Preparing for Coronavirus

As the coronavirus strain is known as COVID-19 begins to spread in the United States, many Americans are preparing for potential quarantine. Cities around the country are now reporting runs on toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and canned goods, and misinformation continues to spread. But what can you actually do to prepare for coronavirus?

COVID-19: A Primer

What is COVID-19, and where did it come from?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause disease in animals. This coronavirus outbreak started in Wuhan, China. This strain, now known as COVID-19, appears to have originated at a live animal market in the center of Wuhan, where many of the people first infected worked or shopped.

What are the symptoms of this coronavirus?

Those who've fallen ill report coughs, fever, tiredness, and shortness of breath, but COVID-19 can also cause pneumonia. The severity of symptoms and recovery depends on the strength of your immune system. In severe cases, COVID-19 can lead to organ failure, though many of those who have died were already in poor health.

How severe is this outbreak, and who is most at risk?

So far, more than 75% of cases reported in China have been classified as mild, and the death rate in China is estimated at 2%. 

People with compromised immune systems and underlying medical problems, including smokers, appear to be at higher risk. Currently, the average age of death for those with COVID-19 is in the 70s.

How does this virus spread?

The new coronavirus spreads through person-to-person contact, with viral particles transmitted through coughs and sneezes. Those particles can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby (within about six feet), or possibly inhaled into the lungs.

It's also possible to be infected by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes. This isn't currently believed to be the primary way the infection spreads, though.

What precautions can I take?

  • Wash your hands. Wash frequently, making sure you spend at least 20 seconds scrubbing your hands. Don't miss the backs of your hands, above your wrists, under your nails, and between your fingers.
  • Don't touch your face. Many of us touch our faces up to 90 times per day without knowing it, and unconscious habits like these can be challenging to break. It's essential, though, since the virus can enter your body through your eyes, mouth, or nose.
  • Avoid handshaking. Use a fist or elbow bump, a wave, a slight bow: whatever you choose, keep your hands to yourself.
  • Be careful with what you touch. If it's a shared surface, minimize your contact. That means using only your knuckle, a paper towel, or disposable gloves when possible. Spaces to be especially cautious include: 
    • light switches
    • elevator buttons
    • gasoline dispenser
    • subway poles
    • bathroom doors
  • Sanitize everything! If disinfectant wipes are available at the store, use them. Be sure to wipe the handle and child seat in grocery carts. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) whenever you can't wash your hands after touching a contaminated surface.
  • Use disposable tissues. Cover your mouth and nose if you sneeze, but don't use your elbow. Instead, cough or sneeze into a tissue and dispose of that tissue carefully.
  • If you're sick, stay home. Prevent the spread of disease and exercise caution if you believe you're infected.

What should I buy?

  • Latex or nitrile latex disposable gloves. Use anytime you come in contact with a contaminated surface.
  • Hand sanitizer. Remember, it must be alcohol-based and greater than 60% alcohol to be effective.
  • Zinc lozenges. In a now-viral email attributed to Dr. James Robb, the pathologist recommends zinc lozenges, saying, "These lozenges have been proven to be effective in blocking coronavirus (and most other viruses) from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx. Use as directed several times each day when you begin to feel ANY 'cold-like' symptoms beginning. It is best to lie down and let the lozenge dissolve in the back of your throat and nasopharynx."

What about face masks?

So far, science is mixed on the efficacy of face masks. Surgical face masks are designed to keep droplets in, not out. They may cause you to touch your face more, and can even distract from the most crucial preventative step: frequent hand-washing.

Coronavirus panic is even leading to a mask shortage, which could be devastating for the healthcare workers that need masks most urgently. 

What if I'm quarantined?

Should local authorities issue a quarantine, it's unlikely to go beyond 14 days, which is the expected incubation period. Here's what you should be prepared with:

  • Food. Make sure your pantry is stocked with plenty of canned and dried food, but you don't have to skip out on fresh fruits and vegetables. RealSimple's emergency foods list includes citrus (which can last up to 2 weeks), apples (up to 3 months), and winter squash (at least 3 months as well).
  • Water. Have plenty of fluids on hands, including bottled water and fluids with electrolytes.
  • Medicine. Make sure you have a two-week supply of any necessary prescription medicines, but stock up on basics like pain relievers, antacids, cold medications, and vitamins too.
  • Household supplies. This includes toothpaste, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and cleaning supplies, like disinfectant.

Need further information?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are offering regular updates and tips on symptoms, prevention, and treatment.

Remember, you don't need to panic, but preparation certainly doesn't hurt. Prepare for COVID-19 like you would a snowstorm or a hurricane, and make sure your family has enough supplies to make it through a possible quarantine. If nothing else, you'll be contributing to your emergency kit.

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