Questions and answers on COVID-19: Prevention

1. How can I avoid getting infected?

The main ways you can avoid getting infected are:

  • by being vaccinated
  • keeping your distance from others (ideally two metres)
  • avoiding large gatherings
  • wearing a mask in situations where physical distancing is not possible
  • regularly washing and sanitising your hands
  • opening the windows regularly if possible to bring in fresh air.

The use of face masks in public indoor settings (e.g. supermarkets, shops and public transport) and in crowded outdoor situations is strongly advised in areas with increased incidence of COVID-19 and when physical distancing cannot be guaranteed.

The virus can enter your body via your nose, mouth and/or eyes, so avoid touching your face with unwashed hands. Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or cleaning hands thoroughly with alcohol-based solutions, gels or disposable alcohol-impregnated hand wipes is recommended in all settings.

Good ventilation of indoor spaces through either natural or mechanical means is an important measure to decrease the risk of infection. Avoid poorly ventilated crowded spaces.

2. What should I do if I develop symptoms of COVID-19?

National public health authorities in your area will have specific guidelines covering this (e.g. ‘call the local COVID-19 helpline’). Alternatively, you can also call your local healthcare provider for instructions.

3. How can I avoid infecting others?

  • Getting vaccinated decreases the risk of being infected and infecting others.
  • If you develop any symptoms that are compatible with COVID-19, you should be tested for the virus as soon as possible, stay home, and follow local recommendations for isolation from others and medical care.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow, or into a tissue. If you use a tissue, dispose of it carefully after a single use and clean your hands.
  • Wear a face mask if you have symptoms and are in close contact with others (i.e., in a home setting).
  • Wearing a face mask is recommended for all people in closed public spaces or when in contact with vulnerable people such as the elderly.

4. What is physical distancing and why and how should I do it?

Physical distancing aims to reduce close contacts between people, thus reducing opportunities for the virus to pass from one person to another. This measure should ideally be complemented by others, such as ensuring ventilation with fresh air.

You can implement physical distancing by:

  • limiting physical inter-personal interactions, and following the guidelines issued by your health authorities;
  • self-isolating if you know you have COVID-19, if you have symptoms such as a cough, fever, headache, etc.;
  • quarantining if you have been a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, following the guidelines issued by your health authorities.

The term ‘physical distancing’ means the same as the previously used term ‘social distancing’, but it more accurately describes what is intended, namely that people should keep a physical distance from one another. The success of physical distancing measures depends on ensuring that people maintain social contact from a distance with friends, family and colleagues. Internet-based communication and the phone are therefore key tools for ensuring a successful physical distancing strategy.

Many countries in the EU/EEA have introduced various physical distancing measures to prevent the further spread of the virus locally or nationally.

These measures have included:

  • full or partial closure of schools, universities and other educational facilities;
  • full or partial closure of businesses (e.g. restaurants, entertainment venues, etc.);
  • recommendations to work from home as much as possible;
  • limiting the number of visitors and contacts between the residents in confined settings, such as long-term care facilities and prisons;
  • restriction or cancellation of mass gatherings above a certain number of people;
  • limiting the movement of persons between regions or countries;
  • stay-at-home restrictions for entire regions or countries.
 COVID-19 infographic: Types of face masks

5. Are face masks effective in protecting against COVID-19?

The evidence for the use of medical face masks to protect from COVID-19 is limited and shows a small to moderate protective effect. In addition, face masks may decrease the risk of infecting others by decreasing the release of infectious particles through breathing and talking.

Therefore, face masks should be used in combination with other measures to decrease transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Consider using a face mask when visiting busy, enclosed spaces where it is not possible to maintain sufficient physical distance from others, such as grocery stores and shopping centres, or when using public transport. We strongly recommend the use of medical face masks for individuals at increased risk of severe COVID-19 in these settings.

There is a guide to minimum requirements, methods of testing and use for community face coverings, published by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN). Community face coverings meeting the requirements of this guidance are designated as “Community face coverings CWA17553:2020”.

The use of face masks should not be a substitute for other recommended measures to prevent COVID-19 transmission, such as physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, meticulous hand hygiene, and avoiding touching the face, nose, eyes and mouth. The key to the effective use of face masks is to use them correctly and consistently.

6. How do I use a face mask correctly?

Make sure that the face mask fully covers the part of the face from the bridge of the nose to the chin. The face mask should fit snugly to the face with as little as possible gaps between the face and the mask. Do not wear a mask that fits loosely on your face. Do not wear a mask that appears damaged or is not clean.

When taking the mask off, remove it from behind and avoid touching the front and the back sides. Clean your hands before wearing and after removing the face mask. Do not re-use a face mask.

7. What type of face mask should I wear?

Both medical and non-medical face masks can be used. When non-medical face masks are used, masks that comply with available guidelines for filtration efficacy and breathability are preferred.

Respirators (also known as FFP2 or N95 masks) are also available but it is not clear whether they provide better protection compared to medical masks for the public and may make breathing more difficult for some people.

8. Should I wear a face mask even if I am vaccinated?

Yes, vaccinated people should continue wearing a face mask when visiting confined public spaces or using public transport in areas with community transmission of COVID-19.

The vaccine is very effective in preventing severe disease and death but vaccinated people may still get infected and transmit the infection. Wearing a face mask decreases the risk of this happening.

9. Should I wear a face mask outdoors?

In general, wearing a face mask outdoors is not recommended. However, in areas with community transmission of COVID-19 you may consider wearing a face mask in crowded outdoor settings.

10. What should I do if I have recently been in contact with a person who is infected with COVID-19?

People who are identified as contacts of a case of COVID-19 are recommended to quarantine (stay at home and isolate yourself from others) for a specific number of days as recommended by the national public health authorities. Monitor yourself for symptoms and get tested as per the local guidelines.

11. Can the frequent use of alcohol-based hand rub solutions, or surface disinfectants, cause the SARS-COV-2 virus to develop resistance similar to antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotics are substances that kill or inactivate bacteria in human or animal bodies. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

Alcohol-based hand rub solutions and surface disinfectants are substances that kill microorganisms (i.e. bacteria and viruses) on the skin, objects or surfaces, and this includes the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the agent causing COVID-19. The composition and the action mechanisms between antibiotics and alcohol-based hand rub solutions and antibiotics and surface disinfectants are different.

Scientific studies and practical experience worldwide have shown that the use of alcohol-based hand rub solutions and surface disinfectants do not generally trigger resistance, either in the virus or in bacteria.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that alcohol-based hand rub solutions and surface disinfectants should only be used locally on skin or surfaces and should not be ingested. Always follow the instructions from the manufacturer and/or public health authorities to avoid serious side effects.