Prevention Tips

On this page: 

How COVID-19 spreads
Staying home
Physical distancing
Hand washing
Covering coughs and sneezes
Disinfecting surfaces
Cleaning product safety
COVID-19 vaccine
COVID-19 signs and symptoms 
Avoid contact with people who are sick
Prepare your home and family
Be prepared when you go out
Additional information


Help Stop the Spread of COVID-19 

There is no one single step or strategy that can stop the spread of COVID-19. Instead, we need to follow multiple strategies--all at the same time--to stop the spread.

Understand how COVID-19 spreads.

  • The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads very easily between people who are in close contact with one another. The longer you spend with someone the greater this risk for spreading the virus.
  • COVID-19 can be spread by people who don’t feel sick or have any symptoms.
  • The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or be inhaled into the lungs. In some cases, they may contaminate surfaces they touch, but this is uncommon.
  • Sometimes, COVID-19 can spread through smaller respiratory droplets and particles that contain the virus and become suspended in the air. These smaller droplets can remain in the air for minutes to hours. The virus may infect others who are more than six feet away from an infected person, or after the infected person has left the space. This is called airborne transmission. Airborne transmission seems more likely to occur in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation (not a lot of fresh air coming in). It can also occur when the infected person is breathing heavily, for example, when exercising or singing, increasing the amount of virus released into the air space. It is also uncommon for, COVID-19 to spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. This means that you are unlikely to get COVID-19 by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after you have touched a contaminated item.
  • COVID-19 can spread from people to animals in some situations, but this is uncommon. Pet cats and dogs can also sometimes become infected after close contact with people with COVID-19. Additionally, cases of reinfection with COVID-19 remain rare​.​

Stay home as much as possible, especially if you are not fully vaccinated.

Practice physical distancing, especially if you are not fully vaccinated.

  • It is important to keep at least six feet between yourself and others. Limit close contact with others you do not live with, in both indoor and outdoor spaces. 
  • Do not gather in groups if you are not fully vaccinated. People who are fully vaccinated can resume activities that they did before the pandemic. Stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings and poorly ventilated spaces. If you are in a crowded place or large gathering, you should wear a mask and try to keep at least six feet between you and other people.
  • If you are exercising, cheering, shouting or singing, which makes us breathe more heavily, you may want to stay even farther apart (e.g., 10 feet).
  • Think about the risks before you go out and choose safer activities.
    • The more time you spend with people you don’t live with, and the closer you are to them, the higher the risk of COVID-19 being spread. You increase your chances of getting COVD-19 or giving it to someone else. People with COVID-19 don’t always feel sick or have symptoms.
    • If you, or someone you live with, is at high risk for COVID-19, try not to go out unless you really need to.
    • The outdoors is safer than indoors. This is because it is easier to stay at least six feet apart and there is more ventilation (fresh air) when outside. 
    • Make sure that you understand your workplace’s sick leave and teleworking policies. People with COVID-19 will need to isolate from others while infectious and might not be able to go to work.

For more information, see Practicing Physical Distancing During COVID-19.

Wear a mask, especially if you are not fully vaccinated.

  • If you are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19, cover your mouth and nose with a mask (cloth face covering) in public and when you are around people you don’t live with. Make sure that your mask fits and be sure to wear your mask properly. A mask should completely cover both the nose and mouth, fit snugly but comfortably against the sides of your face, should consist of two or more layers of fabric, and allow you to breathe easily.
  • If you use a cloth mask, you should consider wearing a disposable mask underneath AND a cloth mask on top, or combining the cloth mask with a fitter or brace, for better fit and extra protection. Masks should not be placed on young children under 2 years of age, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unable to remove their mask without help. 

Learn more about Masks and Cloth Face Covers.



Wash your hands often to stop the spread of germs. 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, rubbing your hands together for at least 30 seconds until they are dry. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Clean your hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose; and after removing your mask.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

For more information, see: How Can I Avoid Getting COVID-19?

Cover your coughs and sneezes. 

  • Keep tissues with you. Put them in the trash right away after you use them and then wash or sanitize your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hand.


Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces. 

  • Clean the items and surfaces you touch often, such as phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks, tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles, with soap or detergent. 
  • Disinfect your home when someone is sick or if someone who is positive for COVID-19 has been in your home within the last 24 hours.
  • Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work. Use disinfectants appropriate for the surface.
  • Other options are to use diluted household bleach solutions, if appropriate for the surface, by mixing 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water, or simply use soap and water or an alcohol solution with at least 60% alcohol. 
  • Always follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation.
  • Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.



Use cleaning products safely.

  • Many of us are doing extra cleaning and disinfecting these days, but it’s important to do this safely. 
  • Do not use household cleaners or disinfectants on bare skin. Do not drink or inhale (breathe in) these cleaners or spray them on your skin. The chemicals can cause injuries or poison you. They will NOT work inside your body to kill the COVID-19 virus. Soap and water are all you need to safely clean your skin. 
  • Do not wash food with bleach or other cleaners or chemicals; this could burn your mouth, throat, or stomach. COVID-19 is not spread by eating food.
  • Read product labels and follow the instructions. Do not mix different kinds of cleaners together. Follow any instructions for wearing gloves and eye protection, such as goggles.
  • Click here for a list of Virginia Poison Control Centers.

For more information, see Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home.

Get vaccinated

  • There are currently three vaccines being used to prevent COVID-19 illness. These vaccines are made by ​​Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen).
  • The vaccines have all been shown to be safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 illness in people once the recommended vaccination series has been completed:
    • A two-dose series is recommended for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
    • A single-dose is recommended for the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine.

Fully vaccinated people.

  • People who are fully vaccinated do not have to wear masks or practice physical distancing in most indoor or outdoor settings except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

Fully vaccinated means 2 weeks or more have passed since getting the second dose of a two-dose vaccine, or 2 weeks or more have passed since getting 1 dose of a single-dose vaccine. If you have a condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, you may NOT be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated. Talk to your healthcare provider. Even after vaccination, you may need to continue taking all precautions.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia, visit the VDH COVID-19 Vaccine website.

Know the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

People with COVID-19 usually have mild to severe respiratory illness. These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Fatigue
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache

Not everyone with COVID-19 will have all symptoms and fever might not be present. If you don’t feel well, it is important that you quickly isolate yourself from others to avoid spreading the virus. Even those with mild illness might be able to spread COVID-19. Talk to a healthcare provider about getting tested for COVID-19. If your illness gets worse, or if you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, get medical care right away. 

Emergency warning signs may include: trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest that doesn’t go away, new confusion or inability to arouse (wake up or be alert), bluish lips or face.

If you have a medical emergency, call 9-1-1. Tell the operator that you have or might have COVID-19. If possible, put on a mask before medical help arrives.

For more information, see What to Do if You Are Sick.

If you are not fully vaccinated, avoid contact with people who are sick.

  • If you are caring for someone who is sick, have that person stay in one room, away from other people and pets, as much as possible. Avoid using the same bathroom as the person who is sick, if you can. Try to keep at least six feet of distance between the sick person and other members of the household, if possible, and wear a mask if you need to be in the same room.

For more information, see Exposure to COVID-19.


Prepare your home and family for COVID-19.

  • Create a household plan of action with your household members, relatives, and friends. Make plans to be able to telework, discuss what to do about childcare needs, and make plans for pet care should you get sick.
  • Create an emergency contact list and identify aid organizations in your community.
  • Plan ways to care for people in your life that are at a higher risk of getting very sick from this illness, such as older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions.
  • Get extra supplies such as soap, tissues, cleaning supplies, non-perishable (shelf stable) food items, and pet food so you don't have to make as many trips to the store as you used to. If you or a household member has a chronic condition and regularly takes prescription drugs, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, and insurance provider about keeping an emergency supply of medications at home. Look to helpful resources, such as this VDH Pandemic Preparedness Checklist.
  • Choose a room in your home that can be used to separate sick household members from those who are healthy. Identify a separate bathroom for the sick person to use, if possible.
  • Talk with your family about COVID-19. Fear and anxiety about a disease are overwhelming and cause strong emotions in both children and adults. Learn more about things you can do to support yourself and your family here.

For more information, see Daily Life and Coping.

Be prepared when you go out.

  • Check the COVID-19 in Virginia webpage to find out if cases are going up in your community and if there are any new stay at home orders.
  • Masks should be worn in indoor public spaces if you are not vaccinated. Make sure that you remember your mask when you leave your home.
  • Masks do not have to be worn during all outdoor activities.  If you are not vaccinated, you should wear a mask outdoors if you will be in a crowd, and can’t stay at least six feet away from others who do not live with you, in poorly ventilated space for a long period of time, or if participating in a group activity that includes chanting or singing.
  • If you won’t be able to wash your hands, bring hand sanitizer with you. 
  • Pack some tissues to cover your coughs and sneezes. 
  • Bring your own pen if you need to sign anything. When possible, use touchless payment (pay without touching money, a card, or a keypad).
  • Follow signs for one-way traffic down store aisles, stay behind any shields or barriers, and look for markings on the floor to show you where to stand to stay at least six feet apart from others in line.
  • Make sure the businesses you are visiting are disinfecting and sanitizing surfaces and follow any business requirements for wearing a mask.  If you are not vaccinated, you should wear your mask in restaurants when you are not eating and drinking. 
  • As soon as you get home, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Get more tips for staying safe when using public transportation and ride sharing services, traveling, and when visiting banks, libraries, gyms, restaurants, salons and other businesses here.

For more information, see Deciding to Go Out and Choosing Safer Activities if you are not fully vaccinated.

For more information:


Updated May 28, 2021