COVID-19 is highly contagious and continues to spread around the United States and the globe. Because it is a new disease in humans, our immune systems had not previously developed any defenses against it. The availability of vaccines that protect against COVID-19 has changed that.
There are currently three vaccines authorized for Emergency Use Authorization in the U.S. to prevent coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Vaccines help protect us by providing immunity without having to get sick. Medical experts around the globe continue actively researching potential vaccinations that may lessen or prevent illness from COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health provides the public up-to-date information on several vaccines trials that have launched. For science-based information to help you stay informed about the safety and availability of the COVID-19 vaccine visit our COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker.
Until you are fully vaccinated, the best way to avoid illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The virus is believed to spread primarily from person-to-person contact between people who are in close contact with each other (within about six feet). When an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks respiratory droplets are released from the mouth and nose which may land in the mouth or nose of people nearby. Individuals who are infected but not showing symptoms may still spread COVID-19 to others.
COVID-19 seems to also spread by airborne transmission. These smaller respiratory droplets exhaled when people breath, talk or sing and may linger in the air for minutes or hours, posing a risk to others who are more than six feet away or even after a person has left the space. This type of transmission is more likely to occur in enclosed, indoor spaces with poor ventilation and when the infected person was breathing heavily, such as singing or exercising. Being in crowded, indoor restaurants, bars, fitness centers or movie theaters put you at higher risk for COVID-19.
While possible, it is less common that COVID-19 will spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
Steps to protect yourself from possible infection until you are fully vaccinated* include:
- Get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines help protect you from getting seriously ill from COVID-19. Vaccines are readily available in most communities for everyone 12 years and older.
- Maintain social distance. The best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Until you are fully vaccinated, keep at least six feet from people who don’t live in your home when you are out in the community.
- Wear a mask. Face coverings should be worn by everyone 2 years and older in public and whenever there is a possibility of not being able to maintain a six-foot distance between individuals who may not be fully vaccinated and who are not living in your household. Even when wearing a mask, maintain social distance of at least six feet from others. Face masks should:
- Fit snugly against your face, covering your mouth, nose and chin
- Contain several layers to help stop more respiratory droplets
- Use a cloth mask with several layers of fabric;
- Wear a disposable mask under a cloth one;
- KN95 masks with the following CDC restrictions
- Wash your hands often. Scrub with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you are unable to wash your hands, using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is a good alternative.
- Avoid crowded indoor spaces.Be aware that indoor spaces should be properly ventilated with as much outdoor air as possible. Being outdoors and in spaces with good ventilation reduces the risk of the spread of COVID-19.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth—as it allows the germs on your hands to reach moist, porous surface tissue where the germs can enter your body and cause infection.
- Cough in your elbow and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze. Then immediately dispose of the tissue and wash your hands.
- If someone is sick or has tested positive for COVID-19, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, light switches, faucets and phones, often and with an approved disinfectant. If surfaces are dirty, first clean them using soap and water.
- Stay home if you feel unwell and call your healthcare provider if you experience symptoms that could be COVID-19.
*For individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, current guidelines allow you to resume many activities that you did prior to the pandemic without wearing a mask or socially distancing, except when it is required by law or rule – such as local business or workplace guidance or when using public transportation such as a city bus or riding in an airplane. You should still wash your hands frequently and stay home if you feel unwell.
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.
Page last updated: May 18, 2021