Here's What To Do If Someone Sneezes Or Coughs Near You

This expert tip could help you dodge potential COVID-19 particles from a sneeze or cough.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, offered a sobering warning earlier this month as the weather in the United States begins to cool and flu season is looming: Americans need to stop looking at the “rosy side of things” and prepare for a second wave of COVID-19.

“We need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said during a panel at Harvard Medical School.

Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offered a grim prediction as well, telling the Journal of the American Medical Association in July that the fall and winter, “are going to be probably one of the most difficult times that we’ve experienced in American public health.”

This means that Americans need to be diligent about protecting themselves and others from the airborne virus to quell a spike of infections in the next few months. And given that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted person-to-person through respiratory droplets from sneezing or coughing, Fredrick Sherman, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, offered The Atlantic a new and helpful tip to help curb the spread.

Sherman said that if you find yourself in a high-risk scenario in which a someone sneezes or coughs near you, “Immediately exhale to avoid inhaling droplets or aerosols. Purse your lips to make the exhaling last longer. Turn your head fully away from the person and begin walking.”

This method won’t definitively protect you from COVID-19, but it could reduce how much of the virus you’re exposed to if the person who coughs or sneezes happens to be contagious.

You’re more likely to get sick if you inhale higher doses of the virus, according to The Atlantic. The amount of time you’re exposed to infected particles also matters in terms of transmission; the longer you’re around them, the more time the virus has to get into your system.

Drazen Zigic via Getty Images

There are, of course, more longterm steps you should be taking to reduce your risk of COVID-19. Even in the winter, continue to socialize outdoors, despite the weather. According to the CDC, you have a higher risk of contracting the virus indoors than you do outdoors, due to less ventilation and space, which makes it harder for people to socially distance.

You should also be vigilant about wearing face masks, which arguably offer the best protection against the virus.

Albert Ko, the chair of the department of epidemiology of microbial diseases at Yale School of Public Health, told The Atlantic that people should also accept that face masks “will be a part of our lives indefinitely.” Some experts even say use of face masks may last well into 2021, even when there is a vaccine.

Ko said that by continuing to wear masks, “We can focus on improving their effectiveness and making them less annoying to wear.”

“And it’s not just the design of masks themselves,” Ko said. “We can come up with more innovative ways to promote face-mask use.” Luxembourg, for example, sent its entire population face masks via mail in April.

Finally, continue to wash or disinfect your hands as well as high-touch surface areas in your home.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.


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