Blog post: Coronavirus: Preparedness, Resources & Tips
The 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) disease outbreak has raised alarms worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a global pandemic, as the number of cases rises daily. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending ways to deal with disruption to daily life. There is currently no vaccine to prevent the disease, therefore the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Our actions now can slow the spread, and reduce the impact.
Below are some resources and tips about COVID-19.
1 – Know The facts
The CDC, WHO, and Harvard Health websites are a great resource for disease information and guidance. Information is changing daily so stay tuned to the latest recommendations, and directions of state and local authorities. The Washington Post is covering every angle of the pandemic in a free daily newsletter you can sign up for here. Johns Hopkins University (JHU) has a nice visual tracker of COVID-19 global cases, and The COVID Tracking Project has state testing information.
In short, people catch COVID-19 from being in close contact with others who have the virus. Droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes may land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into their lungs. This is why it is important to stay 6 feet away from people. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, although this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. A March 17 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus could live for two to three days on plastic and stainless steel, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to four hours on copper.
Some people infected with the virus have no symptoms. When the virus does cause symptoms, common ones include low-grade fever, body aches, and coughing. However, COVID-19 can occasionally cause more severe symptoms like high fever, severe cough, and shortness of breath, which is when one should seek medical attention. More on symptoms here. As of 4/27, the CDC has included 6 new symptoms: chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell. Though not listed on the CDC website, fatigue also has been reported in people who have either tested positive or told to assume they have covid-19 when testing was not available.
The flu and allergies are going around, so here is a chart to differentiate COVID-19 from other illness.
2 – Flatten the curve, avoid gatherings, practice social distancing, don’t be ‘Patient 31’!
Since COVID-19 is now beyond containment, slowing down its rate is critical. If it appears that the virus is not in your community, it’s either due to lack of testing, or it’s coming soon. If we don’t practice strict social distancing measures and avoid any group gatherings, we will all get sick at once and overwhelm the healthcare workers and hospitals causing more deaths. This is why we must all do our part to flatten the curve. Even if you are not sick, you may be carrying it, and if you think it won’t hit you hard, it will affect others. Therefore act like you already have it, and do everything you can to stop spreading it to others.
Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 This includes conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. Therefore, CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 10 people or more throughout the United States. At this point, most bars, gyms, nightclubs, theaters, restaurants (except for drive-thru, take out or delivery), and non-essential businesses have been asked to close as governments are enforcing shelter-in-place orders. If any of these places are still open in your community, they should be avoided.
Avoid even small group or one-on-one interactions with people outside your home. South Korea managed to avoid a major outbreak with only 30 people contracting the virus. Then ‘Patient 31‘ came along, and had direct contact with 1,160 people before feeling any symptoms. Days later, hundreds of people the patient crossed paths with also contracted the disease. Don’t be ‘Patient 31’!
3 – Wash your hands often and thoroughly
According to the CDC, you should “wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.” If soap and water aren’t readily available and your hands are not visibly dirty, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60% to 95% alcohol). You should also spend around 20 seconds with sanitizer, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry.
4 – Don’t touch your face, and follow these precautions
- Don’t touch your face, eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue, mask, or into your elbow. Discard the tissue or mask in the trash and wash your hands.
- Work or engage in school from home if possible.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces or items (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phones) at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Wash surfaces with soap, or use approved disinfectants. EPA has released a list of registered antimicrobial products for use against the virus.
- Start building harm-reduction habits like opening and closing doors with your elbows, shoulders or feet instead of your hands (whenever possible), and adopt the elbow bump in place of a handshake.
- Avoid crowds especially in poorly ventilated spaces, coming in close contact with sick people, and keep your distance if you are sick yourself.
- The CDC is now encouraging older adults and people with chronic medical conditions to stock up, and stay home as possible as possible during a community outbreak.
- Do not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.
- If someone in your house has tested positive for COVID-19, keep the entire household at home, and contact your medical provider.
- It’s currently flu and respiratory disease season, and the CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine. Although the seasonal flu vaccine cannot protect you from COVID-19 directly, you may be more likely to develop severe pneumonia if you contract both diseases simultaneously. By avoiding the flu, you may also avoid making a trip to the doctor in the middle of a COVID-19 epidemic, when health care workers may be overwhelmed with other patients.
- Although vitamins, minerals, and elderberry supplements will not stave off the disease, they can definitely help beef up your immune system.
5 – Embrace wearing masks
Around the world, people are not leaving their house without a mask. The guidelines in the US had been that you DO NOT need to buy or wear any type of face masks to protect yourself against the COVID-19. The likely reason for that is the government knew of the shortages for hospitals and healthcare workers, and wanted to encourage consumers not to hoard these products.
On April 3, the CDC changed its guidelines to recommend that Americans wear non-medical masks when outside their homes where other social distancing measures are hard to maintain (like grocery stores or pharmacies), and especially in communities with significant rates of transmission. These non-medical masks could be made out of any pieces of fabrics that cover your mouth and nose, like a bandana or pieces of a cut-up T-shirt. Cities like Los Angeles and New York City had already issued similar guidance.
There is no evidence that a mask will fully protect a healthy person. Some people may even wear them incorrectly, and touch their face more often. The virus can also still enter through the eyes. However, how can you be sure that you’re healthy as a majority of sick people are asymptomatic? That’s where masks come in. They can help if coupled with good habits of not touching your face. Check out the link in the tweet above for information on when and how to use masks. You can also check out The CDC information on how to make, wear, and clean nonsurgical masks.
6 – Grocery shopping
People are encouraged to stock up on food and necessities to minimize grocery trips, and those that test positive are asked to stay home for 14 days. There are many shoppers buying items in greater quantities than needed. Take what you need, but please let others—especially those that are at high-risk—prepare as well. Grocery stores will continually stock up their stores so you should not worry about shortages.
Consider keeping a two-week supply of nonperishable food at home. These items can also come in handy in other types of emergencies. Canned meats, fruits, veggies, soups, cereal, peanut butter, crackers, nuts, trail mix, pasta, bread, rice, beans, and oil for cooking are among good supply choices. You may need to include some special foods for babies and family members on special diets, as well as pet foods and cat litter.
Keep fluids on hand, such as bottled water and drinks with electrolytes, such as Pedialyte or Gatorade. You can also consider a water filter for your faucets, and maybe some liquor to ease the nerves. Utility companies will not shut down during a pandemic, so you don’t need an abundant supply of water. If you don’t have a water filter, and you’re picky about faucet water, boil it first, then drink it.
Make sure you have toothpaste, toilet paper, feminine supplies, diapers, laundry detergent and disinfectant. Also, fill prescriptions and pick up over-the-counter pain relievers, antacids, cough and cold medicines, and vitamins. There are some reports that ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) could affect the body’s immune response.
The video above has some good safe shopping tips, and how to bring items from the grocery store into your home. The same principles can be applied to package deliveries, or ordering food delivery. Some people think putting on gloves is a great solution, but are not aware of the cross-contamination they’re causing. The video below shows how people can be exposing themselves to germs unwittingly.
7 – Self care
In times of crisis, anxiety aims to prevail over sound-minded judgement, and we play worst-case scenarios in our head. Stress is a natural and healthy reaction to the outbreak. By coupling it with action, knowledge and preparedness, you feel more in control. Educating yourself and others from trusted sources is a necessity, but don’t obsess over the news especially sensationalized and unsubstantiated headlines. Look at what the scientists are saying, and monitor the status in your community. Do not refresh the hashtag or browser excessively, and learn to give yourself a break for the sake of your sanity.
If you are working from home, or self-isolating make sure you get enough rest during work, eat well, engage in physical activities, and stay in contact with family and friends. This can be a good time to reflect and reset. Take care of your mental health!
8 – Other considerations
- Check in with your employer on their prevention policy, and the company’s work-from-home and sick leave policy.
- As jobs and the economy are being impacted, check out this blog post on what the coronavirus means for your career.
- If you’re a parent, have a plan in case schools and day cares are closed.
- Think through now how we will take care of sick family members while trying not to get infected.
- When it comes to trips, the CDC has specific guidance for travelers. At this moment, all nonessential travel to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran is discouraged.
- If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask. See COVID-19 and Animals for more information.
- Donate to organizations helping the cause.