Do Face Masks Work? How Long Should You Wash Your Hands? Here's How to Prevent Coronavirus  

The CDC suggests a five-step method for washing hands properly as one method of coronavirus protection

With the Centers for Disease Control warning Americans that a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is iminent — and with California reporting the first confirmed case of “unknown origin” — it’s more important than ever that people take precautions to stay healthy.

As of Feb. 27, there are 15 cases of coronavirus that were found in the U.S., and an additional 45 cases in Americans who were evacuated back to the U.S. after either living in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, or traveling on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in Japan after the virus spread through the ship.

The CDC now says that Americans “need to prepare for a significant disruption” to their daily lives if a larger outbreak occurs, and to up their hygiene practices to prevent the disease from spreading.

Wash Your Hands

According to the CDC, one of the best ways to protect yourself is to wash your hands often, and with the right technique. When your hands are clean, you can prevent germs from spreading from one person to another.

Soapy hands at sink

To successfully wash hands, follow these five steps recommended by the CDC.

First, wet your hands with clean, running water — warm or cold. After turning off the tap, apply soap to your hands and rub them together.

Make sure you’re lathering the bubbles between your fingers, under your nails and on the backs of your hands.

This is the important part — keep scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. If you need help keeping track, try humming the full “Happy Birthday” song twice.

After you’ve washed thoroughly, rinse your hands under clean, running water. Grab a clean towel to dry your hands, or air dry if needed.

Hand Sanitizer Is an Okay Substitute

The CDC says that people can use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol as an alternative, but it’s not nearly as effective as hand washing. While water and soap can completely remove germs, hand sanitizer mostly just reduces the number of microbes, leaving potential viruses around.

To properly use hand sanitizer, apply it to one palm and then rub it fully around hands until they are dry.

Face Masks Can Be Effective — but Leave Them for Medical Professionals

Face masks can prevent the spread of germs, but only if they are properly fitted. Thin, papery surgical masks typically worn by doctors can stop large droplets from reaching the mouth, but, according to the CDC, they do “NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protection.”

The best face masks, according to the CDC, are N95 respirators, which can tightly cover the area around the mouth and seal out 95 percent of large and small air particles.

But currently, the CDC is not recommending that the average healthy person purchase and wear face masks as a form of coronavirus prevention. They say that the masks are best for people who already have coronavirus to stop the spread of the disease, and for medical workers attending to patients. Most face masks are sold out at online retailers and the CDC says that they should go to the medical workers who need them.

Other Ways to Prevent Coronavirus

Along with keeping hands clean, the World Health Organization also says that people should avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth, particularly after touching unknown surfaces.

They should also try to keep about 1 to 3 feet between themselves and a person who is coughing or sneezing — and that person should make sure to cover their mouth and nose in their elbow.

Anyone who feels unwell and suspects they may have coronavirus should stay home to limit spread of the disease. They should call their health care provider, who can direct them to the correct medical center for testing and treatment.

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