Reminders on how to stay safe from COVID-19 when you leave your home

As Michigan relaxes COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing requirements, many residents are left with questions about balancing their desire to get back to normal with health concerns about staying safe.

It's smart to be cautious. Even though the number of new daily confirmed cases in Michigan has dropped significantlyfrom its peak in early April, there are still new cases being reported each day.

McLaren Greater Lansing Chief Medical Officer Linda Peterson, MD, FAPA, FACLP weighed in on some of the most important precautionary steps that people can take to stay healthy as they re-enter public spaces:

1. Continue to keep your distance.

Even if you begin to venture outside your home, continue to keep your distance from others, the CDC recommends keeping six feet between yourself and any other individual. That's because close contact with an infected person can put you within reach of infected respiratory droplets, which can harbor the virus.

"Respiratory droplets can be generated by coughing, sneezing or talking and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby or be inhaled into the lungs," Dr. Peterson said.

Staying further away will minimize the chance that those infected respiratory droplets will reach you.

2. Stay vigilant about handwashing.

Every time you go out, you run the risk of exposure to the virus via contact with an infected person a contaminated surface. Handwashing is highly effective at killing the virus, and frequent handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent infection.

"We should continue washing our hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially if you have been in public places, coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose," Dr. Peterson said.

As a best practice, make it a habit to wash your hands as soon as you return home. Until then, consider carrying hand sanitizer with you and avoid touching your face as much as possible.

3. Wear a cloth face cover in public.

Wearing a cloth face cover may minimize the spread of respiratory droplets from people infected with COVID-19. To be effective, it's crucial that a face cloth fully covers your mouth and nose. You should also wash a cloth face cover after each use.

"The cloth face cover is to protect other people in case you are infected," Dr. Peterson explained.

It's also important not to let a face-covering give you a false sense of security. Even if everyone in your group is wearing masks, you should still maintain a safe distance of six feet between each person.

"Remember that the facial covering is not a substitute for social distancing," Dr. Peterson said.

4. Try to avoid crowds.

If you must go out, stay away from crowded areas that would make it difficult to maintain social distance. For example, the CDC recommends avoiding crowded parks and staying away from playgrounds entirely. They also recommend avoiding gatherings of any sort including at restaurants, shops and friends' houses.

Additionally, you may want to consider your timing before venturing out of the house carefully. If you'll be running an errand like going grocery shopping, the CDC recommends going during hours that are likely to be less crowded, such as early in the morning or late at night.

5. Know what symptoms to look out for.

Catching symptoms early is critical to ensuring that you can get tested and pursue any appropriate treatment in a timely fashion. It's also one of the most important ways to make sure that you prevent further spread of the disease.

"As always, remember to monitor your own health and be alert for potential COVID symptoms such as, fever, cough, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal symptoms and prior exposure to someone with the illness," Dr. Peterson said.

When in doubt, consult a trusted source

With much confusion and frequent updates, don't hesitate to consult a trusted source to clarify any questions or concerns. Whether that means calling your primary care physician or scrolling through the CDC website, reliable information is your ally when it comes to beating COVID-19.