With new COVID-19 variants now circulating, experts say it is worth being extra cautious and important to double down and commit to taking precautions to protect ourselves and others from coronavirus.
It is normal for a virus to mutate and, in many cases, the mutations will not 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, that is; make it easier for the virus to actually infect people.
However, the virus itself is still the same, spreads in the same way, which means that the public health tools we had before will still be useful. It is 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 Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommend that the grades of masks be saved for health care professionals. The next most effective masks are three-layer surgical masks, followed by two and three-layer cloth masks.
Public health experts have recently been calling for the public to have better access to N95 respirators and surgical masks rather than relying solely on 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. But doubling up on cloth masks may make it too difficult to breathe.
For now, know that properly wearing a mask that fits you well – fits snugly to the face but is still comfortable is crucial, and that a cloth mask with more layers will provide more protection. If you want to wear two masks and do not find that it restricts your breathing too much, it may protect you more than a single mask. But neither the CDC nor other public health experts are offering this as a blanket recommendation for the general public at the moment.
2. 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 indoor, according to health experts.
3. 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.
Experts say this mode of transmission—fomite transmission—is not the main way that COVID-19 spreads, but it is still important to prevent it as much as possible. That means you should sanitize shared spaces regularly and wash your hands frequently. It is especially important to wash your hands at certain times, such as before eating, before touching your face, and after going to the bathroom. If you are in a situation where you cannot wash your hands, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead (as long as it is at least 60% alcohol).
4. Avoid crowds and unnecessary outings.
One of the most important ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to reduce the amount of time you spend with people who are not already in your household. That includes non-essential gatherings with small numbers of people as well as hanging out in larger crowds.
Crowds pose unique risks because having more people in one area makes it more likely that someone has COVID-19 and, if it spreads, more people are at risk for developing the infection. The virus is also more likely to spread between people who are in close proximity (especially indoors and/or without masks).
If you do decide to spend time with people you do not live with, it is important to reduce the risks associated with that activity as much as possible, which could mean wearing masks, keeping the number of attendees as low as possible, and holding the gathering outside.
5. Stay socially distanced.
Experts now agree that the coronavirus spreads most often through droplet transmissions. This occurs when someone who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, talks, or yells, which causes them to expel respiratory droplets that can contain the virus. Someone else can then inhale the droplets, or they can land in that person’s eyes, nose, or mouth, and go on to infect them.
Staying socially distanced – that is, staying at least six feet away from people you don’t live with—reduces the chances that someone else’s respiratory droplets will reach you.
6. Get tested when appropriate.
Providing adequate testing for COVID-19 has been an issue, especially in the developing countries, since the early days of the pandemic. But more testing -not less, will significantly help us contain and reduce the toll of COVID-19.
The CDC recommends that you get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19, have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, and if you have taken part in risky activities (like traveling, attending large gatherings, or being indoors where social distancing was not possible for extended periods.
But it is important to remember that even if you test negative for COVID-19, this does not mean that it is okay to skip the other items on this list.
7. Get vaccinated when possible.
Although the vaccine rollout in the Nigeria has not commenced, it is suggested that people make it mandatory immediately the vaccination starts.