The thing is, it’s not that simple. There are gray areas and nuances within each of those guidelines, and recommendations keep changing as new research emerges. With the recent arrival of more easily transmissible variants of the virus, even precautions that were good enough last month may no longer be sufficient.
With that in mind, we checked in with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get some practical guidance.
- Are you wearing the right mask? Are you cleaning your mask enough? Answers to questions about COVID-19 we all need.
According to the CDC, you should change your mask when it gets wet. That’s partly because it will be harder to breathe through but also because it won’t filter the virus as well.
Is there a clever way to help me remember my mask? I keep forgetting to carry it with me.
Masks are easy to forget! Some people hang clean masks on their door handles so they remember to grab them on the way out. Others keep a spare stash in a paper or mesh fabric bag in the car (the bags should be breathable). After doing laundry, also consider putting clean masks in the pockets of your most-used jackets.
Am I washing my mask right?
The CDC advises that people wash cloth masks at least once a day. It can go in with your regular laundry, or you can wash it with tap water and laundry detergent or soap.
If I use hand sanitizer, do I also need to wash my hands?
Washing hands with soap and water is the best protection. Hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol are believed to destroy the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but they do not get rid of all types of germs, including certain noroviruses that can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Also note that hand sanitizers aren’t as effective on dirty or greasy hands, and you have to use enough to thoroughly cover your hands. Then allow the sanitizer to dry (don’t wipe it off).
I know I have to wash my hands for 20 seconds. Do I also have to wait for the water to get warm?
No, cold water is fine.
Do I need to use antibacterial soap?
No, any type of soap is fine. Studies haven’t found any additional benefit from using soaps with antibacterial ingredients.
If I’m 6 feet away from someone indoors; do I still have to wear a mask?
Yes, if they’re outside your household, you need to do both. To understand why, imagine if the other person were smoking a cigarette. You would smell less smoke if you were farther apart, but the smoke would float in the air, as some coronavirus particles do, and you would likely inhale it at some point. If you both mask up, there’s less “smoke,” or fewer virus particles, in the air and less chance of the other person inhaling them.
I need to have some plumbing work done inside the house. How can I make that safe for the workers and my family?
Talk with the company to make sure they’re taking precautions like wearing masks. If you can, leave the house while the workers are there. If that’s not possible, everyone in the house should wear masks and stay at least 6 feet apart.
I’ve been in lots of situations in Bend—at food carts, when renting skis—where people are not physically distancing. What should I do?
There’s no one answer that fits all situations, but here are a couple things to keep in mind. One is that you need to prioritize your own health, so you may have to remove yourself from the immediate situation. Crowding indoors is especially unsafe, and more so if you are elderly or have underlying conditions.
A second thing to keep in mind is that it’s in the best interests of businesses to keep customers healthy and happy. In the ski rental situation, you might ask an employee if they will serve you outside. At the food carts, you could ask a worker if they wouldn’t mind asking customers to spread out. Again, each situation is different, but staying safe is in everyone’s best interests.
If you have a bad experience, you can call or go online to report violations to the City of Bend.
I’ve been vaccinated. Can I still spread COVID-19?
Scientists aren’t yet certain if vaccinated people can still spread COVID-19, so the best advice is to act as though it is possible. That means continuing to mask up, wash your hands, and maintain physical distancing until research confirms— possibly within just a few months—that you cannot give the disease to others.
Are any variants of the virus in Bend?
Yes. Wastewater testing by Oregon State University’s Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing has detected multiple variants of the coronavirus across Oregon, including one sample of the highly contagious U.K. strain in Bend.
The sample containing the U.K. strain was taken from Bend wastewater on Dec. 22. Genomic sequencing to identify the strain took a month, so presumably the variant has been in the city at least that long. With limited testing, it is unknown whether other strains are in Bend, and how prevalent they may be.
What can I do to protect myself and my family from the variants?
The variants first identified in the U.K, South Africa and Brazil have been shown to be more contagious than the original strain. They’re new, so scientists don’t yet know why these variants are spreading more easily.
For now, experts advise people to double down on the precautions they’ve already been taking. For example, double-masking when going to the grocery store can help ensure that you are filtering out the virus. And that’s if you go to the grocery store or other busy places. Cutting down on the number of visits and amount of time you spend indoors with non-household members is a good idea, especially right now.