Masks, ventilation and outdoor gatherings: how to stay Covid safe this autumn and winter

As we head into winter, with people mixing more in schools, offices, pubs and restaurants, cases of Covid-19 are expected to increase. We’re more likely to socialise indoors and spend time in rooms where windows have been closed against the cold, and restrictions are more relaxed compared with this time last year – all of which means we have to stay vigilant, and play our part when it comes to protecting each other from the spread of the virus.

The vaccine rollout has been successful with almost 38 million adults in England now having received both doses. Millions more have been and will be invited for booster vaccines over the coming weeks. The vaccine is our best defence against Covid-19, reducing the chances of spreading and catching the virus, and of becoming seriously ill if you do – but that doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon the precautions we’ve been taking so far.

Sir Patrick Vallance
Government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance

Although you might be aware of the most common symptoms of the virus – a new, continuous cough, a high temperature, or a loss of or change to your normal sense of smell or taste – about one in three people who have Covid-19 have no symptoms, and might not even be aware that they have it. Even if you’re fully vaccinated, it is still possible to catch and spread the virus, and although you might not feel any severe effects yourself, you could transmit it to someone who might become seriously ill.

“While vaccines are offering us good protection, Covid-19 is still with us,” says government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance. “Stay safe this winter by taking simple but effective steps like wearing a face covering in crowded indoor spaces, testing regularly, and ventilating rooms where possible. By doing this, we can reduce the spread of the virus.”

If you do develop symptoms, you should have a PCR test as soon as possible, and if you test positive, you must self-isolate for 10 days from the day your symptoms appeared. As well as keeping an eye out for the signs of Covid-19, here are a few more simple steps we can all take to help tackle the spread this autumn and winter.

Keep indoor areas ventilated
Covid-19 is largely spread through the droplets and aerosols that are released when someone with the virus breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes. While larger droplets will fall to the ground, fine particles can remain suspended in the air. These can be breathed in, passing on the virus.

If you’re in a closed room with someone who has Covid-19, the amount of virus in the air can build up, increasing your risk of catching the disease. Think of it like smoke, and you’ll see why it’s so important to ventilate rooms where people are gathered together. Keeping a flow of air circulating can help disperse particles and reduce the risk of catching or spreading the virus.

Confined indoor spaces have been closely associated with the spread of Covid-19, but there are simple ways to help avoid it.

Let in plenty of fresh air
It may be getting colder outside, but keeping your windows ajar, or throwing them open for bursts of 10 to 15 minutes during the day, can make a huge difference when it comes to dispersing the virus. Just opening your windows a small amount, or using trickle vents, can create a good flow of air through your home, without making it too chilly.

Prepare your home for visitors
You may see your home as a safe haven, but if people are visiting they could be bringing the virus in with them, even if they’re close friends or family. Good ventilation can substantially reduce the risk of passing on the virus when you’re indoors.

Meet people outside
You’re much less likely to catch Covid-19 outdoors, and following the restrictions earlier in the year, lots of hospitality venues have created extra outside spaces for customers. If you’re meeting up with friends or family, book an outside table, go for a walk together, or create a seated area in your garden if you have one.

College Students Wearing Face Masks Working Together in Computer Lab Setting
Mask wearing in certain settings will continue to be important this autumn and winter. Photograph: eyecrave/Getty Images

Wear a face covering where necessary
Our leaving-the-house checklists have included a face covering for some time now (keys, wallet, phone, mask …), but although there’s no longer a legal requirement to wear one indoors, many of us still choose to wear them when we’re out and about for our safety and that of others.

Unless you’re exempt, or a child aged under 11, the government also recommends that you wear a face covering in enclosed and crowded spaces, while some businesses and transport companies still require customers to use a mask. When you could be spreading Covid-19 without knowing it, it’s safer for everyone to wear a mask in places where they can’t socially distance or where ventilation is poor.

To be most effective, a face covering should securely cover your nose and mouth, and be made from at least two layers of material. Looser coverings, such as bandanas, might not be effective enough to work, while plastic visors provide only limited protection, as they don’t prevent aerosol particles from being spread through the air.

When they’re worn properly, face coverings are a key way of protecting each other from Covid-19, so it’s important to continue carrying yours with you whenever you head outside.

Get tested
You may wish to consider testing if you feel there will be a period of higher risk coming up, either to yourself or others. For example, testing before mixing in a crowded indoor space, such as a nightclub; or before visiting vulnerable people. Also, make sure children take a test before and on return to school after half-term. Taking a rapid lateral flow test before a period of higher risk will give you peace of mind that you are unlikely to be infectious with Covid-19, and it is unlikely you will spread the virus. If you do test positive, you can then take action to help stop the virus spreading. Your family and friends can get tested for free.

Taking a rapid lateral flow test
If you’ve caught Covid-19 but haven’t developed symptoms, you can still pass it on to others, which is why it’s important to take regular rapid lateral flow tests even if you don’t feel ill. You might be able to get packs of tests from your school or workplace, and if not, you can order them online at, or pick them up from certain pharmacies.

If you’re heading to a pharmacy, you need to register for a collect code first at or by calling 119. You’ll need to show the code when you pick up your tests from the pharmacy. These tests are quick and effective, especially if you have the virus and it’s at the stage when you’re most likely to pass it on.

“Lateral flow devices are effective at finding people with high viral loads who are most infectious and most likely to transmit the virus to others,” says Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England. “It’s a very good test.”

It’s also important to report the results of the test, even if it’s negative or void, so the government can spot and respond to outbreaks. You can do this at or by calling 119. If you do test positive, you should self-isolate and order a PCR test immediately.

Taking a PCR test
If you develop symptoms of Covid-19, even if they’re mild, it’s essential that you take a PCR test – rather than using an at-home rapid lateral flow test – immediately, and self-isolate until your results arrive. You can order a PCR test kit, or book an appointment at a walk-in or drive-through test site, at

You can also use this service if you’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, been asked to get a PCR test by NHS Test and Trace, or need to confirm a positive result from a rapid lateral flow test.

If you’re a business owner
Here are some actions businesses can take to reduce the risks of spreading Covid-19:

  • Use outdoor spaces where possible.

  • Ensure an adequate supply of fresh air to indoor spaces.

  • Provide hand sanitiser for staff and customers, and clean surfaces people touch regularly.

  • Display an NHS QR code for customers to check in using the NHS Covid-19 app.

  • Consider asking customers to demonstrate their Covid status through the NHS Covid pass.

  • Ask employees to stay at home if they feel unwell.

This advertiser content was paid for by the UK government. All together (“Stay safe this winter”) is a government-backed initiative tasked with informing the UK about the Covid-19 pandemic. For more information, visit


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