With several new COVID-19 variants now circulating, experts say it’s worth being extra cautious. And it’s time to double down and really commit to taking the precautions we know can protect ourselves and others from the coronavirus.
It’s normal for a virus to mutate and, in many cases, the mutations won’t necessarily affect the way it infects us or how severe its symptoms may be. But there are a few mutations in the new COVID-19 variants that have experts concerned. Those mutations may make these variants more infectious, meaning they make it easier for the virus to actually infect people.
But the virus itself is still the same. It still spreads in the same way, which means that the public health tools we had before will still be useful—it’s more important than ever that we actually stick to using them. Below are some of the small but crucial ways you can protect yourself and others from coronavirus, including the new variants.
1. Wear a well-fitting mask properly.
Face masks continue to be an important way to protect yourself from COVID-19 and to prevent spreading the virus. A mask provides a physical barrier that can help keep you from inhaling other people’s respiratory droplets and to prevent you from spreading your own.
The most effective masks for this purpose are N95 and KN95 respirators, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends that those be saved for health care professionals. The next most effective masks are three-layer surgical masks, followed by two- and three-layer cloth masks.
Another option is to wear two masks at the same time, which some health care professionals actually already do because it helps protect and extend the life of their N95s. For now, know that properly wearing a mask that fits you well (meaning it fits snugly to the face but is still comfortable) is crucial, and that a cloth mask with more layers will provide more protection.
2. Get vaccinated when possible.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now given two COVID-19 vaccines emergency authorization: one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other developed by Moderna. Both of them rely on mRNA technology to elicit an immune system response in the body that helps protect you from COVID-19. And we now have data to show that both vaccines seem to still be effective against the new U.K. coronavirus variant.
Although the vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been slow going so far, we are now seeing 1 million vaccinations per day. And Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., the new director of the CDC, said recently that vaccinations will likely be far more widely available by the end of March.
3. Prioritize good ventilation.
In some cases, COVID-19 can also spread via airborne transmission, which means that smaller particles containing the virus may linger in the air or travel farther than six feet. Airborne transmission is most likely to happen when people are interacting indoors, without masks, for at least 15 minutes.
But having proper ventilation reduces the chances for both droplet and airborne transmission to occur. The airflow essentially carries droplets that may contain the coronavirus away rather than allowing people to inhale them or for them to fall in someone’s eyes, nose, or mouth. You can improve your airflow situation by opening windows (and, if it’s safe, doors), being outside, or using fans or air filtration systems indoors, the CDC says.
4. Wash your hands frequently.
The respiratory droplets and aerosolized particles that spread COVID-19 can also land on the ground, products at the grocery store, doorknobs, or elevator buttons, for instance. If someone touches one of those items and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth, they could become infected.