NEWS | February 6, 2020

Three things to know about novel coronavirus prevention

Learn tips for handwashing and whether or not masks work


Many people are worried about the spread of the novel coronavirus, which orignated in Wuhan, China. In the U.S., there are far fewer cases of novel coronavirus in comparison to 19 million cases of the flu in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prevention of the novel coronavirus is much the same as the flu, but there are many rumors swirling around about how best to protect against it. [Get the latest coronavirus information and other resources from UC Davis Health.]

There are a couple easy things you can do to help prevent yourself and others from getting sick. Our experts offer their advice:

washing hands

1. Aim for your elbow when you cough or sneeze

Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children's Hospital, explains that coughing or sneezing into your elbow limits the spread of droplets in the air.

"In the old days, we were taught to cover our mouths with our hands," Blumberg said. "That was not great because we got all the germs on our hands and then we touched things, spreading germs all over. Cough or sneeze into your elbow is recommended because you are unlikely to touch that area and transmit germs to others."

2. Wash your hands for 20 seconds each time

Spending a few extra seconds at the sink with soap and water can help eliminate the spread of germs. Rachel Robertson, a pediatrician at UC Davis Children's Hospital, recommends using warm water and singing "Happy Birthday" in your head (or aloud, if you prefer).

Make sure the soap covers all portions of the hands, including in between the fingers and on your palms, and wash for 20 seconds. Rinse thoroughly to get all the soapy residue off. When you turn the faucet off, you can use a paper towel to make sure you don't dirty your hands again.

3. Experts don't recommend wearing masks

There's been some misinformation spread that masks will help you from getting the novel coronavirus. Blumberg said this is not a recommendation from the health care community.

The regular surgical masks (which are the thinner, paper masks) help protect others when you're sick. When you cough, the droplets and infectious material get stopped by the mask.

On the other hand, doctors and nurses who are around sick people wear a thicker, tighter-fitting mask called an N-95 mask. These provide a much better seal and protects medical professionals by filtering from the outside. Blumberg said it is not recommended that the general public wear these masks in everyday life.

"When you're out and about, just stay away from sick people," Blumberg said.

Related news on novel coronavirus from UC Davis Health:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Informaiton and Resources

2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) information from UC Davis Health

Novel coronavirus FAQs for UC Davis Health patients and visitors