Do This in the Car If You Want to Avoid COVID-19

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Man driving a car with the window down
GaudiLab /

Every day, you can take simple steps to reduce your risk of coronavirus infection — from wiping down counters to properly washing your hands.

But here is one protective step you might have overlooked: opening a window a hair when you ride in a car.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the next time you use a cab, limo or ride-share service, you ask the driver to improve the ventilation in the vehicle by opening the window a hair or setting the car’s air ventilation system to nonrecirculation mode.

This CDC tip also applies to personal vehicles — whether you are the driver or a passenger in the vehicle of a friend or family member.

Since coronavirus infections primarily are caused by respiratory droplets, the air you breathe is a vital concern. Coughing, sneezing and even simply talking can release aerosols with the coronavirus into the air that can infect others. Others could infect you through the same actions.

And because so many people with the virus (technically named SARS-CoV-2 for “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”) don’t have symptoms, you can be unaware of the danger that lurks around you.

Writing in USA Today, three experts note that a family car interior usually has about 100 cubic feet of space, making it impossible to socially distance from other people. So, opening a window is the next best thing.

The experts from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Portland State University write:

“When the windows are closed, SARS-CoV-2 (in fine aerosol particles) accumulates in the car cabin. With each new cough, the concentration builds up with no significant dilution happening. But even cracking one window open just 3 inches can keep this at bay.”

If you cannot open a window, choose the ventilation mode that does not recirculate air and instead brings in fresh air from outside.

The experts also remind you that wearing a mask when you are in a car can help. Such a face covering is “a must” in taxis and ride-share vehicles, they say.

Finally, remember to wash your hands properly or use hand sanitizer on them as soon as possible after you exit the vehicle, as they may have come into contact with a contaminated surface.

For more tips on keeping the coronavirus at bay while you’re on the go, check out “How to Avoid Coronavirus Germs at the Gas Station.”

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