4 things to buy, and 1 to skip, to help protect yourself during a coronavirus second wave

Here are what products to stock up on and what items may be a waste of money.

A man wears a face mask while pushing his shopping cart in Alhambra, California, on February 27, 2020.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Almost 8 million people in the United States have been infected by the coronavirus, and more than 200,000 Americans have died.

Advice on how to protect yourself from contracting the virus has evolved over the year. Doctors now have more information on what may help protect you.

Here are four things you should buy, and one you should skip, when stocking up for a Covid-19 winter.

Don't buy: Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that boosts your immune system and a common ingredient in over-the-counter products designed to fight and prevent colds. While it might seem like a good time to buy zinc supplements, they won't actually help, says Dr. Amy Edwards, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals who works with the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health.

"Most Americans who eat fruits and vegetables are zinc sufficient," she says, adding that  excess zinc will not boost your immune system as your body will flush it out.

Buy: Reusable cloth masks

Early on, masks were not thought to be an effective way to avoid the virus. Now, however, experts agree that masks can help slow the spread. They can help protect you and the people around you.

Using face masks is "potentially of high value in curtailing community transmission and the burden of the pandemic," according to a recent Arizona State University Study. If 80% of people wore a mask that was only 50% effective, it would prevent up to 45% of projected deaths over two months in New York, the study found. And that's using simple reusable cloth masks, not medical-grade N95 masks.

Most retailers now sell cloth masks at affordable prices. At Target, a 2-pack of adult fabric masks is $4. A 2-pack of kids fabric masks is also $4.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends you wash your mask regularly, so it would be smart to get a few.

How to make a face mask using stuff around your home

Video by Jason Armesto

Buy: Fruits and vegetables

If you want to keep your immune system strong, diet and lifestyle choices can make a real difference. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, Edwards says, can help. So can getting eight hours of sleep every night.

"That's the way to get through flu season," she says. This is "not only good for your heart, it's good for your immune system too."

Some experts also recommend stocking up on foods you usually prefer when you're sick, like chicken noodle soup or hydrating sports drinks. That way, if you do fall ill, you don't have to leave the house.

Buy: Soap

The most common advice for avoiding coronavirus is washing your hands with soap and water. Experts say any soap will do; it doesn't need to be antibacterial.

Hand-washing is something you should do frequently, says Lynelle Phillips, a registered nurse and assistant professor at the University of Missouri School of Health Professions. She suggests singing "Happy birthday" while washing your hands to ensure that you're cleaning them thoroughly.

"That's helpful for all manner of viral and bacterial illnesses," Phillips says.

Buy: Hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is an effective way to disinfect when there's no sink in the vicinity — say, when you exit a crowded bus after your commute, or get into your car after a trip to the pharmacy. "There is no evidence that this virus is alcohol-resistant," Edwards says.

This story has been revised and updated.

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