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At the University of Maryland Medical Center, we know many people have questions about the novel coronavirus virus (COVID-19) and how to protect against it. Our experts have some answers for you.

Masks and Social Distancing

Can wearing a mask give you carbon dioxide poisoning?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says carbon dioxide poisoning is unlikely in medical masks and even less likely in homemade masks. Carbon dioxide can build up over time in masks but not to a dangerous level. At worst, you may get a headache but not carbon dioxide poisoning. Learn more about why wearing a mask is important.

What are some tips on caring for your mask?

To keep your masks clean:

  • Wash cloth masks, face scarves and bandanas in your regular laundry and dry them on high heat in the dryer.
  • Disposable or surgical masks should be thrown away when visibly dirty or damaged. They should not be laundered.
  • To wash your mask by hand, scrub for 20 seconds in hot, soapy water. If you have a dryer, dry it on high heat.
  • When not in use, store your mask in its own clean place, away from others' masks or ones that you have not yet laundered.

What does community spread really mean?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), community spread means that the source of the infection is unknown. The virus is spread mainly by people, but it can also be spread through contaminated surfaces and/or objects.

Do you still need to practice social distancing if you are outside in the fresh air?

It is still a good idea to practice social distancing even when you go outside during the pandemic.

It is definitely healthier to be outside in fresh air rather than in a closed, indoor environment. When you practice social distancing outside, it helps you to remember to do social distancing when you are inside.

What does "droplet-based" spreading mean? Can it spread through the air?

Droplet spreading occurs when someone who is infected either has an uncovered sneeze or cough. The germs can be spread up to 3 feet into the air when people do not cover their mouth and nose when they sneeze or cough.

This is why it is important to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze and cough. This is also why social distancing is important so that you stay 6 feet away and avoid droplet spreading.

Protecting Yourself

Many people have questions about what to do when they come in from being out in public.

When you have to run an errand like grocery shopping, what precautions should you take to protect yourself?

If you are in a high-risk population (over 60 years old or have an underlying condition), you should try to avoid crowds.

Some stores are offering special early hours for seniors when the stores are not as crowded. Some stores are also offering delivery or curb-side pick up which helps you avoid crowds. Read more about grocery shopping safely.

If you still go out for an errand, stay 6 feet away from others in lines. Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol after using ATM/bank machines, touch screen cash registers, gas pumps, or other frequently handled objects. When you get home, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Should I have inside and outside clothes?

There is no recommendation from the CDC at this time on this practice. Sometimes, it is a good idea if you have been in a public setting or your clothes become dirty. It is more important to wash your hands once you come home from being in public during this COVID crisis.

Should I leave my shoes outside?

Again, there is no recommendation from the CDC at this time on this practice. Sometimes, it is a good idea if you have been in a public setting or your shoes become dirty. It is more important to wash your hands once you come home from being in public during this COVID crisis.

What is the best way to sanitize myself after coming inside?

Hand washing is the best way to protect yourself when coming home. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It is important to wash your hands after you cough or sneeze, use the bathroom, or when you've been in public.

It's fun to sing a song with young children to help them learn how long to wash their hands. Learn more tips and strategies for dealing with the coronavirus and kids.

If you don't have soap and water, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. If your hands are visibly dirty, use soap and water to wash your hands.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Get answers to common questions about cleaning for the coronavirus.

What's the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?

Cleaning removes dirt from surfaces and objects. Cleaning does not kill germs, but lowers the numbers of germs by removing them. Disinfecting kills germs using chemicals. This lowers the chance of infection. It is best to clean first, then use a disinfectant.

How long do germs live on objects like mail, money, surfaces in my car? Is it the same amount of time on each object?

The National Institute of Health (NIH) found that the coronavirus was found in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. This research suggests that people may get the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects.

Is there a natural, at-home solution that can kill coronavirus germs?

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. If surfaces are dirty, clean them using detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. To disinfect, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work.

Should I be washing my clothes differently to sanitize them?

  • Wash all laundry thoroughly.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothes or bedding that have blood, stool, or body fluids on them.
  • Wear disposable gloves while handling soiled items and keep soiled items away from your body. Clean your hands (with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) immediately after removing your gloves.
  • Read and follow directions on labels of laundry or clothing items and detergent. In general, using a normal laundry detergent according to washing machine instructions and dry thoroughly using the warmest temperatures recommended on the clothing label.

More on the Coronavirus

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University of Maryland Medical System brings you up-to-date information about symptoms, treatment and prevention plus strategies for navigating life in a pandemic. 
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