Controlling a virus, especially one as contagious as the novel coronavirus, relies on knowing how it spreads.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that coronavirus spreads by:
- person-to-person contact
- the dispersion of infected respiratory droplets into the air when a person with COVID-19 sneezes or coughs
- a person touching a contaminated surface, such as a counter or doorknob, and then touching their mouth or nose
According to the CDC, the disease is probably most contagious when people are the most symptomatic. However, it is also possible for coronavirus to spread before a person shows any symptoms of COVID-19.
The CDC recommend that people wear cloth face masks in public places where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing. This will help slow the spread of the virus from people who do not know that they have contracted it, including those who are asymptomatic. People should wear cloth face masks while continuing to practice physical distancing. Instructions for making masks at home are available here. Note: It is critical that surgical masks and N95 respirators are reserved for healthcare workers.
These practices show what people can do to stop the spread of viruses:
- Frequent hand washing: This practice helps a person keep any viruses from getting into their body through their mouth or nose. It can also help stop the spread of any viruses that the individual may have contracted.
- Sanitization: If hand washing is not possible, sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol can also be helpful. The regular cleaning of shared surfaces, such as doorknobs, can also help stop the spread of viruses.
- Social distancing: This practice can slow the spread of viruses by keeping people from having close contact with one another.
- Covering coughs and sneezes: People can use tissues and cough into their elbows, which helps keep infected respiratory droplets out of the air and off surfaces where others could pick them up.
- Staying at home when unwell: People who do not feel well should stay at home and limit their contact with others to prevent the spread of viruses, even if they have not received a test for the virus.
Businesses can implement the following policies and practices to limit the spread of viruses among employees:
- encouraging people to work from home if possible
- telling people who are sick to stay at home and making it financially feasible for them to do so
- canceling or opting out of large meetings
- promoting hand washing throughout their offices and facilities, encouraging people to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with hot water and soap
- cleaning “high-touch” surfaces frequently
- providing hand sanitizer and tissues
Social distancing is a public health care practice that officials recommend during disease outbreaks.
The goal of social distancing is to keep people far enough away from each other to prevent the spread of infectious agents, such as viruses.
Social distancing can help stop the spread of viruses, reduce the danger to people most at risk of severe symptoms, and potentially lessen the strain on the health system.
The following are examples of social distancing:
- encouraging people to keep 6 feet away from others
- limiting the size of gatherings to no more than a fixed number of people
- canceling or postponing public festivals, parades, sporting events, and performances
- canceling face-to-face classes at colleges and universities
- closing schools
- avoiding shaking hands and hugging
- staying at home as much as possible
Although research is limited and mainly model-based, some studies have found that social distancing does lead to a reduction in the rate of infection. However, delayed implementation and poor compliance can reduce its effectiveness.
Even if social distancing is effective in stopping the spread of disease, people can still experience negative emotional and psychological effects, such as increased stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
People can help counteract the potential side effects of social distancing by:
- seeking out information from credible sources
- informing care providers, employers, and their personal support networks about their concerns
- using technology to stay connected with friends and loved ones, including having video calls for “face-to-face” interactions
- practicing relaxation techniques, such as physical exercise, yoga, meditation, or keeping a journal
Hospitals are under extreme pressure to control viruses. Not only do unwell people go to the hospital, potentially bringing viruses with them as they seek treatment, but also many hospital patients are already sick and frail.
Another infection could overwhelm a weakened immune system.
The CDC-recommended techniques that hospitals use to stop the spread of viruses include:
- Calling ahead: Hospitals request that people coming in who may have COVID-19 phone ahead so that staff may keep them separate from people with other health concerns.
- Directing: Limiting the number of entrances to the hospital, questioning people about travel and symptoms, and directing them to the relevant part of the hospital can help.
- Signs and supplies: Placing warning signs and hygiene posters throughout the facility, along with hand sanitizer and tissues, can help reduce the spread of viruses.
- Face masks and respirators: People coming to the hospital with symptoms of a respiratory infection should receive face masks immediately. Cleared healthcare personnel who have undergone training in respiratory care should wear N95 respirators or, if these are not available, face masks.
- Isolation: People who may have a very contagious virus should remain separate — either in private rooms or on different floors or wings — from individuals with other health issues.
- Personal protective equipment: Staff working with people who may have a highly contagious viral infection should wear eye protection, gowns, and gloves.
- Cleaning: Hospital personnel will need to follow stringent guidelines on cleaning medical equipment, surfaces, laundry, and food service utensils.
In light of the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, striving to stop the spread of viruses is more important than ever.
Although there are no guarantees, hand washing, social distancing, and, in general, limiting each individual’s potential exposure to infectious agents are useful tools for limiting the spread of viruses.