Updated June 6, 2023

Cover your cough

Many respiratory illnesses—including serious ones such as COVID-19, influenza and pertussis (whooping cough)—are spread by coughing or sneezing. Some respiratory illnesses can also spread by direct contact—for example, after someone’s hands become contaminated by droplets from coughing or sneezing.

These illnesses spread most easily in crowded places or households where people are in close contact. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put your used tissue in the wastebasket. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not into your hands.


Keeping our hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. It's best to wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds.

If soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based product to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs are fast acting and significantly reduce the number of germs on skin.

Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives (CDC)

With soap and water:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
  • Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.
  • Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing “Happy Birthday” twice.
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer.
  • Use your paper towel to turn off the faucet.

With alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

  • Apply product to the palm of one hand.
  • Rub hands together.
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry.

You should wash your hands:

  • Before preparing or eating food.
  • After going to the bathroom.
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the bathroom.
  • Before and after tending to someone who is sick.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • After handling an animal or animal waste.
  • After handling garbage.
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound.

Masks and Face Coverings

Masks and face coverings are important tools for reducing the spread of COVID-19. Masks offer additional protection for yourself, those you live with, and others around you. They are required in some public settings, like health care. 

Masks are recommended for people who have had a positive COVID-19 test.

If you are at higher risk for severe disease, we recommend you continue to mask in indoor or crowded public spaces. Use an N95 or KN95 if you can.

If you live with someone at higher risk for severe disease, you may want to consider continuing to mask in indoor and crowded spaces to help protect them.

What to do if you get sick

How to take care of others who are sick and disinfect your home (CDC)