Going into public while exposure to COVID-19 is still out there carries some risk, but there are a few ways to stay safe. As COVID-19 research continues on, here’s our advice about social distancing and coronavirus personal protective equipment (PPE) in public places:
- Make sure everyone is wearing a mask
Masks have been found to be the most effective form of PPE against the spread of COVID-19—but there’s a catch. They don’t actually work by protecting the wearer of the mask from exposure. Rather, they work to prevent people with COVID-19 from transmitting respiratory droplets into the shared air everyone is breathing. This means if you’re in an indoor area like a grocery store, it’s vital to make sure almost everyone around you is wearing a mask. In areas where people don’t seem to be complying with wearing masks, it may be a safer option to order delivery of food or groceries. Social distancing is an important part of how masks work, so make sure to stay about six feet apart.
- The most effective type of masks
Cloth masks or bandanas/scarves should be good enough for going into public areas, but for people who want to take an extra step in staying safe, paper surgical masks are a bit better. The only masks that are truly protective against contracting COVID-19 from the air are N-95 masks and gas masks, but those are mostly being allotted to health care workers who need them most. Face shields may also help but as of right now experts are divided on whether plastic face shields or cloth masks are best.
- Hand washing
Handwashing is not actually a form of PPE, but aside from masks it is the most important thing you can do for yourself to keep yourself safe. Wearing disposable gloves at the store can help too, but as long as you are not touching your face and are washing your hands after contact with the outside world the risk is about the same.
- Follow guidelines for number of people inside a shared space
COVID-19 spreads primarily by respiratory droplets that are circulated in the shared air, which is why it’s much more likely to be exposed indoors than outdoors where the droplets can disperse in the open air. In a shared space, there are CDC guidelines for how many people can be in the building at one time. Follow these guidelines on social distancing to stay safe. If it seems like there are too many people inside one room or building, don’t enter as the risk of inhaling droplets infected with COVID-19 goes way up. Good air ventilation and moving whatever activities possible outdoors—such as dining or waiting in a line—can be great ways to reduce risk.
- Take social distancing seriously
Staying six feet apart from others can be hard to remember sometimes, but it makes a big difference. The space between people allows the viral droplets to disperse into the air before reaching another person. This effect is even stronger if both people are wearing face masks. Always sneeze or cough into a tissue that can be disposed of safely immediately as these are some of the main modes of transmission.