As coronavirus has us buying stock in Purell and cancelling our conferences, experts say the most important thing to do is to stay calm and not panic.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create a game plan in the event you’re stuck in your home for days or weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is officially telling households to “prepare for the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in their community.” Here are some actions to start taking now.
It can’t hurt to stock up on a couple extra weeks of your prescription medications. Although John Zurlo, division director of infectious disease at Jefferson Health, says that at this point, mapping out a plan of action is likely a better use of energy.
Think about what steps you’d need to take in the event that stockpiling becomes necessary. Does your insurance offer early refills? What about delivery services? Some pharmacies offer delivery, too.
If you do take a trip to the pharmacy and you’re not already vaccinated, get a flu shot.
“It’s not too late in the season — get the flu shot," stresses Zurlo. “Since flu and coronavirus symptoms can be similar, it’s going to make it less troublesome to distinguish who’s getting what.”
While the coronavirus isn’t a declared pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends storing a two-week supply of water and food before one strikes.
We’re not there yet, says Dr. Krys Johnson, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Temple University, but don’t let your refrigerator go bare.
Act as if you are preparing for a hurricane by grabbing a supply of extra shelf-stable products. Items like canned goods, dried grains, and frozen veggies will keep for months.
If you’re older than 60 or have a compromised immune system, consider also testing grocery delivery services. As the coronavirus spreads, avoiding crowded areas, like a packed grocery store, will minimize your risk. (Currently, highest-risk groups appear to be seniors and those with preexisting conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.)
Take note: On Monday, Amazon announced that Prime Now and Amazon Fresh delivery services would have limited availability due to high demand. Prepare for slower delivery times across all services if the coronavirus hits the area.
Ask your workplace about its plans for a local COVID-19 outbreak to know what to expect. In the meantime, even if you just catch a common cold, Zurlo encourages people to ask to work from home when sick.
“I was at the airport this past weekend and the reactions when people started to cough — people are already freaking out,” says Zurlo. “The last thing we need is citywide panic, and in a perfect world, it’s better to get over a cold from home anyway.”
If you have kids, make childcare plans now so that you’re ready if schools start to close. And be prepared if they come to you with questions about the virus. Do your best to answer honestly while also providing reassurance.
Let them know that most coronavirus cases have been mild and that healthcare professionals are working hard to stop it from spreading. You’ll also want to remind them of proper hand-washing protocols.
In the meantime, you can take these measures to protect yourself:
Wash your hands, often. This means not only after you go to the bathroom and before you eat, but also after you exit SEPTA or an Uber, check Twitter, leave the gym, and especially after you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze.
“Sing the Happy Birthday song twice while washing — that gets you to about the 20-second mark,” says Johnson. “Any type of soap will work, but hand sanitizer needs to be [at least 60%] alcohol-based.”
(Growing bored of Happy Birthday? It’s time to start learning some Lizzo, Fleetwood Mac, and Prince. In light of the coronavirus, Seattle-based journalist @JenMonnier highlighted on Twitter songs with roughly 20-second choruses.)
In between washings, keep those hands away from your face, and stay mindful of what you touch.
“At this point, treat things like you would in avoiding the flu,” says Zurlo.
Another one to remember, Zurlo points out, is to avoid contact — and handshakes — with people who seem sick. Yes, elbow bumps are officially back in style.
Regularly wipe down everyday items (think keys and cell phones). Also sanitize highly frequented public areas like meeting spaces and kitchen tables.
“Anything that you’d normally use to clean your house should kill this virus, like Lysol, bleach, and alcohol-based sanitizers,” says Johnson. “If you’re using a Lysol wipe, make sure to let the surface dry afterward so that the active ingredients can effectively do their job.”
However, if your supermarket has run out of wipes or sanitizer, don’t panic. While it may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface, this is not thought to be the main way it spreads. According to the CDC, the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person through close contact and respiratory droplets of an infected individual — i.e., someone would have to sneeze or cough near you.