6 tips for practicing good respiratory etiquette

Excerpt: Respiratory etiquette refers to rules and recommendations that people should follow to prevent or reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses including colds, influenza and COVID-19. Practicing good respiratory etiquette involves taking simple, effective steps such as covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands properly, and maintaining a safe physical distance. Other key measures to protect your own and others’ health include self-isolating, getting tested and wearing masks when appropriate.


Respiratory etiquette refers to rules, recommendations and manners that everyone should follow to prevent or reduce the transmission of respiratory illnesses. The term has often been used to guide people in adopting infection control practices to prevent the spread of common respiratory illnesses, such as colds and influenza.

Today, practicing good respiratory etiquette is essential to limiting, slowing, preventing and stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Canada and globally. The willingness and ability of most Canadians to practice good respiratory etiquette to protect their own and each other’s health has made a huge difference in flattening and bringing down the COVID-19 curve. This has made it possible for provinces to allow more opportunities for social interaction and activities, and gradually re-open workplaces and the economy safely.

Here are some simple but effective steps each person can and should take to practice good respiratory etiquette:

  1. Cover your cough and sneeze
    Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and put the used tissue in a waste basket,* advises Mayo Clinic. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.

  2. Practice effective handwashing
    Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing,* suggests HealthLink BC. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.*

  3. Maintain a safe physical distance
    Try to maintain a physical distance of at least 2 metres (6 feet) from others when possible since respiratory droplets from the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread to a person 6 feet or closer after someone with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks,* according to Mayo Clinic.

  4. Wear a mask to protect others
    When physical distancing isn’t possible, wearing a homemade non-medical mask or face covering is recommended in public settings such as stores or public transit.* This can help reduce the spread of infectious respiratory droplets to others, advises Government of Canada Public Health Services.

  5. Self-isolate and test when appropriate
    If you experience possible symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who may have symptoms, self-isolate and get tested,* says Government of Ontario.

  6. Be socially mindful
    Being aware of your own actions and the actions of others is part of practicing and encouraging good respiratory etiquette. Courtesy, thoughtfulness and good manners are helpful in handling breaches of respiratory etiquette that could affect your own or other people’s health,* suggests The Emily Post Institute.

*The following sources are references for this blog in order of appearance:

1. Mayo Clinic. “Coronavirus disease: What is it and how can I protect myself?” (2020), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/expert-answers/novel-coronavirus/faq-20478727

2. HealthLink BC. “Common questions about COVID-19.” (2020), online: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/common-questions-about-covid-19

3. Mayo Clinic. “Can COVID-19 (coronavirus) spread through food, water, surfaces and pets?” (2020), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/expert-answers/can-coronavirus-spread-food-water/faq-20485479

4. Government of Canada Public Health Services. “Non-medical masks and face coverings: About.” (2020), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevention-risks/about-non-medical-masks-face-coverings.html

5. Government of Ontario. “COVID-19: Stop the spread.” (2020), online: https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-stop-spread

6. The Emily Post Institute. “The etiquette of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.” (2020), online: https://emilypost.com/advice/the-etiquette-of-social-distancing-around-coronavirus/