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There’s a new coronavirus variant circulating. Here’s what you can do to stay safe

By Theresa Waldrop, CNN

As the world waits to learn how the Omicron variant might impact the global Covid-19 pandemic, it’s easy to get caught up in the unknowns. Instead, health officials are reminding us of the simple yet effective tools we all have to combat the virus.

Here’s a refresher on how to protect yourself and your loved ones.

You asked, we’re answering: Your top coronavirus questions

Get vaccinated

Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect yourself and those around you. Vaccines are readily available across the US and many Americans are now eligible for a booster shot.

“Get your vaccine, get your booster,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN. “It’s the best chance we’ve got to drive this Covid-19 pandemic away.”

Vaccines have proven to be safe and effective at reducing severe Covid-19 cases.

Wear a mask properly

It’s simple, but wearing a mask properly is one of the most important ways you can protect yourself and those around you, health experts say.

N95 masks offer the best protection. Washable, breathable cloth masks will do the job, but they should have at least two layers — three are better — and you can add a filter for more protection.

Masks should cover both your nose and mouth, and should fit snugly, with no gaps.

Goggles or face shields aren’t necessarily recommended for eye protection if you are not a health care worker or are in high-risk situations, health experts have said.

Not sure how to choose a mask? Check out these guidelines.

Check for symptoms and get tested

Fever, coughing and shortness of breath are among the most common symptoms of Covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes.

But there’s also diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, loss of smell and taste, body aches, mental confusion and even delirium.

Have a runny or stuffed-up nose? Unless you have a fever, it’s probably just allergies, such as can be caused by leaf mold at this time of year.

If you have been exposed to the coronavirus, symptoms will probably show up within a week, health experts say. That is, if you are going to have them at all — which some people don’t. Any or all symptoms can appear between two and 14 days after exposure to the virus, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you suspect you have been infected, go to a testing center near you. Contact your local or state health department to find out where to get a test.

Serious symptoms include difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in your chest, new confusion, the inability to stay awake or wake up and bluish face or lips, according to the CDC.

Wash your hands

Washing your hands frequently is still one of the most basic and simple things you can do.

Work up a good lather and scrub your hands, fingers and under your nails for at least 20 seconds. Use clean, running water to thoroughly rinse, then scrub them dry.

Washing for at least 20 seconds has been shown to remove more microbes than washing for shorter periods. Singing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing can work as a “timer.”

Frequent handwashing will also protect you from all sorts of harmful bacteria and viruses other than the new coronavirus, including influenza and the common cold.

Use hand sanitizer

It’s not as good as washing your hands with good old soap, but hand sanitizer can be used when soap isn’t an option.

It’s important both of your hands are covered completely, including between the fingers and under the nails. Rub your hands until they are dry. Use it generously if your hands are greasy or really dirty, since the sanitizer might not be as effective in that case, according to the CDC.

Unlike in the beginning of the pandemic, hand sanitizer is relatively easy to find in stores, so don’t try to make your own. Health experts say it’s critical you get the right concentration of alcohol to disable the virus.

Check out this list of more than 100 dangerous hand sanitizers to avoid. Some contain methanol, which can be lethal. Others don’t have enough alcohol.

Reduce your risk

The best thing you can do is stay home, if possible, and reduce your risk by cutting down on errands and trips to the store.

Not everyone has the luxury of doing it, of course, but social distancing — keeping 6 feet between you and others outside your household — and wearing a mask are critical.

The safest place outside your home is the outdoors. But even there, you should keep a safe distance from people you don’t live with.

You can also reduce risk by getting take out food instead of dining in restaurants and avoiding public transportation, if possible.

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CNN’s Maggie Fox, Holly Yan, Sandee LaMotte, AJ Willingham, Kristen Rogers, Scottie Andrew and Alicia Lee contributed to this report.

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