Coronavirus tips: 12 ways to help stay safe when you leave the house


Social distancing is important in the grocery store, but so is how you shop.

Shara Tibken/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Even though you spend most of your day indoors while quarantined at home, chances are you still leave the house to run errands and get fresh air, putting you on a path to mix with other people outside your household. Since the highly contagious new strain of coronavirus can be passed along on by people who are asymptomatic, it’s important for your health and for theirs to keep from spreading germs.

As the US surpasses 243,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and over 1 million reported cases worldwide, social distancing every time you’re out and thoroughly washing your hands when opportunities present are considered the most effective safeguards for most people when going out in public. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to announce new guidelines that encourage people to wear cloth face masks or other face coverings when they go out in public, in addition to maintaining social distance. Currently, the CDC has not regarded these measures to be necessary for healthy civilians. While there’s certainly no harm in wearing them, homemade face masks are not proven to be effective against coronavirus, unlike N95 respirator masks, which are in critically short supply for the medical community. 

The US Surgeon General tweeted on Wednesday: “If you choose to wear a face covering, this can’t come at the expense of social distancing.” 

Here are other good tips to follow when you do need to go to the store or on a walk. Here’s the current understanding of coronavirus when it comes to food delivery and mail, such as Amazon packages.


It’s important to reduce your risk of exposure when you shop.

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Enough with the fingertips: Use your knees, feet, elbows and knuckles instead

If you’re still pressing buttons for walk signs with your fingertips, stop. Any time you have to open a door, push a button, pull a lever or digitally sign for something, use a different body part instead. You have plenty.

For example, I’ll often tap out a PIN code or make a selection on a digital screen with my knuckle instead of the pad of my finger. I’ll push open a door with my shoulder, hip or foot instead of my hands.

You can usually flip on a light switch or sink faucet with your elbow or wrist, and you can wrap the sleeve of your sweater or jacket around the handle of any doors you have to physically pull open. It’s easy enough to toss your clothing into the wash later rather than expose your skin now, especially if the chances you’ll use your hands to touch food items is high (e.g., you’re opening the door to a restaurant to oder takeout).

Distance, distance, distance

Social distancing can mean anything from hunkering down at home and refraining from seeing outside friends and family in person to keeping a boundary between you and others when you do go out. 

The practice of keeping a 6-foot distance from those outside your home group extends to waiting in line at the grocery store, going on walks (you can momentarily walk in the bike lane if you’re careful about looking out for street traffic) and picking up food to go.

Some states are enforcing social distancing in grocery stores and some businesses are doing that themselves. But if you need to keep more distance between you and someone else while on a walk or when reaching for an item at the store, take a step back and wait or politely ask the person to give you more clearance (“Oh, I’m trying to keep my distance from everyone.”)


Automated door openers like this can keep your hands from touching common surfaces.

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Look for the automatic option

Most modern buildings have accessibility buttons to open doors for people with mobility concerns. You can easily touch this with your forearm, hip or foot (some are pretty low down) and wait the few seconds for the doors to open. 

Consider buying an automatic soap dispenser for home so you don’t have to worry about transferring germs to the pump.

Look where you put your phone

While we’ve gotten the go ahead to use disinfecting wipes on phones, another smart idea is to avoid placing your device on iffy surfaces to begin with. Do you really need to put your phone down, or can you just stash it in a coat pocket or purse? The less you can expose your phone to shared surfaces, the less you need to worry about them in the first place.

If you do put your phone down on a shared surface, lay down a napkin and set your phone on that. It’ll save you having to disinfect your device quite so often.


If microfiber cloth doesn’t put your mind at ease, you can use disinfecting wipes on iPhones now.

Derek Poore/CNET

Pay attention to how you shop

Bringing your own totes and washed plastic or mesh produce bags offers certain benefits of protection to you because you’re the only one handling them and it keeps you from touching a “public” basket or shopping cart. Some stores ask for you to bag your own items if you bring your own bags. If you do shop with your own produce bags, keep them inside your tote and put the item inside the bag. 

On the other hand, others might become uncomfortable with the thought of you bringing your own bags, and some stores discourage the practice during this outbreak. If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to contact your store for guidelines before you shop.

If you do use the store’s baskets, carts and bags, thoroughly wash your hands before you leave home to protect others, bring your own sanitary wipes if you have them, to wipe down the basket or cart (many stores don’t stock these or are at risk of running out) and be sure to wash your hands when you get home. 

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Don’t sort through produce with your bare hands

When sorting through food, I’ve been sticking my hand inside a fresh, store-supplied bag and using the outside like a glove to pick up and inspect the garlic and oranges I want, so as not to touch every item with my bare hands. One woman gave me a look. I couldn’t tell if she thought I was insane or brilliant, but let’s go with the latter.

You can toss larger cloth bags into the wash to sanitize them after a shop, and keep smaller plastic or biodegradable bags for future trips. Mesh produce bags are available from sellers like Amazon, Target and Walmart that are also washing machine-safe. As always, thoroughly wash your hands when you get home, as well as any produce you use.


Maybe don’t rummage through all the fruit and veggies without reinforcements.

Shara Tibken/CNET

Greet people like this, not that

Millions of people are self-isolating, but on the off-chance you do see a family member, friend or neighbor at the store or on the street, resist the urge to hug, lean in for a peck, a pat on the back or handshake. Also rule out elbow bumps and toe-taps. Try one of these 13 clever and satisfying ways to safely greet someone instead.

Remember, even if you feel fine personally, social distancing is a compassionate way to protect people in vulnerable demographics, like your elderly relatives and those with health complications. It isn’t always apparent when someone has a compromised immune system or other invisible underlying health concern.

Wash your hands every time you get ‘home’

Along with social distancing, washing your hands thoroughly is one of your best defenses against acquiring coronavirus. Give your hands a thorough scrub each time you get back. 20 seconds is the going recommendation, which may seem like ages, but if you wash slowly, it’s easy to do. 

I count five long seconds (one-one-thousand) of soaping each hand, in between the fingers and up to the wrists, then count another five seconds for washing each hand thoroughly to get the soap (and any dead germs) off. I often wash the soap dispenser pump and faucet handles, too.

That helps me feel safe enough to adjust my contacts, blow my nose and pick that nagging something or other out of my teeth in the comfort of my own space.

Read more: The best thermometers for cold and flu  

Don’t neglect your car and home

After getting back from running errands, it doesn’t hurt to wipe down your car and surfaces in your home, especially if you share it with others. Person-to-person contact is the most common vector, but viruses and bacteria do spread through objects and other forms of indirect physical contact. Here’s our guide for sanitizing your home and car.

Carry extra napkins, disinfecting wipes and facial tissue

Packing extra tissues, disinfecting wipes, wet wipes and other paper products in my purse is already part of my habit, but now I pay extra attention to how much paper I have on hand. 

Normally, I might use a spare napkin to wipe my hands after an impromptu snack (also in my bag). Today, these products could come in handy to clear away germs, or act as a barrier between you (or your phone) and a surface. For example, opening a door handle if you just saw someone cough into their hands before turning a knob.

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Stop handling cash

While it’s believed that the highest risk of acquiring coronavirus comes from person-to-person transmission, we do know that shared surfaces can harbor the virus. Play it safe by setting the cash aside for now and relying more on contactless payments.

A large number of payment terminals accept Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and credit cards with the contactless logo on them. And remember, if a digital signature is required, you can use your knuckle instead of your index finger. For a physical signature, start packing your own pen.

Banish questionable items to a long time out

Coronavirus can cling to surfaces, such as your jacket or a tabletop, for up to nine days at room temperature, studies have found. However, the CDC found that the coronavirus RNA remained in cabins about the Diamond Princess Cruise ship up to 17 days after passengers departed.

We know that a thorough cleaning with good ol’ soap and water will kill the virus’ structure, but if you’re not sure how to disinfect an item, like a dry-clean-only jacket or pair of boots, setting it aside for three or four weeks is another option. 

Read on for global coronavirus updates, how to track the virus’ spread across the globe, and how to sanitize your house.

Originally published Apr. 2.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.