There is no vaccine and no proven treatment for this new virus, officially named COVID-19.
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Mother and son wearing a protective face mask against the coronavirus at the park in Rome, Italy (Photo by Silvia Loré/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
But experts say common-sense measures – and the same steps you would take to avoid other respiratory illnesses like the flu - are key to preventing getting sick from coronavirus.
CDC recommends preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases:
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
• CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and 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 hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
• If you are concerned you might have the coronavirus, call your healthcare provider before going to a hospital or clinic. In mild cases, your doctor might give you advice on how to treat symptoms at home without seeing you in person, which would reduce the number of people you expose. But in more severe cases an urgent care center or hospital would benefit from advance warning because they can prepare for your arrival. For example, they may want you to enter a special entrance, so you don’t expose others.
Here are six steps to protect yourself and your family.
1. Wash your hands frequently.
It’s a top tip because it works. The problem is, many people fail to correctly wash their hands. Here’s how to do it: wet your hands with soap, and get the backs of your hands and between your fingers. Scrub for at least 20 seconds. (Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice). Rinse hands. Dry with towel or let them air dry. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
2. Get a flu shot.
Avoiding the flu means you won’t take up resources at a hospital in the event of a coronavirus outbreak. The flu shot won’t protect people from this new virus, but it will help protect people from getting the flu, and the flu is what people are more likely to catch now.
3. You can probably skip a face mask.
The CDC doesn’t recommend face masks as a preventive measure because most are too loose to be effective, and they can provide a false sense of security.
Experts agree it’s a good idea for those who are sick to wear one, as it can reduce the chances of infecting others.
They are critical for health care workers. The most effective are N95 masks, which are designed to block 95 percent of very small particles.
4. Germ management.
Symptoms of the coronavirus typically emerge within 14 days of infection and can include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
If you must cough or sneeze, cough into a tissue and throw the tissue into the trash. If you don’t have tissues handy, the next best thing is to cough in the inside of your elbow.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body.
Keep surfaces in your home clean. High-touch surfaces include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables. Also, clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them. Use a household cleaning spray or wipe, according to the label instructions.
5. Stay home if sick.
Stay home if you feel sick. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call your health care facility before visiting. Local and national authorities will have the most up-to-date information. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the appropriate location. This will also protect you and help prevent the spread of viruses and other infections.
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Illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the COVID-19.CONTRIBUTED
6. Put together a plan.
Experts say it's sensible to have two weeks' to a month's worth of food and other household supplies, such as laundry detergent. Bookmark web sites for reliable sources of information such as your local health department and the CDC. Parents may want to contact their child's school or visit its website to learn how plans for early dismissals or online instruction would be implemented.
And Dr. José Cordero, the head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia recommends that families and friends discuss emergency contingency plans for helping each other with everything from child care to meal sharing.