We've all known for a while that winter brings with it increased exposure to viruses as people begin to spend even more time indoors and colder, drier air becomes a more significant vector for airborne disease. For most of the country, picnics in the park to socialize and outdoor dining in a poorly ventilated tent will no longer be as attractive as they were during summer. New Covid-19 cases are rising in every US state.
The good news is we know a lot more about SARS-CoV-2, the official name for the coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 disease, than we did back in spring. We've collected all the latest advice and gear recommendations that'll be useful to you as we head into our first winter during a pandemic, along with up-to-date information on when to expect broad vaccine rollouts. We'll continue to update this guide as new details arrive.
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Wear a Mask
It's just good science. Making the decision to wear a mask means you're protecting the people around you from potentially contracting the virus. And the more people who wear masks, the more effective it is for everyone. We've collected a list of the best reusable cloth face masks, even ones that fit kids better. Alternatively, you can make your own.
Although a Harvard School of Public Health study—funded by the airline industry-backed Aviation Public Health Initiative—reported that in-cabin air filtration systems are effective enough to mitigate the risks of close passenger-to-passenger proximity, it relied on social distancing procedures during boarding and deplaning, and, crucially, it also relied on passengers wearing masks. But simply masking up on a plane doesn't eliminate all risk. Aside from the time spent on the plane, your other big concerns are the crowded airport terminals and transportation used for the last leg of your journey once you land. If you don't absolutely have to travel, don't. Put your saved money aside and plan an awesome vacation for 2021 instead.
Vaccines have arrived. But certain folks are being prioritized, so most of the population will not be eligible to get a vaccination until 2021. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there will be enough vaccines for every adult to get one next year.
As far as payment, the CDC says, “Vaccine doses purchased with US taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost. However, vaccination providers will be able to charge an administration fee for giving the shot to someone. Vaccine providers can get this fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.”
It's common for vaccines to have mild side effects, including headache, muscle pain, chills, and fever, but that doesn't mean you contracted Covid-19 from the shot. You may see malicious misinformation circulating that claims the vaccine contains a microchip or fetal tissue that will alter DNA. This is incorrect. The CDC has a section on its site that explores the common side effects and what to do about them.
Let's Talk Humidifiers and Air Purifiers
Viruses thrive in dry air, and the air in your home is probably very dry. How dry? As low as 10 to 20 percent in a home with good weather-sealing, especially in colder months. But the best indoor humidity is 40 to 60 percent, depending on outside temperature. Raising humidity levels harms virus particles' ability to infect. The CDC published a study simulating a coughing person infected with influenza and found that with indoor humidity at 23 percent, 70 to 77 percent of flu virus particles were able to cause infection an hour after being coughed into the air. When researchers raised the humidity to 43 percent, only 14 percent of virus particles remained infectious. Within 15 minutes, most of the virus particles became inactive in the damper air.
Air purifiers can potentially reduce your exposure to SARS-Cov-2 as well. They will not prevent you from contracting Covid-19, but they're an additional measure you can take while following other precautions such as routinely washing your hands for 20 seconds and sheltering in place. Decent air purifiers can filter more than 99 percent of viruses in the air, and that seems to apply to this particular coronavirus, too (though room size matters). The best unit I've tested combines air purifier and humidifier into one unit: The Dyson Pure Humidify + Cool (9/10, WIRED Recommends). Unfortunately, it costs a searing $800. Other air purifiers we like include:
Blueair Pure 411 Auto: Blueair took the whisper-quiet Pure 411+, which I tested earlier this year, and upgraded it with a well-deserved auto setting.
Honeywell HPA5300B: Big-room air purifiers—those designed to clean 400- to 500-square-foot rooms—are expensive, but the Honeywell impresses by costing half as much and working just as well as its competitors.
Our Best Air Purifiers guide has many more options.
Contamination by Touching
Contamination by touching is not as significant a risk as we once believed, but lower risk doesn't mean no risk. Keep washing your hands as normal (for 20 seconds or more), especially before eating. And try not to touch your face. When you're out in public, stay socially distanced from others (6 feet or more), and avoid physical contact with anyone not in your household.
Hand sanitizer is fine when there's no sink handy, and if you grab a snack out of your home, you should always wash up before eating. You can make sanitizer yourself, though soap and water are more effective. We have more disinfecting information in this guide.
Taking Care of Yourself
Our mental and physical health are taking a beating. Both are being assailed right now by financial stress, job stress, the interruption of our routines, isolation from our social and support network, and being cooped up with loved ones and housemates (the two aren't always the same). You've got to take extra care of your mind and body right now. Work some rituals into each day. Create new routines to fill the void of those old ones disrupted. Do what you can, even if it's only a little bit at first. Here are a collection of guides we've published (with some highlights from them) that may help.
If you're working from home, you're going to need a home setup that isn't crouching over a laptop at a coffee table. Check out our guide to the best work from home gear. Some of my favorites include:
The Rain mDesign laptop stand will keep you from slouching and therefore save you some neck and back pain, by bringing your laptop's screen closer to eye level.
Logitech's G305 wireless mouse isn't just for gaming. An ergonomic mouse such as this can reduce or eliminate carpal tunnel syndrome. The G305 is my current favorite, and it works over both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
And if you're working out at home, our how-to has advice and gear recommendations that won't take over your entire living room.
You don't need to drown in a bunch of weights or drop a wad of cash on a Peloton. Alternatives include using a weighted vest in your bodyweight exercises, since you can no longer access the gym's squat rack.
The Nike Training Club app is a hugely popular way to record your workouts and access advice on how to do new workouts.
Tend to your mental health by finding ways to relax and stay calm during a lockdown. For friends and family, do them a kindness and send them something to help them destress. Or shop for yourself. You can give yourself gifts. It's a perk of adulthood.
Try a weighted blanket. You have to pick the right weight based on your body weight, but the pressure can help lull you to sleep if you're finding it difficult to slip out of consciousness at night.
Albuquerque-based Blue Lotus makes a zafu meditation cushion stuffed with kapok, which I prefer, although they also make a buckwheat-hull-stuffed zafu if you like a firmer cushion. A good zafu helps keep you in good posture and prevents your feet from falling asleep as you meditate.
Stay planted with a Lululemon Reversible Yoga Mat so you don't slip out of position when you practice yoga.
Your state of mind is linked to how you treat your body, so make a point to read through our all-encompassing self-care guide.
The Foreo UFO Smart Mask Device is a favorite of WIRED writer Medea Giordano. It's a fast and easy way to get a facial treatment every day.
Olive and June Mani Kits can also get you started if you're used to visiting a (now-closed) nail salon and don't already have the needed equipment at home.
A Word About Misinformation
We knew hardly anything about SARS-Cov-2 and Covid-19 earlier this year, and while the breadth of knowledge and experience amassed by our health care professionals and researchers has greatly expanded our understanding of how to avoid and combat the coronavirus, it has also tired out and frustrated many people who've followed the see-sawing advice. That's the nature of scientific discovery. It doesn't mean researchers are just guessing. It means we're finding out new things and adding to our bulk of knowledge.
In the middle of the year, the CDC began contradicting its past statements. CNN broke the story that White House pressure, not scientific reasoning, led to changes being made to the CDC's Covid-19 advice on its website. Then, in mid-September, the CDC again made scientifically unsupported edits to its recommendations on how the disease is transmitted and made a reversal a few days later. Although not due to political meddling, the international World Health Organization also came under criticism in July after 239 scientists from 32 countries signed an open letter calling on the organization to acknowledge that the virus may be contagious through aerosols—very small droplets carried by air. The WHO did so three days later.
Both the CDC and WHO, along with many other private and national institutions, have been key players in the fight against SARS-CoV-2, but you should also pay attention to a scientific consensus from a range of reputable sources with the verifiable data to back them up.