Preventing COVID-19

We are all at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19. There are steps you can take to prevent yourself and others from getting sick.

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 four vaccines available in the U.S. to help 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 with up-to-date information on several vaccines trials that have launched.

Understanding how COVID-19 spreads

COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Like many other respiratory viruses, coronavirus spreads quickly through respiratory droplets when a person coughs, sneezes or talks. The SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads primarily from person-to-person contact, but can also spread by airborne transmission and contact with contaminated surfaces.

Individuals who are infected but not showing symptoms may still spread COVID-19 to others.

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.

Steps to protect yourself from infection

COVID-19 vaccines help protect you from getting seriously ill from COVID-19. Vaccines are readily available in most communities for everyone 6 months and older. Be sure you and anyone you care for are up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines including boosters. People who are immunocompromised have different recommendations for COVID-19 vaccines and boosters when you are eligible.

Create your personal COVID-19 plan to have all the information you need if you get sick with COVID-19.
    • People may choose to wear a mask at any time.
    • Everyone 2 years and older regardless of vaccination status is encouraged to wear a high-quality mask in indoor public spaces in areas of high transmission.  Masks should also be worn by those who have symptoms of COVID-19, received a positive COVID-19 test and were exposed to someone with COVID-19. CDC has a tool to help you understand the transmission levels in your community. Face masks should:
      • Fit snugly against your face, covering your mouth, nose and chin
      • Include a nose wireIf you are using a cloth mask, it should have several layers of fabric to help stop more respiratory droplets.
  • Choose a mask that you can wear correctly, provides good protection and is comfortable for you.
  • You may consider wearing a mask in public indoor spaces:
    • If you or someone in your household is not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations, including boosters.
    • If you or someone in your household is at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness such as those aged 65+, pregnant or has certain medical conditions 
    • For additional protection against COVID-19.
    • To help prevent possible spread to others.

CDC has more information about masks on their website.

Steps to Protect Vulnerable Populations from Infection

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 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 and sneeze into a tissue, or elbow if necessary. Then immediately dispose of the tissue and wash your hands.

Download the Preventing Infectious Respiratory Illnesses Poster for your workplace or community organization with an overview of handwashing and use of hand sanitizer.

Virus particles spread more easily and are usually more concentrated in crowded indoor areas rather than outdoors. Indoors, it is more likely that these virus particles can be inhaled into your lungs or contact your eyes, nose and mouth. Being outdoors and in spaces with good ventilation

Be aware that indoor spaces should be properly ventilated with as much outdoor air as possible. Some ways to improving ventilation indoors include getting fresh outdoor air into your home, filtering the air that is there, and improving air flow. Use CDC’s Interactive Home Ventilation Tool to learn how you can decrease the level of COVID-19 virus particles during and after guests visit your home.” 

If someone is sick or has tested positive for COVID-19, then you should 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 and test for COVID-19 if you feel unwell. Seek treatment if you have COVID-19 and are at high-risk for severe disease.

Mask Types


  • Multiple layers of breathable fabric
  • Wash daily
  • Some protection


  • Multiple layers of non-woven fabric
  • One-time use
  • More protection


  • Filtration is different depending on standards
  • Limited reuse
  • More protection


  • NIOSH approved
  • Limited reuse
  • Highest protection

Masks should completely cover your nose and mouth and should fit snugly against your face without gaps. A nose wire is recommended to prevent air from escaping from the top of the mask.

Ways to have extra protection by getting a better fit with cloth and surgical masks:

  • Wear two masks (if you do this, wear your surgical mask directly over your mouth and nose and place your cloth make over top).
  • Knot and tuck ear loops where they are connected to the edge of the mask.
  • Use masks that attach behind the neck using an elastic tie or band instead of ear loops.

You can find a free N95 mask using CDC’s Find Free Masks tool.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: May 4, 2023

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