In just a few weeks, the new coronavirus has made serious inroads into American communities, even as its global death toll grows. Many health experts are saying that the opportunity to contain the spread of the virus is over; now, it's time to do what we can to mitigate what the World Health Organization is now deeming a pandemic.
Many people are worried about what they should do as the situation develops. Should they hunker down at home—and is there anything they should do there to prepare?
Here are several things you can do to protect your home and your family from the virus—and to be ready if it crops up in your community.
Stock up on supplies
Curbing your exposure to the coronavirus starts with limiting your exposure to people who might be carrying it. In other words, stay home! As you would with a severe weather event, it's suggested you stock up on enough food to last for a couple of weeks, according to the American Red Cross.
Pantry staples are easy to pick up and store, including cereal, crackers, pasta, rice, frozen veggies, and canned goods (beans, tuna). And don't forget toilet paper, as well as laundry and dish detergent.
Soups and Gatorade are worth adding to your cart, too, since staying hydrated will be important if anyone in the family falls sick. If you have a baby on board, also make sure you have enough formula and diapers on hand.
How to fight coronavirus germs at home
While not much is yet known about how long COVID-19 can survive on surfaces, Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, told NPR that based on previous coronaviruses (yes, this isn't the first), he thinks that COVID-19 can be killed by most household cleaners, including bleach, alcohol, or even plain old soap and water. The reason: This coronavirus is surrounded by a lipid covering that soap can break down.
As a result, wiping down counters, doorknobs, faucets, cellphones, and other areas that often come in contact with people's hands can go a long way toward preventing the spread of germs and sickness in the home.
"Viruses can persist on surfaces, so anything you can do to keep them clean is a help, including the use of bleach solutions and disinfecting wipes," says Bill Carroll, an adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University.
The same germ-prevention advice holds for your hands and mouth.
"Alcohol in hand sanitizers helps, but washing your hands often, for at least 20 seconds, is better," Carroll urges. "Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with dirty hands, and always cover your mouth when you cough."
Last but not definitely least, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water frequently, for 20 seconds at a time. In fact, make a habit of washing your hands as soon as you walk in your front door.
Check your medicine cabinet
If you take a certain medication daily, it's smart to make sure you have enough in your cabinet.
"I don't think you'll need six months' worth, but an extra month or two is a hedge against potential supply-chain shortages," says Carroll. Pick up other medicine cabinet basics you might be missing, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and bandages.
As for wearing face masks outside the house, that probably helps as much as covering your mouth when you cough, says Carroll. That is, if it turns out you're the sick one, you'll be reducing other people's exposure to a degree, but it won't do much for your own risk from others.
"Unless the mask is capable of filtering viruses and tightly fitted to prevent inhaling air around it, it's not of much use, and it doesn't protect you if you rub your eyes, because it's not a full face shield," he explains.
Consider working remotely
As fear of the effects of the coronavirus has spread, some businesses are urging employees to work from home, especially if their work involves travel to Europe or Asia. If you think you might need to work remotely in the coming weeks or months, take stock of your home office and be sure it has all you need. Order enough paper, ink, toner, and other work supplies, so you can be productive in case you need to work there.
Lie low if you're sick
Got a bug? Whether it's the seasonal flu or something worse, it's always best to stay home.