VDH Awards $6M Grant to VCU Health System to Strengthen Infection Prevention and Control Capacity in Virginia

Media Contact:
Brookie Crawford, VDH,  brookie.crawford@vdh.virginia.gov
Laura Rossacher, VCU Health, (347) 835-7775, lrossacher@vcu.edu


VDH Awards $6M Grant to VCU Health System to Strengthen Infection Prevention and Control Capacity in Virginia

A new Virginia Infection Prevention Training Center will be established to build and strengthen the state’s infection prevention and control workforce and reduce infections in all types of healthcare settings.

(RICHMOND, Va.)  — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) awarded a $6 million grant to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Health System to establish a statewide infection prevention training center. The new Virginia Infection Prevention Training Center, to be designed and implemented by VCU, will work in tandem with healthcare facilities and public health to strengthen infection prevention and control expertise and provide universal infection prevention and control training to frontline providers.

“VDH is excited to utilize COVID-19 federal funding to address a previously recognized need for comprehensive and sustainable infection prevention and control training in Virginia,” said Laurie Forlano, D.O., MPH, deputy director of the VDH’s Office of Epidemiology. “Partnership with VCU, a nationally recognized leader in infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship, will ensure the success and longevity of this initiative.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed major gaps in knowledge around infection prevention nationally, particularly in nursing homes and other long-term care settings,” said Michael Stevens, M.D., interim hospital epidemiologist at VCU Medical Center and co-principal investigator of the VDH grant. “Our goal is to give practitioners in Virginia the knowledge and skills to prevent as many infections as possible. This means better, safer care for patients throughout the Commonwealth.”

The Virginia Infection Prevention Training Center will provide in-person and interactive online training to thousands of healthcare providers and learners across Virginia.  The training courses will include evidence-based infection prevention and control practices that can be applied across the healthcare continuum.

“Everyone plays a role in infection prevention, especially with highly transmissible COVID-19 variants on the rise,” said Michelle Doll, M.D., associate hospital epidemiologist at VCU Medical Center and co-principal investigator of the VDH grant. “We will teach beginner-, intermediate- and advanced-level courses and the introductory classes will be open to anyone working in a healthcare setting interested in infection prevention.”

By establishing the Virginia Infection Prevention Training Center, VDH and VCU aim to create a sustainable resource for training and education for all frontline healthcare workers in the Commonwealth for years to come.

# # #

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls nearly 30,000 students in 238 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-three of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Tappahannock Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, and MCV Physicians. The clinical enterprise includes a collaboration with Sheltering Arms Institute for physical rehabilitation services. For more, please visit vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.

Harmful Algae Bloom Advisories Remain in place for North Anna and Upper Pamunkey Branches of Lake Anna; In Orange, Louisa and Spotsylvania Counties

Media Contact: Brookie Crawford, Brookie.Crawford@vdh.virginia.gov

Harmful Algae Bloom Advisories Remain in place for North Anna and Upper Pamunkey Branches of Lake Anna; In Orange, Louisa and Spotsylvania Counties
Public Advised to Avoid Water Contact within these Locations of the Lake

Richmond, Va. – The North Anna and Upper Pamunkey Branches, including Terry’s Run, of Lake Anna in Orange, Louisa and Spotsylvania counties are continuing to experience a harmful algae bloom (HAB). The public is advised to avoid contact with the lake in this area. Some harmful algae, called cyanobacteria, can cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illnesses, such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The area to avoid can be seen on an interactive map at the Algal Bloom Surveillance Map. A status report containing the updated advisory areas may be viewed at Lake Anna Status Report 10.18.21.

Results of samples collected October 12 indicated that swimming advisories continue to be necessary due to unsafe levels of potential toxin producing cyanobacteria segments of the North Anna and Pamunkey Branches. People and pets are advised to avoid swimming, windsurfing and stand-up-paddle-boarding, as well as other activities that pose a risk of ingesting water.

The samples collected downstream at the confluence of the two branches, at the Lake Anna State Park beach, and at the 208 bridge indicated cyanobacteria densities were at acceptable levels and do not necessitate a swimming advisory.

The sections of the lake currently under advisory (no change in advisory extents compared to September):

Pamunkey Branch

  • From the upper inundated waters of the Pamunkey arm of the lake downstream to the 612 Bridge. Includes Terry’s Run.

North Anna Branch

  • From the upper inundated waters of the North Anna arm of the lake downstream to above the confluence with Pamunkey Branch above Goodwins Point. Does not include “the Splits.”

While overall cyanobacteria densities and detectable levels of cyanotoxins were lower, requirements to lift advisories within these areas of Lake Anna could not be met from the October 12 sample event. The HAB Task Force discontinues response sampling in October, when the recreational (swimming) season concludes as temperatures begin cooling in natural waters.

Algae blooms can occur when warm water and nutrients combine to make conditions favorable for algae growth. Most algae species are harmless, however, some species may produce irritating compounds or toxins. Avoid discolored water or scums that are green or bluish-green because they are more likely to contain toxins.

To prevent illness:

  • Avoid contact with any area of the lake where water is green or an advisory sign is posted,


  • Not allow children or pets to drink from natural bodies of water.
  • Keep children and pets out of the areas experiencing a harmful algae bloom and quickly wash them off with plenty of fresh, clean water after coming into contact with algae scum or bloom water.
  • Seek medical/veterinarian care if you or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near an algal bloom.
  • Properly clean fish by removing skin and discarding all internal organs, and cooking fish to the proper temperature to ensure fish fillets are safe to eat.
  • Contact the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at 1-888-238-6154 if you suspect you experienced health-related effects following exposure to a bloom.

The blooms which are present in the lake may persist into the fall and possibly winter months. While the current cyanobacteria bloom could reach safe levels at some point during the fall and winter months, resources are not available for the Task Force to continue the monitoring in off-season months in order to formally lift the advisories in the 2021 year. Activities where full body submersion is not likely to occur, such as fishing, boating, flat-water kayaking, can continue with appropriate caution.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, which includes the VDH, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Old Dominion University Phytoplankton Laboratory, will resume response monitoring efforts in May 2022, weather permitting.

For more information visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com.

Virginia’s COVID-19 Vaccination Priorities Announced

Virginia’s COVID-19 Vaccination Priorities Announced
Health Care Personnel and Long-Term Care Facilities Will Receive Initial Vaccine Doses

(Richmond, Va.) As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Virginia, implementing a successful vaccination program is critical to flattening the curve and stopping the spread of this virus. Based on new information provided on December 3 by the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, Virginia is now preparing to receive an estimated total of 480,000 doses of vaccine from two manufacturers (Pfizer and Moderna) by the end of December 2020.

This initial distribution will ensure 480,000 health care personnel (HCP) and long-term care facility (LTCF) residents receive a first dose of the vaccine, beginning the inoculation process for nearly all members of Virginia’s two top-priority groups, if we receive this expected allotment. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) estimates that there are up to 500,000 HCP and LTCF residents in Virginia.

“Vaccine will be provided to Virginians in a way that is fair, ethical, and transparent,” said Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “We will focus initially on the groups that have been most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 infections and those whose work puts them at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 infections. Over time, as more vaccine supply becomes available, more Virginians will be able to get vaccinated, and we can look forward to a time when this pandemic will end.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) on Tuesday voted to formally recommend HCP and LTCF residents as top priorities for vaccination. In response, the Virginia Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (VDMAC) and the Virginia Unified Command voted this week to officially adopt ACIP recommendations in Virginia and provide initial vaccines to both HCP and LTCF residents.

The first shipment of vaccines is expected to be received from Pfizer in mid-December and will require ultracold storage (negative 70 degrees Celsius). All 72,150 initial doses will be distributed directly to geographically diverse health care systems with ultracold storage capacity, and will go to HCP. Health care personnel that directly care for COVID-19 patients will receive top priority among health care providers.

Subsequent weekly shipments are expected to begin after the initial shipment and will be divided among HCP and LTCF residents. The majority of LTCF in Virginia will receive vaccinations from CVS and Walgreens’ teams onsite through a federal CDC-pharmacy-LTCF partnership. Health care systems and public health will ensure access to vaccination for all HCP and LTCF residents equitably across the entire state.

ACIP ethical principles for allocating initial supplies of COVID-19 vaccine, namely to maximize benefits and minimize harms, promote justice, and mitigate health inequities, support the early vaccination of HCP and LTCF residents. According to ACIP, as of December 1, 2020, approximately 245,000 COVID-19 cases and 858 COVID-19-associated deaths had been reported among U.S. HCP. Early protection of HCP is critical to preserve capacity to care for patients with COVID-19 or other illnesses. LTCF residents, because of their age, high rates of underlying medical conditions, and congregate living situation, are at high risk for infection and severe illness from COVID-19. As of November 15, 2020, approximately 500,000 COVID-19 cases and 70,000 associated deaths had been reported among residents of skilled nursing facilities in the United States.

Health care personnel are defined as paid and unpaid persons serving in health care settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials. Long-term care facility residents are defined as adults who reside in facilities that provide a variety of services, including medical and personal care, to persons who are unable to live independently.

The actual amount of vaccine received in Virginia is a moving target and dependent on when and how quickly vaccination doses are manufactured. VDH is coordinating future prioritization based on federal guidance.

For more information about VDH’s COVID-19 Vaccination Response Plan, visit: www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine.

VDH Announces New Contact Tracing Prioritization and Reduced Quarantine Guidelines

VDH Announces New Contact Tracing Prioritization and Reduced Quarantine Guidelines
Virginia is Following Newly-Issued CDC Guidance

(Richmond, Va.)Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced because of substantial levels of COVID-19 community transmission, local health departments may need to prioritize  contact tracing efforts for key elements of the population.  During this time of significantly high case volume,  traditional methods of contact tracing are less effective. This means that some local health departments, as necessary, may not be contacting everyone with COVID-19 infection or close contacts to someone with COVID-19 infection.  Per new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), VDH may prioritize follow-up of cases and tracing of close contacts for the following groups:

  • People diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past six days and their household contacts
  • People living or working in or visiting congregate living facilities
  • People involved in known clusters or outbreaks
  • People at increased risk of severe illness

“As cases of COVID-19 increase across the Commonwealth, this change will allow us to deploy resources where they will have the most impact,” said Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A.  “We urge residents to continue to follow public health guidance on wearing masks and physical distancing, and to notify their circle of friends and family quickly if diagnosed with COVID-19.  Also, please answer the phone if a VDH Contact Tracer calls.  All these things are helping us in the fight against COVID-19.”

Case investigation and contact tracing are an essential and impactful part of the COVID-19 response in Virginia, and nearly 2,000 public health professionals have been hired since May 2020 in local health departments to do this work.  Although not all cases and not all contacts can be called when the number of cases is high, contact tracing will continue in Virginia in accordance with these new recommendations.  VDH continues to work closely with the CDC and follow federal guidance.

During times like these, everyone must be proactive in following public health recommendations that include:

  • Wear a mask
  • Practice social distancing
  • Wash your hands on a regular basis
  • Stay home whenever possible
  • Avoid gatherings outside of your household
  • Download COVIDWISE, the VDH exposure notification app
  • Use the CDC and VDH websites for accurate, reliable, and updated information

If you test positive for COVID-19 or are diagnosed with COVID-19, you need to stay at home, away from others, and self-isolate for at least ten days.  You should also help identify and notify the people that you had close contact with while you were contagious.  If you have been exposed to COVID-19, you need to stay at home, away from others, self-quarantine, get tested for COVID-19 five-to-seven days after exposure, and watch for any symptoms.

VDH and CDC continue to recommend a quarantine period of 14 days.  However, CDC  guidance now includes two additional options for how long quarantine should last.  The safest option is still to quarantine for 14 days after last exposure.  Any quarantine shorter than 14 days balances reduced burden against a small possibility of spreading the virus.  The two additional options for shortened quarantine are for people without symptoms to end quarantine after day 10 without testing, or after day 7 with a negative PCR or negative antigen test performed on or after day 5.  It is still important to watch for symptoms of COVID-19 until 14 days after exposure and to take other prevention measures including wearing a mask, distancing, and frequent hand washing.

Today, VDH is adopting this revised quarantine guidance for everyone except healthcare workers or healthcare facilities.  CDC’s healthcare-associated infection prevention and control experts are currently reviewing the revised guidance; in the meantime, VDH recommends that healthcare personnel and residents and staff in healthcare facilities continue to use a 14-day quarantine.

Always seek medical care if symptoms worsen or become severe.  Severe symptoms include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.

Virginia Department of Health to Add COVID-19 Contact Tracing Data

Weekly Reporting of Four Data Points Available Today

(Richmond, Va.) — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) began reporting information related to efforts to notify people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. Information related to notification efforts — referred to as contact tracing — is available on the COVID-19 Data Insights webpage, located at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-data-insights/. The state-level data will be updated weekly on Fridays.

The ability to report this information is the result of a new data management system that VDH recently implemented. The data being reported includes the following:

  • Percent of cases (individuals diagnosed with COVID-19) reached within 24 hours
  • Number of contacts of cases who are undergoing public health monitoring
  • Of contacts reached, percent contacted within 24 hours
  • Percent of contacts that — after multiple attempts — were unable to be reached or have yet to be reached

A seven-day average will be provided in the “Percent of cases reached within 24 hours” category.

Contact tracing involves finding people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and providing guidance to prevent them from spreading it. Contact tracing is one of many trusted public health tools used to prevent further spread of contagious diseases. It has long been used for other contagious diseases like measles and tuberculosis (TB). Currently, contact tracing is one important part of how Virginia can slow the spread of COVID-19.

As Virginia began to see increased numbers of COVID-19 cases, VDH expanded its staff of contact tracers and case investigators in its 35 health districts from a few hundred to more than 1,200 at the end of June. This number represents a suggested ratio of 15 contact tracers per 100,000 population.

This contact tracing data is the latest publicly available COVID-19 data including the daily COVID-19 Cases in Virginia dashboard, Virginia’s Key Measures of COVID-19 Data and COVID-19 Case and Testing Data by ZIP Code.

For the latest information on the COVID-19 situation in Virginia, go to the VDH coronavirus webpage at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/.

Stay Safe and Healthy in Your Backyard Pool #swimhealthyva

girl in poolHappy Healthy and Safe Swimming Week May 18 – 24, 2020! Public and private pools around Virginia begin to open in late May, making this the ideal time to talk about ways to reduce the risk of recreational water-associated illness, drowning, and injury in our communities. Water is not only fun to play and cool off in, but just a few hours of water-based physical activity per week can offer low-impact health benefits for everyone!

At pools, spas, and waterparks:

  • Don’t swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea.
  • Don’t swallow the water.
  • Every hour take kids on bathroom breaks. Change diapers in the restroom, not poolside, to keep germs away from the pool.
  • Read and follow directions on pool chemical product labels.
  • Wear appropriate safety equipment (goggles, for example) when handling pool chemicals.
  • Secure pool chemicals to protect people, particularly children and animals, from accidental exposure.
  • NEVER add pool chemicals when the pool is in use, and only add them poolside when directed by the product label.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through the water used in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. Proper operation and disinfection of pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds should kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Operators of aquatic venues should ensure that patrons can safely enjoy the facilities while maintaining social distancing practices. For CDC guidance for aquatic venues during COVID-19, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/parks-rec/aquatic-venues.html

It is also important to remember that drowning is the leading cause of injury and death for children ages 1-4 years. To keep swimmers safe in the water:

  • Make sure everyone knows how to swim.
  • Use life jackets and wear them appropriately.
  • Provide continuous attentive supervision near swimmers.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Install and maintain barriers like 4-sided fencing and weight-bearing pool covers.
  • Use locks or alarms for pool access points.

To learn more about staying safe in pools and natural waters, visit swimhealthyva.com.

Virginia’s natural streams, rivers, and lakes offer opportunities for fun exercise and fishing but also pose the risk for illness, injury and drowning. Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Look for beach advisory signs along public access points or along the beach. Many public beaches in Virginia are monitored for bacteria levels. An advisory is posted if these levels are too high. If the beach is under advisory, stay out of the water.
  • All natural bodies of water contain bacteria, including salt water. Salty water will not disinfect wounds. If you have broken skin, stay out of the water.
  • Avoid swimming in natural waters for at least three days after heavy rain.
  • Don’t swim when you are sick. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  • Avoid getting water up your nose. Use a nose clip or plug your nose before going under the water.
  • If you become sick after being in the water, report your water activities to your doctor.
  • Shower with soap and water before and after swimming.
  • Keep children and pets from swimming in scummy water. If you see mats of algae or discolored green, red, or brown water, an algae bloom may be present.
  • Report harmful algal blooms or dead animals in the water to the HAB Hotline at:

What to do when your loved one is in a nursing home during COVID-19

woman laughing with motherNursing homes and other long term care facilities have been especially hard hit by COVID-19, leaving many families worried about their loved ones and unsure about what to do. You can help by understanding what’s going on and by talking to your loved one to address their questions and concerns. You can also stay in touch with them remotely, which will help keep them from feeling isolated and alone.

A question on many people’s minds is “how did COVID-19 get into a nursing home in the first place?”

In some cases, a resident may have come into the facility with the virus after returning from travel or even after a trip to the grocery store or the doctor. In the same way, it could have been introduced by a visitor, a volunteer or a staff member. The reason is simple: when the pandemic first hit the United States, most people were still unaware of the risk, so the virus spread through people who may not have even had symptoms.

COVID-19 is highly contagious so once a resident, staff member or volunteer inside a group home had COVID-19, it could spread rapidly throughout the building. That’s what has happened in nursing homes and assisted living facilities; every time an infected person coughed or sometimes even breathed, they transmitted the virus to anyone within six feet.

If your loved one is in a facility with no cases of COVID-19

For group homes with no known cases of COVID-19, the most important thing is keeping it out. This is why facilities have stopped allowing visitors and volunteers; keeping the residents safe depends on limiting the number of people who can come in.

Of course, staff members still have to come in every day and that creates a risk of infection, especially for staff members who work in several different facilities. Only essential staff members should be working on site. They should also wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times and should change their PPE after coming into contact with each resident.

Facilities should also be following social distancing guidelines. For group homes, that means group activities are canceled and meals are served in rooms. Residents are encouraged to stay in their own rooms as much as possible and if they have to leave, they should wear a facemask and maintain six feet distance from other people.

If your loved one is in a facility with known cases of COVID-19

Once a group home has a suspected case of COVID-19, extra care must be taken to isolate patients while also providing healthcare services. Facilities should have a special wing or floor away from everyone else for COVID-19 patients and specific employees should be dedicated to that area only – they should not work both with COVID-19 patients and also with other residents.

Residents without COVID-19 symptoms should be following the same guidelines as in other group homes; they should stay in their rooms as much as possible and when they have to leave, should wear a facemask and maintain social distancing.

Remember that long-term care facilities are overwhelmed right now — especially if there is an outbreak, the staff’s priority is keeping the residents safe. While they should still try to find time to address the concerns of family members, they probably don’t have as much time as they usually do to talk to family members. Be patient with them.

Staying in touch

For many residents of group homes, it’s hard not being allowed to see visitors or participate in group activities. Many struggle with loneliness or depression. Fortunately, there are ways to visit remotely. Many nursing homes have set up window stations for visitors. Friends and family can call the facility and to schedule a window visit with a loved one.

Visitors can be escorted to a large window or sliding glass door where they can watch safely from inside while visitors smile and wave – or perform songs or dances for them – from outside. Window visitation can be done over the phone as well, in which case, both the resident and the visitor talk on the phone while being able to see each other through the window.

Many facilities have also helped set up computers and email accounts for residents who don’t already have them, and of course, talking on the phone is always a safe way to stay in touch.

If your loved one is bedridden or unable to talk on the phone, call the facility to ask for help – in most cases, staff members can take a phone or tablet into a room and hold it up, allowing visitors to see or speak to their loved ones over Skype or Zoom.

Questions to ask the staff:

  • If you are worried about a loved one in an assisted living facility or nursing home, there are questions you can ask the staff about sanitation and You can also ask about the mental health of residents and what options there are for remote visitation.
  • Are employees screened each day for COVID-19? How are they screened? Are their temperatures taken when they arrive to work each day?
  • Does the facility have enough PPE for employees to change every time they interact with a resident?
  • Is there a separate unit set aside for COVID-19 patients?
  • Do the staff who treat COVID-19 patients also work with other residents?
  • Have cloth masks been provided to all residents? Are they required to wear them when leaving their rooms?
  • How are food, groceries and toiletries being delivered?
  • Is mail being set aside for 24 hours before it is delivered?
  • Have all residents been informed about social distancing, hand-washing and facemask guidelines?
  • Can I send packages to my loved one? Will they be set aside for 24 hours, or sanitized with disinfectant before being delivered?
  • Is there a window visitation station?
  • If my loved one needs help with social media, Zoom or email, can you help them set it up?
  • Are there any options for mental health check-ins, such as counseling?

While the pandemic is especially hard on those in group homes, there are ways to keep residents safe and also to help keep them connected with the outside world. When in doubt, ask the staff how they can help you and your loved one stay in touch while apart.

Masks up: why you need to be wearing a cloth mask

How to make a no-sew mask:

There are many no-sew patterns on the Internet. This one comes from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and requires a bandana or 20×20-inch square of cotton fabric (like an old t-shirt), rubber bands and scissors.

  1. Fold the bandana in half.
  2. Fold it into thirds by folding the top to the middle and then the bottom to the middle.
  3. Stick each end into a rubber band or hair tie. The two bands should be about six inches apart.
  4. Fold the right side to the middle and tuck it into the band.
  5. Fold the left side to the middle and tuck it into the band.
  6. Hold it up to your face with the seam against your mouth. Loop the bands over your ears.

Masks up: why you need to be wearing a cloth mask

If you have to leave your home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should try to wear a cloth mask to help stop the spread of the virus. Wearing a mask helps protect everyone in your community.

In a pandemic, the first line of defense is to stay home; it’s the only surefire way to keep the virus from spreading. But eventually, most of us will have to go out for groceries, medicine or just for fresh air. That’s when it’s important to wear a cloth mask.

The reason for masks is simple: many people who have the virus don’t know it. You could spread COVID-19 without knowing it. Every time you cough, blow your nose or even speak or breathe near another person, you could be spreading COVID-19 without knowing it. If you wear a cloth mask, you’ll help contain it.

When COVID-19 first hit the United States, there was a lot of changing information about whether or not we should all start wearing masks. In many other countries and especially in parts of Asia, cloth masks have always been widely used during cold and flu season. In the United States, it isn’t a very common practice. But experts agree: wear a cloth mask if you have to leave the house.

What a cloth mask can do

When you breathe or talk, you exhale tiny droplets of water that are too small to see or even notice. If you have COVID-19, it’s in those tiny droplets and those droplets get on everything within six feet of you – your hands, the groceries, the gas pump and other people.

If you’re breathing heavily, yelling, singing or coughing, they go even further than six feet.

But if you’re wearing a cloth mask, they won’t go as far and some of them won’t get past the mask at all.

Since it takes about two weeks for a person to start showing symptoms of COVID-19, everyone in grocery stores, restaurant takeout lines and gas stations could have the virus and not know it yet. If they’re all wearing masks, they help cut the risk of spreading it to other people.

But I’ve been isolating so I know I don’t have COVID-19!

If anyone in your home has left the house at all in the last two weeks, there’s a chance you do have COVID-19. While everyone should be staying at home unless they have to leave, most people have had to go out once or twice to get food, medicine or gas. When you do, you’re at risk, even if you’ve been careful to stay six feet away from other people. Just in case, wear a cloth mask when you go out to help protect other people.

Why a cloth mask?

Because the entire world is experiencing COVID-19 at the same time, there aren’t enough disposable masks for everyone. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are working with COVID-19 patients all the time need the disposable surgical masks and the larger N95 masks that protect against the virus. Doctors and nurses have to throw away those masks and get new ones every time they see a new patient. That means a hospital needs 240 disposable masks each day for each COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit; it adds up to about 10,000 masks a day for each hospital. Medical staff are wearing masks to see other patients too, just in case someone has COVID-19. Staff in nursing homes and long term care facilities need masks to help protect their residents.

There just aren’t enough disposable surgical masks for hospitals, other medical needs and the public.

That’s why cloth masks are so important now – they help stop the spread of COVID-19 in public without taking away from the supplies that hospitals need the most.

What a mask can’t do

A cloth mask will not keep you from getting COVID-19; neither will the disposable surgical masks that most healthcare workers use every day. The only masks that protect almost completely against COVID-19are the big heavy-duty N95 masks that healthcare workers wear around a COVID-19 patient.

Even with a mask on, when you’re outside of your home you should practice proper social distancing and hygiene. Stay six feet away from other people – more if you are exercising and breathing heavily. Wash your hands for 20 seconds as often as you can and use hand sanitizer if you can’t. Avoid touching your face; with or without a mask, your hands will pick up particles of virus if you have it – or will spread particles to your eyes, nose and mouth if they’ve touched it on surfaces.

Who shouldn’t wear a mask?

Children under the age of 2 should not wear a mask under any circumstances – it’s a suffocation risk. People with breathing problems may be unable to wear a mask. Everyone else should wear a mask whenever they leave their home.

How to wear a mask

Wash your hands first! And if your mask is reversible, mark the outside so if you have to take it off, you don’t accidentally put it back on inside-out. Don’t touch the fabric part of the mask – pick it up by the ear loops or by the ties. Position the mask so it covers everything from the bridge of your nose to beneath your chin and fit it snugly against your face. Don’t cheat! If you pull the mask up to talk on the phone or pull it down to breathe through your nose, it’s not working. Keep it completely on at all times when you’re outside of your home and don’t touch any part of it, except to adjust the ear loops or ties. When you get home, immediately take it off and set it aside to wash. It’s best to have more than one mask so you can wash them after each use, but if you only have one, spray both sides down with disinfectant when you get home and let it sit for a few hours before wearing it again.

So why should I wear a mask?

Wearing a mask helps protect other people from you. If everyone is wearing a mask, we all protect each other. It’s the right thing to do.

What is “social distancing” and how do we do it?

tape measure

Social distancing is a strategy to slow the spread of disease by, as the name implies, keeping our distance from each other in social situations. It means we avoid crowded places, don’t touch each other and stay at least six feet apart from other people when we are out in public.

Sounds easy, right? Who goes around randomly touching other people or crowding up with strangers on purpose?

Turns out, we all do and kicking the habit takes some thought.

Shaking hands

Shaking hands is such a tradition in the United States that even in the middle of a pandemic, we still do it.

It’s a tough habit to break especially when meeting new people and in business settings. Hugging close friends is another act that is hard to stop, since we do it so naturally so often.

Until March 2020, most of us never realized how many times a day we touch other people – not just to shake hands or hug, but to slap a colleague on the back, touch a friend’s arm when they’re feeling sad, or to reach out to admire a piece of jewelry on someone’s hand.

But it’s time to let go. Instead of shaking hands, hugging, kissing and slapping backs, just wave, nod or smile. Some newer greetings have been trending in the last few weeks as well.

  • The elbow bump has become the most popular and while it does bring people into closer contact than is recommended, it’s much better than shaking
  • Spock’s “live long and prosper” hand gesture from “Star Trek” is always a classic.
  • The Wakanda salute (making fists with your arms crossed over your chest) from “Black Panther” has been seen
  • And then there’s the good old-fashioned Victorian bow and In the modern age, it’s not gender-specific; the first person to move bows, the respondent curtseys.

Give one of them a try. Be silly, have fun, just keep your hands to yourself!

Wash, wash, wash, wash, wash. Rinse and repeat.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. As so many people have discovered lately, 20 seconds is a long time to scrub and count. Try making it fun by singing a 20-second song as you lather.

  • The Happy Birthday song, sung twice
  • The ABC song
  • “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”
  • The chorus to Beyoncé’s “Love on Top”
  • The chorus to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”
  • Queen’s chorus “We will, we will rock you” chanted three times
  • The chorus to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret”

And thanks to a story on National Public Radio, we found a hand-washing song website where you can type in your own favorite song and find out how many lines equal 20 seconds. You can even print out a poster of the lyrics with handwashing instructions to tape to your bathroom mirror.

Work meetings

Office workers have been complaining for years that “this meeting could have been an email.” The good news is, now it can be! In-person meetings are out and teleconferencing, emails and phone calls are in. If you can’t avoid an in-person meeting, keep it short and stay in a large room where participants can stay at least six feet from each other. Don’t forget to wipe the table and chairs down with bleach wipes before and after the meeting and don’t shake hands! Sound like a lot to ask? Try meeting by video chat instead. Or just send an email.


When we think of “crowds” we think of the press of people all leaving a sports arena at the same time. We think of mosh pits, of concerts, of throngs pushing their way into a Black Friday sale.

But in a pandemic, a “crowd” is just 10 people who are closer than six feet from each other. That means restaurants, weddings, church, waiting rooms, gyms, subway trains and sometimes even grocery stores.

How do you avoid all that? In many cities now, you don’t have much choice as events are being canceled and theaters and gyms are shutting down. If you live in a place where you do have a choice, try to figure out how to do the activity without the people. Instead of going to the gym, do your exercises at home or go for a run in the park. At work, avoid the breakroom and cafeteria. Don’t eat in restaurants at all — instead call for delivery or order take-out. Many restaurants that didn’t offer takeout before are doing it now so check with your favorites to see if takeout or even curbside delivery are their new norm. And instead of grocery shopping in person, use online order and delivery if you can. If you need to go in person, pick the least busy times, clean the cart handles with bleach wipes (provided at the front of most grocery stores) and sanitize your hands as soon as you’re done. Try to plan your grocery shopping in advance so you can cut down on the number of times you need to go out and you move through the store quickly.

In all cases, stay at least six feet away from the people around you, keep your hands off your face and if you have to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue or your elbow, not your hand.

Look but don’t touch!

Try to avoid frequently-touched surfaces like door handles. If you can push the door open with your foot, do it. If you can turn the public bathroom faucet on and off with your elbow or with a paper towel, do it. If you can walk up and down public steps without running your hand along the railing, do it. Try not to use cash – it passes through too many hands each day so use a credit or debit card instead. Carry your own pen for signing receipts instead of using the store’s pen

that gets picked up 100 times an hour. And when you’re done, always, always, always wash your hands.

See the world from your home

Of course, the best advice is to just stay home for a while if you can. Watch TV. Play a game, read a book or turn on your computer and check out one of the hundreds of free resources being offered to keep people inside during the pandemic. Your favorite bands are streaming free concerts. Newspaper sites have dropped their paywalls, museums are offering free virtual tours, aquariums and zoos have cameras streaming the animals 24/7 and the major movie studios are releasing this spring’s movies to the Internet for immediate rentals, rather than putting them in the theaters. Stay home, stay safe, and wash your hands!

How to talk to your children about COVID-19

dad talking to daughterHow do you talk to your kids about COVID-19 when there’s so much changing day to day.? It’s normal to feel worried, but how do you reassure your children when you aren’t sure yourself?

It’s the question on every parent’s mind, especially as parents and children become isolated in homes together all day, every day. Every family and every child is different but the bottom line is that children need to feel safe, they need to feel loved and they need to feel empowered.

Here are some tips to help communicate with your children:

  1. Pay attention to your tone of voice. Children of every age need to feel safe.hat sometimes has more to do with your tone of voice and body language than your words. Work on a calm, reassuring tone of voice and let your children know that all of the adults around them, including their parents, teachers and community leaders, are doing everything to keep them safe.
  2. Don’t lie to them. Be honest and accurate. Don’t tell them everything will be fine if you don’t believe it yourself; stick to what you can say honestly.  It’s okay to tell them that doctors and scientists are still learning about this virus.
  3. Let them know it’s okay to be scared. Maybe you are scared yourself and, depending on your children’s age and maturity, you may want to tell them that you are also a little scared. Let them know that it’s okay to be scared when the situation is scary; in fact, it’s smart to be scared because being scared makes you careful. Make sure to remind them that they can be brave and scared at the same time.
  4. Let your children talk and ask questions  so you don’t overwhelm them with too much information. Answer the questions they ask but don’t bog them down with extra data. The simplest explanation: “The coronavirus is a very tiny germ – too small to see, but it gets in people’s bodies through their eyes, nose or mouth and it makes them sick. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands a lot – washing hands kills the germs.  We try not to touch our faces so we don’t get the germs near our eyes and nose and mouth.   We stay out of large groups of people, where it’s easier to spread germs. If everyone does those things, we can stop the germs from spreading.” Older children may understand social distancing in the analogy of a firebreak – removing fuel around a wildfire to keep it from spreading outward. When we practice social distancing, we’re removing ourselves as “fuel” for the germs, keeping COVID-19 from spreading through us to our friends, coworkers and classmates.“I think what is helpful for parents in supporting their children, is to assist them to learn to be in control even in a scary situation,” said Dr. Bethany Geldmaker, project director for VMAP and Developmental Screening. “Parents can set a good example and empower their children to take precautionary measures like washing hands, coughing into a tissue or sleeve, eating healthy foods, exercise and getting enough sleep.”
  5. Be aware of your language. Avoid using terms that stigmatize or blame any race, culture or ethnicity. This is a global crisis and we fight it as a global team.
  6. Model the behavior you want to encourage. That includes attitude, words and habits. If you want your children to stay positive and upbeat, do your best to stay positive and upbeat yourself. Children learn from their parents through imitation.  If you want your children to wash their hands often, wash your own hands often. If you want your children to eat healthy food, eat healthy food yourself. They’re watching you. Also, speak up! Children with special healthcare needs and chronic conditions are at higher risk for complications related to COVID-19. School and business closing may affect the availability of therapies and support, so parents need to work closely with providers to ensure public health guidelines are implemented.
  7. Practice good hygiene. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice at a normal pace takes 20 seconds). Teach them to sneeze into their elbow, rather than their hand (they probably already know this – schools have been teaching this for a number of years). And make sure they get in the habit of using hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol when they can’t get to soap and water.
  8. Be empathetic. Don’t try to minimize their feelings or tell them not to worry – reassure them, but let them have feelings; they’re having the same feelings that many adults are.
  9. Limit what they see and hear in the news. Too much information on COVID-19 can cause anxiety or trauma. Pay attention to the tv or radio news playing in the background near the children and adult conversation happening around them.
  10. Give them a mission. Children need to feel empowered so let them do their part to fight the pandemic or protect their families. Ask them for ideas about things they think would help and then give them opportunities to follow through, whether it’s writing hopeful messages in chalk on the sidewalk or just being sure to wash their hands at regular intervals. Kids (and adults) who feel empowered don’t feel as afraid.

And remember Mr. Rogers. The iconic children’s host was frequently consulted about how to talk to children during national emergencies. He said he always remembered what his mother told him during catastrophes when he was a child: “Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers – just on the sidelines. If you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.”

FAQ for children

What is Coronavirus or COVID? 

COVID-19 is the short name for “Coronavirus disease 2019” and it’s a new kind of germ that we’re still learning about. It’s made a lot of people sick and most of them will get well but if everyone gets sick at the same time, it’s hard for doctors and nurses to help them all. We want to keep everyone from getting sick at the same time.

What if I get COVID-19?

Children don’t usually get COVID-19 and the ones who do haven’t gotten very sick – they just felt bad for a few days and then they got better. If you get COVID-19, we’ll do the same thing we always do when you’re sick – we’ll put you to bed with crackers and liquids and cartoons for a couple of days until you feel better.

Does anyone get really sick?

Yes, some people who are older or who are already sick can get pretty sick and they need doctors and nurses. That’s why we’re trying to keep from spreading COVID-19; to keep them from all needing doctors at the same time.

How do I help?

Wash your hands a lot for 20 seconds every time! Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, not your hand. Don’t touch your face (to keep germs from getting into your body). You can do your part by  staying out of crowds of people for a couple of weeks.  If as many people as possible can stay home, we can help stop COVID-19.