Please note the story you’re reading was published more than a day ago. COVID-19 news and recommendations change fast: Read the latest here to stay up-to-date. We’ve lifted our paywall on all essential news and updates about the coronavirus.
If you, like me, aren’t exactly sure how much to worry about the coronavirus no matter how much you read, it might behoove you to take in the actionable advice of Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, published by the New York Times.
Wash your hands.
Most importantly: you need to wash your hands. Like, really wash your hands. More specifically, writes Carroll, “Wash them often. Wash them for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.” Twenty seconds?? Yes. (“I know that 20 seconds seems like a long time,” acknowledges Carroll.) I did this yesterday, possibly for … the first time in my life, and was surprised by how long it felt. But then I did it again the next time, and the next, and in 21 days, it will feel normal.
Plus: Research shows that washing your hands for less time isn’t as effective, while washing them for much longer can be counterproductive by damaging the skin. And if you don’t have access to soap at the moment, hand sanitizer can work, but doesn’t work as well.
You probably don’t need a mask.
Carroll’s other tips: don’t touch your face (especially with unwashed hands), don’t shake hands with sick people, and stay home if you’re sick. For most people, and certainly for people outside China, face masks won’t do much — they’re most beneficial for people who are already sick, to help prevent them from infecting others.
Get the flu shot.
Seriously. The flu shot won’t prevent you from getting coronavirus, but right now, for people outside China, the flu presents a much, much greater threat than the coronavirus. In fact, says Carroll, one of public health officials’ biggest fears about coronavirus is that it will become so commonplace that they can’t get us to worry about it — much like they can’t get enough of us to worry about the flu. The flu shot isn’t a cure-all, but it’s a smart, affordable, and practical action you can take, and that’s better for everyone than empty worrying.