Masks appear to work to help slow or stop the spread of the coronavirus droplets as you exhale. But it's not the only thing you should be doing to help lower your risk of contracting COVID-19, doctors say. That is because the virus may or may not linger in the air, on surfaces and the chance of inhaling it exists in crowds, no matter what protective clothing you wear. Now doctors are investigating just how easy it is to spread the virus, and until they know the reality, there is one thing that they can agree on: To avoid this and all bugs, including viruses, bacterial illnesses, and common colds, eat a more plant-based diet.

Stand back for one second and hear the calming reality: nothing you put on the outside of your body (mask for instance) is as strong a defense as what you put into your body (healthy foods), since the best defense against any virus is your immune system. Keep it strong, wash your hands to avoid picking up something, and worry less, but focus on being healthy.

Here are the five best ways to protect yourself against coronavirus, including advice from an infectious disease doctor who answers questions about how the disease is commonly spread.

1. Masks Offer False Security. It's better than nothing, but your immune system is best

Masks offer a false sense of security. They help keep your coughs from sending the virus soaring through the air to land on others nearby. So to protect others, since you could have the virus and be symptom-free, you need to wear a mask, since it will help to contain the virus. Virus particles are tiny. Think of them as minuscule golf balls -- they can get airborne by sneezing, coughing, even yelling, or exhaling forcefully. Each virus particle lives to be passed on to a new host, through coughing or sneezing, as a way of jettisoning itself from one host to another. So masks are critical now when you don't know if you are a carrier.

Because the virus can land on any surface, if you touch it and then touch your face, especially your eyes, your mouth, or your nose, it can stumble its way into the tear ducts or nasal passages and find entry into your lungs. Fast fact: The tear duct is the superhighway into the body so if you're on a subway and someone is coughing, avoid touching your eyes until you can wash your hands. Your mouth is more complicated as an entry-point since breathing is a way in, but swallowing a virus will kill it; your stomach acid is an effective barrier to airborne bugs.

2. Wash Your Hands, Often: Every Single Time You Go Outside and Come Back In.

Much more likely is the scenario that has you touching or holding a handle (on the subway or at a turnstile or even a the gym) that has the virus on it, and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes (remember: tear ducts are a superhighway into the body) and spreading disease through touch.

Most pathogens spread through touch, especially through shaking hands, or touching any number of micro-pathogens in your daily travels. When you commute, get home and wash your hands (and change your clothes). When you shake hands with people, such as at a dinner or lunch, wash before you site down to work or eat ( you will touch your face). The CDC recommends washing hands throughout the day, for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Viruses are tiny (if a single bacteria is a beach ball then a virus is relatively speaking a golf ball) and they can live on surfaces for 24 or more hours if there is the right environment. (They can even live for longer -- up to a week in some cases --but their ability to be infectious is diminished the longer they live outside the host.) So if you go to the gym and that equipment feels slimy or the spin bike has not been wiped down adequately from the class before -- wash your hands after touching something that does not feel clean. You will end up touching your face, your nose, your eyes. It happens.

Wash your hands and face often, like every hour of the day. Use soap and hot water, and suds up and rinse thoroughly. This works.

3. Your Immune System Is Your Best Line of Defense. First, Get Enough Sleep.

First, and always, during cold and flu season, it is imperative to stay healthy. Even if you do pick up a bug somewhere, you may never know it if your body's natural defenses go into attack mode and kill that sucker before it can take hold. Feel a scratchy throat? Drink tons of fluids (tea, water, hot broth) and get yourself to bed for rest and sleep, since your body needs its armies fully recharged before the immune system can fight off invaders. Sleep is job number one since it's how your system "recharges" and you need to be fully girded for the battle ahead.

What does "enough" sleep mean? It's different for everyone, as is the right time to hit the sack. Try this: Go to bed early enough that you don't need to set an alarm to wake up in the morning feeling rested. This could be 10 p.m. for some people or midnight for others. Try it. Go to bed an hour earlier than you usually do and see if you wake up before your alarm. Now you're ready to meet the world and fight off whatever nasty bugs are floating around out there.

4. Get Strong By Exercising Daily. Challenge Yourself. Build Endurance.

Exercising daily (45 minutes of hard work that challenges your body) will create strength that is not just muscular but cellular. Studies show that working out helps keep your antibodies and white blood cells circulating on high -- which may give them more chances of catching anything that enters your system -- and flushes out whatever is in your lungs, airways or sinuses to clean out the potentially harmful elements. The exact mechanism of how this works is still unclear but studies show that people who exercise regularly and keep their weight in a healthy range clock fewer sick days. Think of a hard workout as a "shower" for your body and get your workouts done six days a week.

5. Eat a Plant-Based Diet to Fight Inflammation

Studies show that a plant-based diet supports your immune system. Plants have essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants that keep your cells healthy and your body's immune system functioning at its highest level.

“Plants give your body what it needs to help fight off infection,” says Andrea Murray, MD Anderson health education specialist. “A plant-based diet strengthens your immune system to protect you against germs and microorganisms.” Eating mostly plant-based is better than not at all, so start your plant-based diet with this easy guide from The Beet.

The details on how the virus can go from a  cough to a killer are outlined in The Guardian. Basically, it escalates to the point that it can cause pneumonia, but unlike bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics don't work against viruses, so if people are admitted to the hospital, they may get fluids and support, but their chances for recovery depend on the strength of their immune system. Symptoms include persistent coughing, fever, and trouble breathing. In the most severe cases, there can be organ failure.

And, as a bonus round, de-stress by watching some fun or lighthearted TV. How you define that is up to you (American Idol, the new season, is a sure-fire feel-good hour.) There is a new study linking gut health, stress and your immune system that basically triangulates what you eat with your stress, and your stress with your immune system. Take care of all three to stay healthy, strong, and be able to fight off any virus that happens to leap on board and try to bring you down. Your body is your best defense against this virus, and pretty much all others.

How Can You Avoid COVID-29? Advice from an Infectious Disease Doctor:

If you want to know more about how to avoid getting the dreaded new strain ofo coronavirus, which is actually called COVID-19 or 2019-nCoV., read on.

Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist from the University of Chicago Medicine, explains everything you need to know about how to stay healthy and the steps you can take to avoid the new coronavirus. One shocking fact: Even if you insist on wearing a facemask, chances are you'll reach under it at some point to touch your nose or mouth, and when you take it off, you are likely to do so in a way that gets what's on the outside onto your face or hands, which negates what little benefit there might have been to wearing it in the first place. Dr. Landon's excellent interview tells you everything you need to know.  Watch her video, here.

Where and how did the Wuhan novel coronavirus begin?

"We’ve known about this particular virus [since] shortly after New Year’s Eve in Wuhan, China. On January 9, virologists identified the strain as a novel coronavirus, which was tied to a specific “wet market” in the city where they sell fish and other live animals.

"These markets have been known to transmit viruses before. People want to see the specific animals they’re buying be slaughtered in front of them, so they know they’re receiving the products they paid for. That means there’s a lot of skinning of dead animals in front of shoppers and, as a result, aerosolizing of all sorts of things, which is why these crowded markets are common places for viruses to jump from animals to people. It’s actually how SARS, another coronavirus, started in 2003."

How does the Wuhan coronavirus spread?

"So far, there’s limited information about ... how easy it is to spread and how dangerous it is. But we know the virus can be transmitted from person to person and it is passed by coughing and other close contact.

"Close contact is a vague term that means a lot of things. But in this case, it specifically means being within about six feet of someone for a prolonged period of time without wearing recommended personal protective equipment such as a disposable facemask. It could also be having direct contact with infectious secretions of someone who has a case of the virus (for example: being coughed on) while not wearing personal protective equipment," she said.

"That can sound scary, but it’s important to know that influenza is also transmitted the same way. It’s a good reminder to make sure we’re washing our hands frequently and covering our nose and mouth when we sneeze," Dr. Landon explained.

Getty Images

Why do some people with the new coronavirus get sicker than others?

"It looks like only about 20% of people who contract this novel coronavirus actually wind up needing to be hospitalized. The other 80% get what feels like a really bad cold and they recover at home. A lot of it has to do with underlying medical conditions. People who are more vulnerable to any kind of infection — because of their age or chronic health conditions — are more at risk for getting really sick from this novel coronavirus too," added Dr. Landon.

"That said, some otherwise healthy people do seem to be getting more sick from this infection than we would expect. We don’t understand why that is or what might be different about those people. Thanks to the work of scientists and doctors on the ground in China, which is really nothing short of heroic, we’re learning a little more every single day," she added.

Is this new coronavirus virus airborne?

"In infection control, we draw a line between things that are transmitted by droplets that can travel in the air... and things that are actually aerosolized and float around for a while. Think of droplets as small bits of fluid that you can feel and see when someone sneezes. You sneeze or cough and these droplets get on surfaces and then you touch them and get them on your hands, or they can fly right into your mouth or nose or eyes. That’s how most coronaviruses are transmitted and that’s how we think this one is too," said Dr. Landon.

Aerosols are [like] hairspray after you use it in the bathroom. When you go back to the bathroom later, you may still smell it because it’s lingering. Obviously we’re learning a lot about this virus, but most coronaviruses aren’t airborne. Generally speaking, there may be times when some of these droplets or particles are airborne, but it’s limited," Dr. Landon added.

For the full article featuring Dr. Landon, or to watch her video interview, please click here.