Former CDC Chief Tom Frieden: Coronavirus – These simple steps can make a real difference

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We’ve heard it over and over: Wash your hands. Stay home. Physical distancing and proper hygiene are not high-tech or exciting, but they remain the best and simplest ways to protect yourself and your family and to stop the spread of coronavirus in your community. Additionally, most of the steps are free.

These are high-value interventions: cost and effort are minimal, but the impact can be large.We’ve looked around the world for practical advice, and found this straightforward scientific article from Australia that we summarized here. No matter where you are, try these simple ways to keep yourself and your community safer.


At home

  • Many of us are spending most, if not all, of our time at home. Since even a few comings-and-goings from the house or apartment can expose a household member to the virus, it’s important to take measures to reduce your risk.  
  • Put a note on your front door to remind anyone entering to wash or sanitize their hands before doing anything else.  
  • Disinfect high-touch surfaces regularly: doorknobs, countertops, refrigerator handles, drawer pulls, faucets, remote controls, cell phones, and shared computers or tablets. Use ordinary household cleaner or wipes.         

If a member of your household is ill, relocate them, if possible, to a private room with a door that can be closed, and reserve a bathroom just for them. Meticulous cleaning of bathrooms and any commonly used areas is essential. An ill member of your household should ideally wear a mask, as should any other household member while they’re caring for the ill person from within six feet.

At essential businesses

Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other entities deemed essential remain open. If you or someone in your household is feeling sick, do not visit these essential businesses. If you are over the age of 60, or have a health condition such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, do not visit these businesses. Arrange for delivery if you can, or ask a friend or neighbor for help.

If you’re feeling well, these simple, low-cost precautions can keep you and others at these businesses and in your home safer.


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If you work at an essential business

  • Place hand sanitizer at the entrance of your business and require that each person entering use it.  
  • Post reminders throughout employee areas to wash or sanitize their hands throughout the day.  
  • Disinfect high-touch surfaces frequently. These include checkout counters and credit card machines.  
  • Implement a no-handshaking-policy and maintain physical distancing of six feet to the greatest extent possible.  
  • Limit food-sharing, such as shared snack drawers and snack rooms.  
  • Cancel or reschedule any large in-person meetings or conduct meetings virtually via phone or videoconference.  
  • When taking breaks or eating, avoid common areas such as a break room or lunchroom. Stagger employee breaks to avoid crowding.  
  • Consider a staggered work schedule to reduce crowding and contact.  
  • Implement a strict stay-at-home policy for sick workers and ensure that sick workers are paid fully for their time off. Otherwise, they may be more likely to come in while ill.

If you visit an essential business

  • Wash or sanitize your hands before and after visiting a business.  
  • Avoid handling cash or passing payment cards to staff. If possible, use a tap-and-pay method.  
  • Do as much prep work before you go as possible (for example, calling to confirm your prescription is ready or pre-purchasing your groceries online for pick-up) to limit crowding and physical interaction with other customers and employees.  
  • Some grocery stores and other essential businesses are setting special hours just for older people; call ahead and take advantage of these special hours if you fall into the designated age category.

At childcare centers and schools (when they re-open)

In some areas, child care centers are deemed essential businesses and provide much-needed support for working parents. Whether you work at a child care center or have children who attend one, here are low-cost measures that can help reduce the spread of the virus.

  • Make up games about easy hygiene rules, such as not touching your face.  
  • Teach children proper hand-washing techniques, then set up a hand-washing schedule supervised by a staff member.  
  • Create games or activities that teach children how and why to cover their cough or sneeze.  
  • Regularly disinfect high-touch surfaces and objects, including countertops, books and shared toys.  
  • Stop activities that encourage children to move and mix between rooms.  
  • Insist that staff and children who feel ill must stay home, as must older staff and any medically vulnerable staff or students.


Reducing the spread of COVID-19 means disrupting many of our normal activities, but physical distancing and good hygiene are our best defenses. We all have a role to play, and these simple precautions can save lives.

Many thanks to Craig Dalton, Stephen Corbett and Anthea Katelaris, whose work provided the basis for these tips.