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7 tips for staying safe as COVID-19 cases rise and colder weather heightens the risk

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Dean, Purdue University Global School of Nursing, Purdue University
Melissa Burdi does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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As temperatures fall, people are spending more time indoors. That heightens the risk of the coronavirus spreading, but there are some simple steps you can take to help protect yourself and everyone around you.
It’s easy to get tired of wearing masks and practicing social distancing. There has even been some talk from the White House about herd immunity – the idea that if enough people get infected, the virus won’t be able to spread.
But the U.S. isn’t anywhere close to herd immunity for SARS-CoV-2, estimated to be reached when about 60% to 70% of the population has been infected – likely more than 200 million people. Without a vaccine, hospitals would be overwhelmed by the illnesses and hundreds of thousands more people would die. We also don’t know how long immunity lasts.
Since we don’t have an approved vaccine in widespread use yet, protective measures are still essential. As a nursing school dean, I recommend taking these seven simple steps to protect yourself and your loved ones and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Avoid the 3 C’s – closed, crowded and close contact. This gets harder as the seasons change and more activities move indoors.
When people sing, shout or even just talk, they send tiny respiratory droplets into the air. If infected droplets get into your eyes, nose or mouth, you can get infected. Staying 6 feet away is a good rule of thumb, but it doesn’t protect you from everything. The tiniest of these droplets, known as aerosols, can linger in the air for hours.
The risks of contracting COVID-19 increase in inadequately ventilated spaces where people spend long periods together in close proximity. Outbreaks have been linked to restaurants, choir practices, fitness classes, nightclubs and other spots where people congregate. You can still find ways to exercise outside, though. Try going for a walk with a friend. Virtual events can also bring people together safely.
Face masks can reduce the virus’s spread by stopping droplets people breathe out and filtering some of what they breathe in. They are especially important in crowded and poorly ventilated areas.
To wear the mask correctly, start by cleaning your hands before you put it on, and make sure the mask fits securely over your nose, mouth and chin. When the mask doesn’t cover your nose, you’re giving the virus an easy route for infection.
If you wear a fabric mask, make sure it has two or more layers.
Your hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can then transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can infect you.
Simply washing your hands can reduce the spread of viruses. Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands for at least 20 seconds with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. This eliminates germs, including viruses.
Fall and winter also bring more colds. When you feel the need to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately into a closed bin and wash your hands. By following good “respiratory hygiene,” you protect the people around you from viruses, including those that cause the common cold, flu and COVID-19.
Clean and disinfect surfaces in your home frequently, especially those people touch regularly, such as door handles, faucets and phone screens.
Until the U.S. has an approved vaccine with reliable immunity and it’s being used, this pandemic remains a serious health threat. Being able to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19 is important.
Common symptoms of COVID-19 include, fever, dry cough and fatigue. Other symptoms that may affect some patients include loss of taste or smell, aches and pains, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, red eyes, diarrhea or skin rash.
Some of these symptoms overlap with the common cold, but it’s best to err on the side of safety. If you feel sick or have a fever and difficulty breathing, call your doctor or hospital and seek help. If you experience less severe symptoms, self-isolate until you recover, even if the symptoms seem mild. Call your health care provider or see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus Self-Checker for additional support. If you need to leave your house, wear a face mask to avoid infecting others.
Keep up to date on COVID-19 information and risks from local and national health authorities.
During the stress and upheaval of the pandemic, don’t forget to take care of your mental health and well-being.
Connecting with friends, loved ones and your community via social media, phone, video or text can help reduce feelings of social isolation. Eating well, exercising daily and getting enough sleep are important for health and coping.
Be deliberate in making time to care for yourself by engaging in activities that bring you joy. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to seek resources including counseling or therapy if you are feeling stressed. Practice positive self-talk by saying phrases out loud such as “This is temporary” and “We can do this.”
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The reality is that you do not want this virus. More than a quarter million people with COVID-19 have died in the U.S. We don’t yet know what the long-term effects will be or whether immunity after an infection will last. Even young people who get it and recover can experience continuing cognitive effects, fatigue and potentially heart and lung damage. As you look ahead, remember these important safety tips and find socially distanced activities that will help you remain connected and safe.
This story was updated Nov. 20 with the latest COVID-19 case and fatality data.
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How to stay safe with a fast-spreading new coronavirus variant on the loose

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Bayard D. Clarkson Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, Clarkson University
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Clarkson University
Suresh Dhaniyala receives funding from National Science Foundation and NY State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Byron Erath receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Empire State Development's Division of Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR)

Clarkson University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
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A fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found in at least 20 states, and people are wondering: How do I protect myself now?
We saw what the new variant, known as B.1.1.7, can do as it spread quickly through southeastern England in December, causing case numbers to spike and triggering stricter lockdown measures.
The new variant has been estimated to be 50% more easily transmitted than common variants, though it appears to affect people’s health in the same way. The increased transmissibility is believed to arise from a change in the virus’s spike protein that can allow the virus to more easily enter cells. These and other studies on the new variant were released before peer review to share their findings quickly.
Additionally, there is some evidence that patients infected with the new B.1.1.7 variant may have a higher viral load. That means they may expel more virus-containing particles when they breathe, talk or sneeze.
As professors who study fluid dynamics and aerosols, we investigate how airborne particles carrying viruses spread. There is still a lot that scientists and doctors don’t know about the coronavirus and its mutations, but there are some clear strategies people can use to protect themselves.

The SARS-CoV-2 variants are believed to spread primarily through the air rather than on surfaces.
When someone with the coronavirus in their respiratory tract coughs, talks, sings or even just breathes, infectious respiratory droplets can be expelled into the air. These droplets are tiny, predominantly in the range of 1-100 micrometers. For comparison, a human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter.
The larger droplets fall to the ground quickly, rarely traveling farther than 6 feet from the source. The bigger problem for disease transmission is the tiniest droplets – those less than 10 micrometers in diameter – which can remain suspended in the air as aerosols for hours at a time.
With people possibly having more virus in their bodies and the virus being more infectious, everyone should take extra care and precautions. Wearing face masks and social distancing are essential.
Spaces and activities that were previously deemed “safe,” such as some indoor work environments, may present an elevated infection risk as the variant spreads.
The concentration of aerosol particles is usually highest right next to the individual emitting the particles and decreases with distance from the source. However, in indoor environments, aerosol concentration levels can quickly build up, similar to how cigarette smoke accumulates within enclosed spaces. This is particularly problematic in spaces that have poor ventilation.
With the new variant, aerosol concentration levels that might not have previously posed a risk could now lead to infection.

1) Pay attention to the type of face mask you use, and how it fits.
Most off-the-shelf face coverings are not 100% effective at preventing droplet emission. With the new variant spreading more easily and likely infectious at lower concentrations, it’s important to select coverings with materials that are most effective at stopping droplet spread.
When available, N95 and surgical masks consistently perform the best. Otherwise, face coverings that use multiple layers of material are preferable. Ideally, the material should be a tight weave. High thread count cotton sheets are an example. Proper fit is also crucial, as gaps around the nose and mouth can decrease the effectiveness by 50%.
2) Follow social distancing guidelines.
While the current social distancing guidelines are not perfect – 6 feet isn’t always enough – they do offer a useful starting point. Because aerosol concentrations levels and infectivity are highest in the space immediately surrounding anyone with the virus, increasing physical distancing can help reduce risk. Remember that people are infectious before they start showing symptoms, and they many never show symptoms, so don’t count on seeing signs of illness.
3) Think carefully about the environment when entering an enclosed area, both the ventilation and how people interact.
Limiting the size of gatherings helps reduce the potential for exposure. Controlling indoor environments in other ways can also be a highly effective strategy for reducing risk. This includes increasing ventilation rates to bring in fresh air and filtering existing air to dilute aerosol concentrations.
On a personal level, it is helpful to pay attention to the types of interactions that are taking place. For example, many individuals shouting can create a higher risk than one individual speaking. In all cases, it’s important to minimize the amount of time spent indoors with others.
The CDC has warned that B.1.1.7 could become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in the U.S. by March. Other fast-spreading variants have also been found in Brazil and South Africa. Increased vigilance and complying with health guidelines should continue to be of highest priority.
[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]
This story was updated Jan. 18 with latest CDC count and map showing B.1.1.7 cases now found in 20 states.
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How to stay safe with a new fast-spreading coronavirus variant on the loose

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Bayard D. Clarkson Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, Clarkson University
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Clarkson University
Suresh Dhaniyala receives funding from National Science Foundation and NY State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Byron Erath receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Empire State Development's Division of Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR)

Clarkson University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
View all partners
A fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found in at least 10 states, and people are wondering: How do I protect myself now?
We saw what the new variant, known as B.1.1.7, can do as it spread quickly through southeastern England in December, causing case numbers to spike and triggering stricter lockdown measures.
The new variant has been estimated to be 50% more easily transmitted than common variants, though it appears to affect people’s health in the same way. The increased transmissibility is believed to arise from a change in the virus’s spike protein that can allow the virus to more easily enter cells. These and other studies on the new variant were released before peer review to share their findings quickly.
Additionally, there is some evidence that patients infected with the new B.1.1.7 variant may have a higher viral load. That means they may expel more virus-containing particles when they breathe, talk or sneeze.
As professors who study fluid dynamics and aerosols, we investigate how airborne particles carrying viruses spread. There is still a lot that scientists and doctors don’t know about the coronavirus and its mutations, but there are some clear strategies people can use to protect themselves.
The SARS-CoV-2 variants are believed to spread primarily through the air rather than on surfaces.
When someone with the coronavirus in their respiratory tract coughs, talks, sings or even just breathes, infectious respiratory droplets can be expelled into the air. These droplets are tiny, predominantly in the range of 1-100 micrometers. For comparison, a human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter.
The larger droplets fall to the ground quickly, rarely traveling farther than 6 feet from the source. The bigger problem for disease transmission is the tiniest droplets – those less than 10 micrometers in diameter – which can remain suspended in the air as aerosols for hours at a time.
With people possibly having more virus in their bodies and the virus being more infectious, everyone should take extra care and precautions. Wearing face masks and social distancing are essential.
Spaces and activities that were previously deemed “safe,” such as some indoor work environments, may present an elevated infection risk as the variant spreads.
The concentration of aerosol particles is usually highest right next to the individual emitting the particles and decreases with distance from the source. However, in indoor environments, aerosol concentration levels can quickly build up, similar to how cigarette smoke accumulates within enclosed spaces. This is particularly problematic in spaces that have poor ventilation.
With the new variant, aerosol concentration levels that might not have previously posed a risk could now lead to infection.

1) Pay attention to the type of face mask you use, and how it fits.
Most off-the-shelf face coverings are not 100% effective at preventing droplet emission. With the new variant spreading more easily and likely infectious at lower concentrations, it’s important to select coverings with materials that are most effective at stopping droplet spread.
When available, N95 and surgical masks consistently perform the best. Otherwise, face coverings that use multiple layers of material are preferable. Ideally, the material should be a tight weave. High thread count cotton sheets are an example. Proper fit is also crucial, as gaps around the nose and mouth can decrease the effectiveness by 50%.
2) Follow social distancing guidelines.
While the current social distancing guidelines are not perfect – 6 feet isn’t always enough – they do offer a useful starting point. Because aerosol concentrations levels and infectivity are highest in the space immediately surrounding anyone with the virus, increasing physical distancing can help reduce risk. Remember that people are infectious before they start showing symptoms, and they many never show symptoms, so don’t count on seeing signs of illness.
3) Think carefully about the environment when entering an enclosed area, both the ventilation and how people interact.
Limiting the size of gatherings helps reduce the potential for exposure. Controlling indoor environments in other ways can also be a highly effective strategy for reducing risk. This includes increasing ventilation rates to bring in fresh air and filtering existing air to dilute aerosol concentrations.
On a personal level, it is helpful to pay attention to the types of interactions that are taking place. For example, many individuals shouting can create a higher risk than one individual speaking. In all cases, it’s important to minimize the amount of time spent indoors with others.
The CDC has warned that B.1.1.7 could become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in the U.S. by March. Other fast-spreading variants have also been found in Brazil and South Africa. Increased vigilance and complying with health guidelines should continue to be of highest priority.
[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]
Write an article and join a growing community of more than 119,500 academics and researchers from 3,844 institutions.
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The great polio vaccine mess and the lessons it holds about federal coordination for today’s COVID-19 vaccination effort

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Associate Professor of International Business and Strategy at the D'Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University
Bert Spector does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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I nervously fell into a long line of fellow first graders in the gymnasium of St. Louis’ Hamilton Elementary School in the spring of 1955. We were waiting for our first injection of the new polio vaccine.
The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis – with money raised through its annual March of Dimes campaign – had sponsored field tests for a vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. The not-for-profit had acquired sufficient doses to inoculate all the nation’s first and second graders through simultaneous rollouts administered at their elementary schools. The goal was to give 30 million shots over three months.
Now, more than six decades later, attention focuses on the rollout of two COVID-19 vaccines, following their emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. States have begun to administer them in a rocky and frustratingly slow delivery process – while hundreds of thousands of new cases continue to be diagnosed daily in the U.S.
While not necessarily comforting, it is useful to recognize that the early days and weeks of mass distribution of a new medication, particularly one that is intended to address a fearful epidemic, are bound to be frustrating. Only after examining the complex polio vaccine distribution process as documented in papers collected in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library did I come to understand how partial my childhood memories actually were.
After I received my polio shot, I remember my parents’ relief.
The polio virus causes flu-like symptoms in most people who catch it. But in a minority of those infected, the brain and spinal cord are affected; polio can cause paralysis and even death. With the distribution of Salk’s vaccine, the much-feared stalker of children and young adults had seemingly been tamed. Within days, however, the initial mass inoculation program went off the rails.
Immediately following the government’s licensing of the Salk vaccine, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis contracted with private drug companies for US$9 million worth of vaccine (around $87 million today) – about 90% of the stock. They planned to provide it free to the country’s first and second graders. But just two weeks after the first doses were administered, the Public Health Service reported that six inoculated children had come down with polio.
As the number of such incidents grew, it became clear that some of the shots were causing the disease they were meant to prevent. A single lab had inadvertently released adulterated doses.
After considerable fumbling and outright denial, Surgeon General Leonard Steele first pulled all tainted vaccine off the market. Then, less than a month after the initial inoculations, the U.S. shut down distribution entirely. It wasn’t until the introduction of a new polio vaccine in 1960, created by Albert Sabin, that public trust returned.
This story offers several lessons relevant to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution just now getting rolling.
First, federal coordination of an emergent lifesaving medical product is critical.
The federal government had declined to play an active oversight and coordination role for the polio vaccine, but still wanted the credit. The federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services) offered no plan for distribution beyond the privately funded school-based program.
The department waited a full month after the vaccine was first administered before bringing together a permanent scientific clearance panel. That delay had less to do with formal procedures than with the ideological opposition of Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Oveta Culp Hobby.
Hobby was a political appointee who had taken office just months before the vaccine was approved. Her reluctance to involve the federal government in matters that she believed were best left in private hands – and her oft-stated fear of “socialized medicine” – meant that safety checks would be left to the private labs producing the vaccine. The results immediately caused dire problems and even avoidable deaths.
Second, the polio vaccine distribution process demonstrated how vital it is for the federal government to act in ways deserving of public trust.
In those hopeful first few weeks of the polio vaccine distribution, those of us lining up for shots had little to fear beyond the sting of an injection. That changed quickly.
Once some children had in fact been harmed by the shot, obfuscation by government officials, clumsy explanations and delayed responses engulfed the entire production and distribution process in confusion and suspicion. Trust in the government and the vaccine eroded accordingly. Gallup polls found that by June 1955, almost half of the parents who responded said they would not take any further vaccine shots – and the full regimen of polio inoculation required three doses. In 1958, some drug companies halted production, citing “public apathy.” It wasn’t surprising to see a startling upsurge in polio in 1959, doubling cases from the previous year.
Today, with COVID-19 already highly politicized – polls suggest that a minority of Americans will decline to take any vaccine – it is critical to administer an effective vaccine delivery program in a manner that builds trust rather than undermines it.
Scattered reports of allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine have generated not the denials of the Eisenhower administration but rather honest and realistic responses from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Particularly for vaccines that require multiple inoculations – both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots administered with a 21- or 28-day gap – mass inoculations will require not just an initial willingness to get the first dose but the maintenance of trust sufficient to get people back for the followup.
There are significant differences in the social-political contexts of the era in which the polio vaccine was distributed and today, including the nature and threat of the two diseases and the technologies of the vaccines. But time and again, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed disconcerting parallels with mistakes made in the past. The good news is vaccination works – no case of polio has originated in the U.S. since 1979.
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