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How to protect yourself from COVID according to the experts


COVID cases are surging so now's the time to refresh your memory on the steps you can take to stay protected, including some advice from the experts.

COVID is back dominating the news cycle. Around Australia cold weather and increasingly transmissible variants have allowed the virus to run rampant throughout the country.

In the past, such a situation would have seen the country plunged into lockdown long ago. Given the new political approach to handling COVID, taking personal responsibility for mitigating your risk of contracting and spreading the virus is more important than ever.

Here's everything you need to know to refresh your memory on how to protect yourself from COVID in July 2022. To deliver the best possible tips to you, we reached out to Professor Bruce Thompson, Head of the University of Melbourne School of Health Sciences as well as Professor Catherine Bennett, Deakin University Chair of Epidemiology.

Face masks

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Image: Getty Images

Face masks are instantly recognisable as some of the most important tools we've used throughout the pandemic. Experts have been clear that they are a hugely significant factor in protecting yourself from contracting the virus and passing it on to others.

Something that has changed since the beginning of the pandemic is which mask types are considered preferable. Cloth and surgical masks have fallen out of favour, with respirator masks like the N95 and P2 variety now considered the optimal mask type.

"The best ones are the N95 masks, but they're only as good as your mask fit," says Professor Thompson. "If you put your mask on and your nose is hanging out, well that's just really useless. ... A good-fitting surgical mask is very good, but if you can get a hold of an N95 mask that's even better."

So if you want to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 this winter, upgrading your old cloth and surgical masks is a great place to start. Professor Thompson also has some other advice on how to treat your face mask. "There's no point taking that mask and leaving it on the kitchen table only for someone to grab it and touch it and then get infected by it.

"Treat your mask like your underpants. There's no way you leave your undies on the kitchen table after you've worn them for a day."

Click here to stay up to date on rules regarding mask-wearing in your state or territory.

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Rapid antigen tests (RATs)

Discovering whether or not you have COVID is a hugely important piece of community protection. You can't take the necessary precautions to avoid spreading the virus if you don't know you are infected. With the wide availability of rapid antigen tests, getting your test result is easier and quicker than ever.

Ensure you have a supply of RATs available for use so you and your family are prepared should you come into contact with the virus. If you test positive on a RAT be sure to inform authorities and follow your local health advice for isolation.

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We knew from the outset of the pandemic that vaccination would be an enormously important way of protecting ourselves from COVID. With citizens over 30 eligible for a fourth jab, experts are imploring Australians to roll up their sleeves.

When it comes to vaccines, Professor Thompson had this to say: "Even though in terms of the latest variants BA.4 and BA.5 being vaccinated doesn't necessarily prevent you getting the virus ... we know it prevents severe hospitalisation and death. So you really do need to be vaccinated, that's your biggest weapon."

For more information on vaccine booster doses from the Department of Health, click here.

Social distancing

It seems like whenever we see a plateau in COVID cases, basic social distancing measures are the first to go. But according to specialists, it's time to bring these practices back to the front of your mind.

Professor Thompson says Australians should consider "working from home if you can." Professor Bennett says to "be conscious of keeping distance from others and avoiding closed crowded indoor spaces in particular, and wearing a mask (over [your] nose and mouth) when indoors or anywhere when mingling with others not from your own home (e.g. in a queue or on public transport)."

The Department of Health recommends keeping 1.5 metres away from others wherever possible and avoiding physical greetings such as handshaking.

Hand hygiene

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Wash (or sanitise) your hands. One of the most oft-repeated slogans of the pandemic is more true than ever.

"Hand hygiene is also important, so carrying some hand sanitiser is also good, especially if you find yourself touching hand rails as you use stairs... What works for COVID also helps reduce the risk of picking up a cold or other respiratory infections, so [it] really is worth the effort whilst risk is at its winter high now," says Professor Bennett.

According to the Department of Health, you should wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to prevent passing on germs, and use hand sanitiser when this is not possible.

Professor Thompson summarises the best way to respond to COVID in 2022 by saying "it's always getting back to the basics." Follow these simple steps, which you should already be generally familiar with, and you'll be in a strong position to protect yourself, your family and your community from COVID.

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