Photo: Adrian Greeman/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Washing your hands is the best way to protect against the novel coronavirus, according to doctors and health officials, as the virus continues to spread around the globe.

Why it matters: Frequent hand washing can stop germs from spreading in a community, a known preventative for COVID-19 and influenza.

Pro tip: Scrub wet hands with soap for at least 20 seconds (humming the "Happy Birthday" song twice), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

  • Rinse well and dry your hands with a clean towel or air dryer.
  • Hand sanitizer is the next best alternative, but will not work as well especially if hands are visibly dirty.

When to wash your hands:

  • When you're near, preparing or eating food
  • After using the bathroom
  • When caring for people who have been vomiting or have diarrhea
  • After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
  • After touching garbage
  • After touching animals or animal waste

Why face masks aren't a good idea: Reports show public concern about the shortage of medical masks, but doctors stress masks give a false sense of security and can do more harm than good.

  • The typical face masks available online and at pharmacies are for people who are already sick. They're not fitted to the face, but they do prevent the spread of mucus.
  • Fitted masks, called N-95, prevent healthy people from getting sick because they help block 95% of microbes. When low-risk countries stockpile these, they're taking the supply away from people who have an immediate need for them.

The bottom line: COVID-19 does not have a vaccine, so wash your hands and cough or sneeze into your elbow.

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