Easier said than done, right?
Over the last six weeks, the country has jumped from casually aware of the novel coronavirus in China to a state of barely suppressed panic. Even in towns without any active cases of COVID-19, grocery store shelves sit empty, ransacked by the frenzied masses trying to stock up for the apocalypse.
There’s a right way to prepare for a viral outbreak and a way that, well, might not be wrong but certainly isn’t helpful.
Before you head out to your nearest grocery store to see if toilet paper is back in stock — it probably isn’t — check out our list of dos and don’ts for coronavirus prep.
- Stock up for two weeks
- Prep for work and school absences
- Wash your hands
- Avoid people and the general public
- Explain what’s going on to your kids
Stock up for a couple weeks.
Stocking up for a pandemic isn’t quite the same as stocking up for a weather-related emergency. Unless something truly catastrophic happens, COVID-19 isn’t going to prevent you from using electricity, making phone calls or running water as usual.
But some services might be interrupted. And since you’ll need to stay home as much as possible, you’ll want supplies on hand to avoid unnecessary grocery runs.
Whether your area has a confirmed case of COVID-19 or not, now’s the time to make sure you have enough food on hand for a couple of weeks. If your area gets quarantined, you may not be able to move about as freely.
Inventory what you’ve got on hand already and supplement as needed. A good supply of shelf-stable proteins and starches will help you weather a quarantine (self-imposed or otherwise). Check out this handy outline of what you might need for your emergency stores.
Prep for work and school absences.
Your school system shuts down and your employer asks you to work from home. Great! These social distancing measures will help flatten the curve of coronavirus spread.
Unfortunately, that also means a huge disruption in your day-to-day schedule. Time to make a plan. Keep the following in mind as you create a schedule for self-isolation:
- Stay home when you can. Now is not the time to explore your city’s famous landmarks. The point of social distancing is to limit public contact.
- Set boundaries with your kids. Working from home has its benefits — casual Fridays can now include pajama pants! — but it can be tough if you’ve got a house full of family. Have a chat with your kids and spouse about the schedule and what’s expected of everyone. Create “office hours” and dedicate a space where you can work undisturbed, if possible.
- Keep the kids on track. If you have school-aged children who aren’t in school at the moment, make sure they keep up with their work. Just as you need dedicated office hours, they need dedicated school time. You don’t have to become a homeschooling pro, though. Check out these resources for home-based learning in the interim.
Wash your hands.
We don’t have a vaccine for COVID-19 yet. But you can do something to limit the spread of the virus and keep infection rates down: Wash your hands — often and well.
- Use clean, running water at a temperature you find comfortable
- Scrub your hands and fingers for 20 seconds with regular soap
- Rinse off thoroughly
- Dry completely using a paper towel, and discard the paper towel when done
If you’re tired of singing “Happy Birthday” twice, here are some alternative tunes to make hand-washing less tedious. (And if you’re looking for something even more entertaining, try this handy tool.)
You can use hand sanitizer in place of washing if you can’t get to a sink, but regular soap and water are generally more effective. If you opt for hand sanitizer, choose one with at least 60% alcohol.
Side note: Antibacterial products have no effect on viruses.
Avoid people and the general public.
Viruses spread through contact. COVID-19 in particular seems to spread through water droplets — sneezing and coughing, specifically. Health experts are still researching how this novel coronavirus spreads exactly, but the best thing you can do to reduce your risk and keep this virus in check is to avoid other people. That means participating in social distancing and self-isolation (or self-quarantine).
What’s the difference between isolation, quarantine and social distancing? Quick breakdown:
- Quarantine: An official public health policy, usually required by medical professionals and sometimes enforced by governments. Under quarantine, you can’t move freely in public and have to adhere to quarantine guidelines (for your protection and the protection of other people). This is for people who were exposed to a virus but who don’t have symptoms yet.
- Isolation: If you get sick, you’ll go into isolation. It’s similar to a quarantine except you’re already sick. The goal is to keep infected people away from healthy people.
- Social distancing: This is a public health measure to limit the spread of disease. Social distancing includes cancellation of things like sports events, concerts, festivals, rallies, large public gatherings, voting primaries, schools, church gatherings and other types of events and regular meetings. This may or may not be enforced by governments.
You can choose to “self-isolate” or “self-quarantine.” This means you stay home and avoid other people and the public, either because you’re already sick or because you want to mitigate your risk of getting sick. Self-quarantines are a good idea, especially if your area has an active outbreak.
These words might mean different things by definition, but they all point to the same concept: Avoid the public and keep your distance.
Explain what’s going on to your kids.
With school systems closing nationwide, kids will likely have questions about the boost in extra break time (you know, after they’re done celebrating). Babies and toddlers don’t need a rundown of the pandemic, of course, but your elementary-aged and older kiddos might need a quick debriefing on the situation.
Not sure how to start the conversation without freaking everyone out? Here’s a guide on how to talk to your kids about the coronavirus.
Listen. With all the headlines about coronavirus and the total disruption to everyday life, “relaxing” is probably a pipe dream. But self-care is still important. Find some time to make your own, and make sure the other people in your home get time to de-stress, too. Take walks, get some fresh air, take long baths with your favorite music playing, catch up on your favorite podcasts and turn off the news for a little while.
And if you’re completely overwhelmed or need someone to talk to about the mental overload, check out this list of mental health apps reviewed by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
No pandemic lasts forever. You’ve got this.
Now, let’s talk about what you should NOT do during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Stockpile and hoard like it’s the apocalypse.
- Go to the doctor — yet.
- Ignore official advice to isolate.
- Take unnecessary supplements.
- Spread misinformation.
Stockpile and hoard like it’s the apocalypse.
Bulking up your pantry makes sense so you can avoid frequent trips to the grocery store. But buying hundreds of rolls of toilet paper, hoarding hand sanitizer and filling three carts’ worth of groceries is a bad idea. In fact, it’s selfish, unnecessary and downright dangerous. Consider that:
- Many people live paycheck-to-paycheck. They can’t always afford to stockpile a month’s worth of groceries. Raiding your local grocery stores prevents other families — especially ones with lower incomes — from getting what they need for regular meals.
- You can (probably) still go to the grocery store. Unless your area implements a lockdown or official quarantine, you’re still allowed to move freely. You just need to be careful and avoid crowds. As long as you’re healthy and there aren’t any government restrictions in place, you can get what you need.
- Hoarding hurts everyone — including hospitals. Bulk-buying face masks is not only selfish but potentially dangerous. For one thing, face masks should only be used by medical workers and actively sick people as a preventive measure. For another, hoarding supplies like face masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products and other necessities could prevent your local hospital system from getting what it needs to thwart infections.
Buy what you need for your family but leave enough for the rest of your community. Remember that washing your hands with regular soap and water, and avoiding other people, are the best ways to keep viral spread down. You don’t need 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer (and you certainly don’t need to pay some guy $70 for it).
Go to the doctor — yet.
If you think you have COVID-19, don’t head to your doctor’s office until you call first. We know that this advice goes against your inclination, but this novel coronavirus is highly contagious and doesn’t have a vaccine. To keep spread low and avoid infecting other people, you need to call your doctor’s office and describe your symptoms before going in.
Don’t have a doctor? Call an emergency room and check with them. You could also call your local health department for more information.
Point being? Don’t just show up to a doctor’s office or ER with COVID-19 symptoms. Call first.
Ignore official advice to isolate.
Social distancing. Isolation. Self-quarantine. There’s a reason that you keep hearing health experts beat the same drum about avoiding other people. Viral infections love people — the more, the merrier.
Please don’t blow off official advice to isolate as being an overreaction or government interference.
COVID-19 is mild for most people. The World Health Organization says about 80% of people with this novel coronavirus will have mild symptoms.
But that leaves 20% with worse symptoms, including hospitalization. And for the minority of people who experience worse symptoms, this “mild” virus might lead to death. Your parents, grandparents, friends with compromised immune systems and other health problems and others all around the world can die from COVID-19. As of the time of this writing, COVID-19 has killed nearly 6,500 people around the globe.
The seasonal flu is also deadly. But there’s a vaccine for seasonal flu. COVID-19 has no vaccine yet.
One of the best ways to flatten the curve — i.e., prevent a mass outbreak from happening all at once — of COVID-19 is to self-isolate. Avoid public places when possible, limit the time you spend around people and practice good hygiene.
Introverts, it’s your time to shine.
Need some tips on how to entertain yourself while you’re stuck at home? Here’s a nifty list with fun (and slightly snarky) ideas.
Take unnecessary supplements.
COVID-19 is a viral disease. Like the flu, the common cold, most cases of bronchitis and other respiratory infections, there’s no cure for the coronavirus. Treatments help mitigate symptoms, of course, and there’s a vaccine for the seasonal flu.
But your body tends to take care of viruses on its own. The problem with COVID-19 is that no one’s ever seen this strain of the virus in humans before. That means no one has immunity. Hence the global pandemic.
And because it’s a new virus with no vaccine and no cure, that also means there’s no known supplement to help stop it. You might have seen rumors to the contrary. Please ignore these. You can’t stop COVID-19 with supplements. Keep in mind that:
- Taking any supplements without the go-ahead from your doctor can be dangerous. Just because you can buy vitamins over the counter doesn’t mean they come without risks. All medication — even the OTC and “natural” variety — can have negative interactions with other medication you might be taking. You might also be allergic to some supplements, or you might have an underlying health issue that makes supplements harmful to you.
- Your immune system is a complex system. There’s no magic pill when it comes to boosting your immune system. Reducing stress, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet and taking supplements prescribed by your doctor can help your immune system run smoothly. But you don’t need to add unnecessary supplements in an attempt to boost a system that works well enough on its own.
In other words, don’t believe the hype about supplements or the “tips and tricks” mentality when it comes to stopping COVID-19. We hate to be blunt, but there’s no containing it at this point.
On a positive note, scientists are looking into ways to prevent the novel coronavirus and treat COVID-19. We’re just not there yet and won’t be for some time.
What we can do, though, is keep the spread low — flatten the curve, so to speak. We do that by maintaining good hygiene and staying away from other people.
Part of the problem with reporting on COVID-19 comes from the general public’s distrust of sensationalist headlines. Clickbait stories drive traffic, and the media loves traffic.
But there are real reporters out there giving people the information they need. We need to share those stories because knowledge is power. Don’t flood your social media feeds with the hyperbole you see on cable news channels — or worse, memes stuffed with conspiracy theories.
Instead, look for accurate news and real statistics from credible sources.
And share those things.
Share them with family members and friends who scoff at the novel coronavirus as if it’s not a big deal. We need more facts circulating in the population.
Not sure who to turn to for accurate information? Check out:
- Local authorities, like the county health department
- Your state’s health department
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- The World Health Organization (WHO)
We also recommend following these and other reliable sources on Twitter because news happens in real time on social media. Kaiser Health News, which we aren’t affiliated with, does a great job of reporting on healthcare news. They’re among the non-government entities we can recommend for trusted information. (Check out their website and their Twitter account — @KHNews — if you want a deep dive on healthcare topics.)
The sources we listed above will have the most reliable data, though there may be some discrepancy in reporting due to timing. That’s why you might hear about a larger infection rate from your local news station than what the CDC reports on its site.
Nevertheless, it’s important to vet information carefully. Use reliable sources, double-check them against other reliable sources and only share credible information.
COVID-19 isn’t a conspiracy to ruin our economy.
It’s not a bioweapon.
It’s a real, live virus that’s sickening people all over the world.
But we aren’t powerless against it. We’re too late to contain the outbreak, but we’re not too late to keep the infection rate down.
That starts with spreading facts, not fear.
The truth is that we still don’t know much about COVID-19. As we mentioned in our update earlier this month, coronavirus isn’t new. But this strain of the virus is. A vaccine for COVID-19 could take a year or longer.
As of today, nearly 169,000 people have been infected with novel coronavirus across 157 countries. In the U.S. alone, we have just under 3,500 active cases of COVID-19 as of the time of this writing (March 15th).
Despite the warnings of caution from just about every major health expert not to spiral, people can’t help themselves. It’s not hard to see why. With an unknown disease comes fear — how it will affect you, those you love and the world at large.
Our advice stands: Don’t panic.
But there’s a difference between panicking and preparing.
Panic encourages you to make rash, unwise decisions out of fear.
Preparing, on the other hand, can help you cope with the unexpected.
With a novel coronavirus plowing through the world unchecked, it’s time to stock up and get ready, to hunker down and self-isolate. Get facts from reliable sources, protect yourself and others by staying home, and wash your hands — frequently and well.