We have all witnessed how a pandemic is a time of uncertainty, anxiety, and worry that can make us feel powerless and vulnerable. Further, many people feel frustrated by pandemic restrictions and rules.

While we don’t have magic bullets or shields to protect humanity from the scourge of disease, we do have the power to take some simple actions that can reduce the risk of exposure to, transmission of, and infection by disease-causing germs. Ultimately, reducing our risk can reduce our stress.

Wash your hands, the shortcut

You already know that washing your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds can inactivate and remove germs from your skin, but did you know that even a shorter time is helpful too? If you can’t manage the full 20 seconds every time you wash, don’t skip it: Even a quick wash has value. Rub all surfaces with soapy water—palms, backs of hands, fingers and thumbs, and between fingers—and rinse well. Dry your hands with a clean cloth or paper towel.

Wear your mask

You may be tired of hearing this advice, and it may not be comfortable, but this simple action is empowering.

Think of the mask as a warrior’s shield: It protects you from other people’s germs and protects them from yours. Wear it properly by covering your mouth and nose, the pathways into your nasal passages and the delicate, vulnerable lining of your lungs. Even as we emerge from the pandemic, the virus will not magically disappear. It’s still important to protect yourself and others until an effective vaccine is available for everyone. Masks are especially important when social distancing can’t be maintained.

When in doubt, sanitize

Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol really does kill most microbes, and it can keep you from spreading germs from contaminated hands to other surfaces. Keep some hand sanitizer on hand in case you can’t get to a sink. Use it after leaving a store and before getting into your car. When you get home, wash your hands.

The truth about gloves

Gloves are needed only in limited situations, such as when you are exposed to many people and can’t sanitize your hands very often.

If you are a caretaker for someone who has COVID-19 or another infection, you should wear single-use gloves and change them frequently to protect yourself. If you are, on the other hand, taking care of a person who is vulnerable and high risk but doesn’t have an infection, wearing gloves will help to protect them from your germs.

Remove gloves by peeling them off inside-out and throwing them away so you don’t contaminate your skin or spread the germs in your environment. Wash your hands with soap and water after removing your gloves.

Don’t shake on it

One day, we will be able to shake hands, high-five, and hug each other again, but we are not at that point yet. Avoid skin-to-skin contact with those outside your family or household unit. It’s sad, it’s hard, but it is also empowering us to stay safe and well.

Help family

Many people take care of children or other family members. Not only is it important to keep yourself and your hands clean for this task, but you can protect your charges by helping wash the hands of small children and elderly or infirm family members.

Knowledge is power

Public health directives can change often, and it is important to monitor developments during the pandemic and beyond. Follow reports from your state’s health department and the advice of scientists and your doctor. Be wary of information spread on social media. It’s often unreliable and can even be dangerous.

Infectious disease is part of nature. As we emerge from the pandemic, we must retain the life-saving lessons we learned so we can be empowered for future outbreaks.