Back in late January, when the novel coronavirus outbreak first exploded in China, readers from outside the country worried about my husband and me.
But as the virus has spread to more nations around the world, more people have worried about themselves – and what they need to do to get ready.
First things first – please don’t panic! If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to educate yourself on the basics about this virus. While there’s still much to be learned, as this is a new pathogen, knowing more can help you understand the risks and how to manage them in your daily life.
The WHO has an entire page devoted to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. In particular, you should look at their Q&A section, which can answer pretty much every major question you might have about the novel coronavirus. Their advice for the public is especially helpful.
Additionally, make sure to visit the center for disease control and prevention in your country and also follow the national and local news to stay updated on the latest novel coronavirus reports closer to your home.
Here are some steps you should consider in preparation for a potential novel coronavirus outbreak in your community, based on authoritative sources as well as what I’ve learned and experienced.
(Note that throughout this article, I’ve linked to Amazon, where I’m an affiliate – if you are an Amazon shopper and find my advice helpful, shopping through these links is a great way to say thank you and support this blog, at no additional cost to you.)
#1: Prepare enough food and other supplies to stay at home for 2 weeks
Staying indoors here in China has become a nationwide phenomenon, as many of us have had to become homebound for a variety of reasons due to the novel coronavirus, particularly self-quarantine requirements.
Even if you don’t have to undergo a mandatory quarantine, you might still need to stay indoors for at least two weeks or more, as an NPR article on readiness for the coronavirus explains:
Basically, you want to avoid crowds to minimize your risk of catching the disease. If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, the last place you want to be is in line at a crowded grocery store or drugstore.
The NPR piece recommends stocking up on enough medicine and nonperishable foods to get you through two weeks – and reminds you not to forget your favorite foods for when you get sick (in case you do come down with a mild case of COVID-19 and end up housebound).
Note too, the same NPR post reminds us all that “most household cleansers — such as bleach wipes or alcohol — will kill [the virus]” and “even wiping down surfaces with soap and water should do the trick”, so no need to stock up on special cleaners. If you have soap on hand, you’re ready.
(Note: As you’re doing your shopping, consider buying your products online with home delivery, if you can, especially if your neighborhood has a potential coronavirus outbreak. This serves as another way to reduce contact and avoid getting infected. Amazon, for example, offers home delivery on groceries.)
#2: Have a thermometer on hand
Fever remains among one of the more salient symptoms of the novel coronavirus, and you may need to monitor your temperature, especially if you happen to be at risk for an infection due to travel or developments in your community. If you don’t already have one, pick up a thermometer.
#3: You may not need medical masks
Medical masks have become a must-have in China, where everyone is required to cover their face when going out due to the novel coronavirus epidemic. But this requirement has, in part, lead to shortages and pressure on medical mask supplies. (Cue the hilarious photos of people wearing masks made of instant noodle bowls, T-shirts, plastic water jugs and, yes, even a thong.)
The reality is, not everyone needs a mask, per WHO guidance:
If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.
Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.
So if you don’t need a medical mask, don’t buy them. You’ll only add further stress to the supplies and encourage price gouging.
If you should require a medical mask, but find them in short supply or out of stock, consider a DIY option. Here’s an article from SCMP with advice from scientists on how you can create your own mask (which the scientists say can be effective for the typical person during an epidemic).
(Or, if you want to give the public some laughs, strap a thong over your face.) 😉
#4: Rearrange your home entrance to help keep the coronavirus out
When the outbreak first started, I found this illustration from Beijing United Family Hospital as a very helpful guide to how you can rethink your home entrance, so you’re not bringing the virus into the rest of your home.
See if you can rearrange your home entrance, much like this suggestion, to further safeguard your own home.
(And if you want more inspiration for your home, see this post, which includes another diagram from Beijing United for how you might clean your bathroom with coronavirus prevention in mind.)
#5: Ask your employer about working from home
Several cases of infections originated at offices, which is why the government in Beijing has requested that employers, where possible, institute flexible work options such as working online from home. And in the event where people do need to go to work, employers here have also been encouraged to promote off-peak shifts, so people can avoid the crowding typical of rush hours.
If you can accomplish your work from home, not going to the office would serve as another excellent way you can reduce the possibility of getting infected. Ask your employer ahead of time about whether remote work or other home working options are a possibility. It may help prompt a companywide conversation about how to respond to the epidemic and also protect everyone who works there.
#6: Prepare for possibility of schools closing or home schooling
Schools have continued to remain closed here in China because they’re prime areas for crowding, which is a huge risk factor for the spread of the novel coronavirus. And here in Beijing, the authorities have set some very stringent standards for schools to reopen, whenever that takes place. In the meantime, schools have moved forward with online and remote learning for kids (including having some lessons broadcast on TV).
If you have kids, contact their school to find out what plans, if any, they have to deal with an epidemic. Would they close their doors and offer online learning?
Also, if you’re not satisfied with the response from your local school, is home schooling an option for your kid?
With schools closing or home learning, that would also require having someone at home to monitor and guide the kids. Also, make sure you have a plan for a parent, guardian or other caregiver to remain at home in the event school is closed.
Now, don’t forget the basics – good hygiene and other simple practices can go a long way toward keeping you healthy:
#7: Wash your hands first thing when you come home
Washing my hands after coming home has always been a part of my routine, but now even more so, given the WHO advice for the public has stated:
Wash your hands frequently
Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.
Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.
You’re probably already washing your hands after using the toilet and before having dinner. But also, wash your hands first thing after you arrive home, which helps to ensure you’re not bringing any viruses from outside or surfaces you may have touched into your home.
(Also, as a side note, if you are washing your hands a lot more, pay attention to hand creams and moisturizers, because washing will take a toll, especially during these colder months!)
#8: Avoid touching your face with your hands when you’re out
Since the outbreak started here, one of the things I’ve tried really hard not to do is something that most of us engage in all the time and never notice – something the WHO says in its advice for the public:
Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.
Your hands will inevitably come into contact with lots of surfaces when you’re out and about, and you don’t know who touched that place before or whether anyone has cleaned it in a long time.
One thing I do when I feel like I must touch my face outside – pull out a tissue first and put it on my hand, so there’s no direct contact.
#9: Keep at least 1 meter away from people in public
Out on the streets of Beijing, we all steer clear of other pedestrians. And even in the office, I keep a distance from fellow coworkers. That’s because close contact with others is one of the primary transmission modes of the virus.
Now, the WHO advises: “Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.”
I would add, if you really want to be cautious, keep that same 1-meter distance from anyone you encounter in public. After all, there have been reports of people who were asymptomatic yet still tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
#10: Avoid crowded places or gatherings
One of the earliest pieces of advice we heard in China was to avoid crowds and gatherings. At the same time, the country moved to close down any possible places or events with the potential to pack in a lot of people together, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Even my community has asked us not to invite people over.
While it might put a major dent on your social life, avoiding crowded places or gatherings greatly reduces your risk of infection, and it’s especially important advice for more vulnerable individuals, as the WHO director said in recent remarks:
…if you are over 60 years old, or if you have an underlying condition like cardiovascular disease, a respiratory condition or diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing severe disease. You may wish to take extra precautions to avoid crowded areas, or places where you might interact with people who are sick.
#11: Keep spaces, objects you regularly touch clean
Here in China, the major broadcaster constantly airs lots of public service announcements about the novel coronavirus. In a portion of one of my favorite segments (I like it in part because it is spoken by a health expert with what I consider a really cute southern Chinese accent) stresses that elevator buttons and door handles are a concern during the epidemic because these are items with a high frequency of contact.
Every time I hear this, I’m reminded of the importance of cleaning the spaces and objects that are frequently touched – from door handles to keyboards to, especially, my smartphone (note that a recent report said the coronavirus could live on a phone screen for up to 96 hours).
Every day I aim to clean and disinfect these spaces and items as much as possible. This is particularly important for anything you carry around outside when you’re shopping or at work or otherwise, like a smartphone.
Think about those items you frequently touch and get into the habit of giving them a daily wipe with your preferred cleaning solution.
What other advice would you recommend to prepare for a novel coronavirus outbreak?