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The best ways to stop the spread of the coronavirus

A woman wearing a face mask walks down a street.

If you want to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, keep your distance.

That's one takeaway from a review of research funded by the World Health Organization (WHO). It revealed that social distancing and some kinds of protective equipment can be very good at stopping the spread of the virus.

Scientists looked at 172 studies on how viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and others spread. Many of the studies tested how likely infection was at different distances from a sick patient. Staying at least 1 meter (3.2 feet) away was shown to greatly lower the risk of infection, compared with smaller distances. And a distance of 2 meters (6.5 feet) could work even better.

Face coverings also provided good protection. Cloth face masks and disposable masks were both helpful for the general public. For healthcare workers, who are at greater risk of exposure, N95 masks worked better than surgical masks. But both were more effective than single-layer masks.

Eyewear such as goggles and face shields were also shown to help protect healthcare workers.

None of these actions were shown to be 100% effective on their own. Other basic measures, such as washing your hands, are also needed.

A stay-well plan

Limiting face-to-face contact with other people is the best way to reduce the spread of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even as states reopen, CDC recommends that you:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other people, even if you're wearing a face mask.
  • Wear a cloth face mask in public.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Clean and disinfect high-contact surfaces.

Why do these measures work?

Social distancing works well because of how the virus spreads. It appears to spread through droplets breathed out when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. Or they can be inhaled into the lungs. Keeping your distance can help lower your risk of coming into contact with the virus or passing it to others.

People can have the virus without showing any symptoms. So even if you feel fine, wearing a cloth face mask is a good idea. It may help protect others by stopping your droplets from traveling into the air.

Visit our Coronavirus health topic center to learn more about COVID-19.

Reviewed 8/10/2020

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