself not to touch your face, and wash your hands. If the business looks like it is not practicing social distancing by limiting the number of people inside or putting tables too close together, skip it. Most businesses want to re-open safely and will take measures to change how they operate, but you should use your judgment too.