COVID-19: Avoid Illness

To prevent getting and spreading COVID-19, make sure you practice good personal health habits and avoid being exposed to the virus. 

Avoid close contact with others and practice physical distancing

  • Stay at home as much as possible. Cancel events and avoid groups, gatherings, play dates, and nonessential appointments.
  • Avoid gatherings of 10 or more people. See the frequently asked questions below more information about gatherings.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other people, when possible.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.

Practice good hand hygiene

  • Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes, and mouth when in public.

If you start to feel sick

Frequently asked questions about staying safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Can I hold or should I go to a large gathering?

Interim guidance on large gatherings: At this time, DHS does not advise large gatherings, and there is no projected timeframe available as to when this advisory would change. Event planners should work closely with local/tribal health departments and local/tribal law enforcement on any future plans and decisions.

Public health experts agree that large gatherings of people in sustained, close contact greatly increases the risk for spread of the virus among those who attend the events and to the communities these individuals return to after the event. The communal nature of such events makes it especially challenging to accommodate the physical distancing and sanitation recommendations required to slow the spread of disease. This includes but is not limited to fairs, festivals, parades, and conferences.

Given the state of COVID-19 transmission in Wisconsin, DHS recommends you not engage in public or private gatherings of people that are not part of a single household or living unit. This recommendation will change as the state progresses through the different phases of Wisconsin’s roadmap outlining public health principles to decrease COVID-19 cases and death.

DHS provides criteria that the state will use to  guide communities as people begin to interact. For example, to move out of the initial gating criteria and into Phase 1, the plan identifies that a sustained downward trajectory of individuals with symptoms, a sustained downward trajectory of positive cases as a percent of total tests, and a robust health system capacity should all be present. As the state progresses through each phase, the recommended maximum size of gatherings also increases. An example is an event with 250 or more people in attendance should only be held once the state has entered Phase 3 of reopening. 

In terms of planning events for this summer or fall, the best guidance is to proceed with caution. Work with your local/tribal health departments and consider all possible options given the potential for large group gathering cancellations due to COVID-19. Wherever possible, DHS urges event organizers to host virtual or other non-contact events that can build the same sense of community and celebration. 

CDC Information for Event Planners and Individuals

How is COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets that are released when a sick (infected) person coughs, sneezes, or breathes. These droplets can remain in the air and on surfaces for an extended period of time. When people breathe in (inhale) the droplets, or touch surfaces that have been contaminated and then touch their mouth, face, or eyes, the virus can make them sick.

How long does COVID-19 survive on surfaces?

It is not certain how long COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but emerging evidence suggest that the virus may survive on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days depending on various factors, such as the type of surface, humidity of the environment, exposure to heat, cold, sunlight, and ventilation.

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer.

Surface Amount of Time Examples
Metal (other than those listed below) 5 days Doorknobs, jewelry, silverware
Ceramics 5 days Dishes, pottery, mugs
Glass 4-5 days Drinking glasses, measuring cups, mirrors, windows
Wood 4 days Furniture, decking
Plastics 2-3 days Packaging like milk containers and detergent bottles, subway and bus seats, backpacks, elevator buttons
Stainless steel 2-3 days Refrigerators, pots and pans, sinks, some water bottles
Cardboard 24 hours Shipping boxes
Disposable gown 1-2 days  
Aluminum 2-8 hours Soda cans, tinfoil, water bottles
Copper 4 hours Teakettles, cookware
Paper Varies Some strains of coronavirus live for only a few minutes on paper, others live for up to 5 days.

For more information on how long COVID-19 lasts on surfaces and aerosol, see this article from the New England Journal of Medicine, March 17, 2020, and this article from the Journal of Hospital Infection February 6, 2020.

Do I need to sanitize my groceries?

COVID-19 Shopping tips, watch what you touch, wash your hands, sharing is caring, personal hygiene, social distancing, limit non-essentials p02620dAccording to the CDC, COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. Transmission via food and food packaging is low. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. The greatest grocery-related risk is contact with others with high-touch areas like shopping carts and basket handles.

In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.

Therefore, remember to practice appropriate social distancing while in the grocery store, avoid touching your face while shopping, and wash your hands thoroughly when you return home from the store.

COVID-19: Shopping Tips poster shown on this page is available in multiple languages.

Do I need to disinfect my fresh produce?

COVID-19 is unlikely to be passed on through fresh produce. Even if the virus did survive on your fresh produce, it is likely to end up in the stomach where the low pH environment will inactivate and kill the virus.

Do not wash fresh produce in soap or detergent. Soap is not designed for use on food and any residue on fresh produce can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested. The FDA recommends washing fresh fruits and vegetables in cold water. Wash your hands with soap or use a sanitizer after handling your groceries and fresh produce.

Is take-out and food delivery safe?

COVID-19 is unlikely to be passed on through prepared meals ordered for take-out or delivery. Since COVID-19 is spread mainly through person-to-person contact, the best precaution to take is to avoid direct contact with service workers. If you are still concerned, here are some other practical steps you can take to stay safe when ordering take-out or food delivery:

  • Practice appropriate social distancing with restaurant personnel or other customers when getting take-out at the restaurant.
  • Use touch-free payment systems, including touch-free tipping.
  • Place delivery bags and containers in the sink rather than on the table or countertop.
  • Transfer food from takeout containers to a plate.
  • Discard all delivery bags, boxes, and takeout containers in the trash or recycling.
  • Wash your hands before eating.
  • Leftovers should be put in your own food storage containers rather than in takeout containers.
  • Clean and sanitize the sink after your meal.

How often should I wash my clothes?

Unless someone in your household has tested positive for COVID-19 or is displaying symptoms, you can wash your clothes as you normally do.

If someone in your household has confirmed or suspected COVID-19, the CDC says extra precautions must be taken when washing clothes, bed linens, or towels they came in contact with.

Wear disposable gloves when handling dirty laundry from an ill person and then discard after each use. If using reusable gloves, those gloves should be dedicated for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces for COVID-19 and should not be used for other household purposes. Clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.

  • If no gloves are used when handling dirty laundry, be sure to wash hands afterwards.
  • If possible, do not shake dirty laundry. This will minimize the possibility of dispersing the virus through the air.
  • Launder items as appropriate, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely. Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.
  • Clean and disinfect clothes hampers according to guidance above for surfaces. If possible, consider placing a bag liner that is either disposable (can be thrown away) or can be laundered.

Should I wear a cloth face mask?

This guidance should help answer some common questions that you may have regarding if, and when, you should wear a cloth face cover. Please note, cloth face covers are not a substitute for physical distancing and handwashing.


  • Our best defense against COVID-19 is washing our hands frequently, avoiding touching our eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, avoiding being around sick people and physical distancing, especially by staying at home. A strong health care delivery system and emergency response system is also an essential core defense to save lives when people do get ill.
  • There may be a benefit to reducing asymptomatic transmission and reinforcing physical distancing from the use of face covers. However, face coverings may increase risk if users reduce their use of strong defenses, such as physical distancing and frequent hand washing, when using cloth face coverings.

What is a cloth face cover? A cloth face cover is material that covers the nose and mouth while being secured to the head with ties, straps or simply wrapped around the lower face. These coverings can be made by a variety of materials.

When should I wear a cloth face cover?

  • You should wear a cloth face cover when you are outside the home conducting essential activities such as going to work, to the grocery store, pharmacy, banking and enjoying outdoor activities while maintaining physical distancing.
  • If you are sick (have a cough or are sneezing) or have seasonal allergies you need to wear a cloth face cover when around other people to protect them from your sneezes.

Wearing a cloth face cover may be beneficial as it may help to protect others from germs you may be spreading without knowing it. Using a cloth face cover is preferable because that allows more surgical masks and respirators to be used by health care providers and other first responders.

How effective are masks at preventing the spread of the virus?

  • There is limited evidence to suggest that use of cloth face coverings by the public during a pandemic could help reduce disease transmission. Their primary role is to reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs, or sneezes, including someone who has COVID-19 but feels well. Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing and washing hands and staying home when ill, but they may be helpful when combined with these primary interventions.

How should I wear a mask?

To wear a mask, keep these things in mind:

  • Before putting on a mask, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Make sure your mask covers your mouth and nose with no gaps between your face and the mask.
  • Do not touch your mask while wearing it; if you do, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. 
  • Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp.
  • Always wear your cloth reusable mask with the same side facing outwards.

Keep in mind that a mask does not provide full protection. Therefore, remember to continue to do the following:

  • Clean your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Continue staying at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Continue following the recommendations for social distancing: avoid crowds, stay at home as much as possible, and just leave for essential tasks (e.g. work, grocery shopping, going to the doctor, getting medications).

How should I clean my cloth mask? It’s a good idea to wash your cloth face covering frequently, ideally after each use, or at least daily. Have a bag or bin to keep cloth face coverings in until they can be laundered with detergent and hot water and dried on a hot cycle. If you must re-wear your cloth face covering before washing, wash your hands immediately after putting it back on and avoid touching your face.

How can I get a cloth mask? If you need a cloth mask but do not have access to one, you may be able to make your own mask by sewing one. There is no standard design for homemade cloth masks, but there are many patterns and instructions online from hospitals and other organizations.

If making your own cloth mask, keep the following in mind:

  1. Build a mask that tightly encloses the area around the nose and mouth, from the bridge of the nose down to the chin, and extending onto the cheek beyond the corners of the mouth, so no gaps occur when talking or moving.
  2. Use mask material that is tightly woven but breathable. Possibly double-layer the fabric.
    • Masks must be made from washable fabric.
    • Choose a fabric that can handle high temperatures and bleach without shrinking or otherwise deforming.
  3. The mask should be tolerant of expected amounts of moisture from breathing.
  4. Suggested materials- outer layer tea cloth, inner layer of a microfleece to wick away moisture, and an inner tea cloth layer. Use an accordion fold to mimic a hospital mask as much as possible and use a fat woven shoelace type material to bind the sides (such as quilt binding). For straps, use elastic straps that loop behind the ears.

Online instructions and patterns:


Last Revised: May 27, 2020