Prevention and Preparedness During COVID-19 Outbreak

Is there anything you can do to protect yourself and your family during the COVID-19 outbreak and reduce your risk of infection?

The answer is YES.

The COVID-19 outbreak has many people concerned about their own health and safety, or that of their family. As a new virus without a vaccine at this time, a lot of people worry that there’s little they can do to protect themselves.

But that’s not really true. The good news is that many of the same things you would do to protect yourself in other outbreaks, like flu season, can also go a long way toward reducing your risk during the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • Wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth when out in public
  • Washing your hands
  • Social distancing
  • Staying home when you’re sick
  • Getting vaccinated for influenza (“getting the flu shot”)

The videos below might help you understand better.

#1: Wear a mask

Scientists who are studying COVID-19 quickly learned that wearing cloth facial coverings (“masks”) is a very effective way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from person to person. Although viruses are extremely tiny, cloth masks can block the droplets from the nose and mouth that carry the virus into the air. Since many people are infected without yet knowing it, it’s important for everyone to wear a mask when out in public, especially when indoors or when it’s not possible to stay at least 6 feet away from other people. In many places, like public transportation and most places of business, wearing a mask is required.

Wearing a mask does help you, but it helps other people even more. When you wear a mask, you are protecting other people, and when they wear a mask, they are protecting you. It’s a beautiful way for the community to help one another.

#2: Wash your hands

Just like with the flu, washing your hands is an extremely effective way to prevent spreading viral illness like COVID-19. Make sure to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice). You especially should do this (a) after going to the bathroom; (b) before eating; and (c) after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.

And until you can wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your unwashed hands.

Kids who see their parents and other adults doing this are more likely to do the same. Together you can help prevent the spread of all kinds of germs.

#3: Practice Social Distancing

When there is illness spreading in the community, consider practicing basic social distancing measures:

  • Limit your time spent around large groups (more than a few people)
  • Avoid unnecessary close contact with people by trying to stay at least 6 feet apart (two arms’ length).
  • Avoid touching other people such as through handshakes, aloha kiss, etc.

Sure, it may seem less sociable, but what can be more polite than preventing the spread of COVID-19 and the flu?

Social distancing is an important tool for preventing the spread of disease. During the COVID-19 outbreak, “aggressive” forms of social distancing are needed. This is why the Governor signed an order for all non-essential workers to stay at home, requiring many employees to work remotely from home (i.e., “telecommuting”) during the COVID-19 outbreak.

#4: Stay home when you’re sick

We all may want to seem selfless and tough for going to work even when we’re not feeling great, but the real heroes are those who stay home so they don’t spread their illness to their coworkers, classmates, and random strangers. This applies not just to your job or school, but also to shopping and leisure activities like going to the movies, even if you are an “essential worker.”

In Hawaii we must prepare for the likelihood that widespread community transmission of COVID-19 will continue. In such a situation, this practice will be one of the most important tools for preventing further spread.

#4: Get vaccinated for the flu

It may seem strange to think that getting your flu shot will help with the COVID-19 outbreak, but it can help reduce the burden on our healthcare system.

The flu shot does not protect against COVID-19, but it will reduce the number of flu cases. If more people get their flu shot, fewer people will have the flu, which frees up healthcare workers to focus on people affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. And because people with seasonal flu often have similar symptoms as people with COVID-19 (fever and cough), it can help healthcare workers avoid confusion and delays if they see fewer flu patients. Getting the flu shot may also keep you out of the hospital where you could be exposed to the coronavirus.

Isolation and quarantine to prevent spread of COVID-19

Hawaii has seen a growing number of cases of COVID-19. As the pandemic continues, we will see more cases where people with COVID-19 or who have possibly been exposed to it are isolated, quarantined, or asked to stay home or in their hotel room and self-monitor (sometimes referred to as “self-quarantine”). Already, all travelers to Hawaii — both visitors and Hawaii residents — will be required to quarantine at home or in their hotel for 14 days after arrival (or show a negative COVID-19 test to be exempt). And since April 1, most inter-island travelers will have to stay in quarantine for 14 days.

Those sound like scary words, and a lot of people don’t quite understand what they mean. In general, isolation is used to separate sick people with a contagious disease (like COVID-19) from people who are not sick, especially in a hospital, while quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick (and may be checked on regularly by health officials).

People who are asked to self-monitor where they live (or are staying) are those who may have been exposed to an illness but are showing no symptoms. They may be asked to stay in place (i.e., not go to work, school, or public places) or limit their outside activity, and to inform their healthcare provider or health authorities (like DOH) if they develop symptoms.

Isolation, quarantine, and self-monitoring at home are crucial ways to prevent further spread during an outbreak. The video below can help you understand isolation and quarantine better. And if you really want to get your hands dirty (metaphorically), check out the CDC webpage on quarantine and isolation.

 

Last reviewed October 2020