Just a week ago, the first “community spread” of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) was detected in the United States: a woman in Northern California who hadn’t been exposed to anyone known to have the virus.
Before her diagnosis, people in the United States were only thought to be at risk for COVID-19 if they had recently traveled to a high-risk area abroad or been exposed to someone who was sick.
But the woman in California hadn’t traveled internationally, nor had she been in contact with anyone with the infection.
This suggests that person-to-person transmission may be more likely than we originally anticipated.
Since then, COVID-19 casesTrusted Source has popped up around the country. As of March 3, in addition to the 48 cases from repatriated people from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, there have been 60 new cases across 12 states. Nine people have died.
Soon, we may see widespread activity. Health officials are urging citizens not to panic but to prepare.
In initial testing, experts have found that COVID-19 may result in mild symptoms for many people.
Here are five expert-backed ways to prepare for a pandemic.
Buy soap and disinfectants
Health experts widely agree that frequent handwashing is the most effective way to avoid contracting COVID-19. So, the first thing to do is to make sure you have a healthy supply of soap.
“For preparation, I think the most important thing is to make sure they have enough soap — and that can be plain old bar soap to wash their hands on a regular basis,” said Dr. Michael Ison, an infectious disease physician, and professor of infectious diseases and organ transplantation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The virus may also be able to survive on surfaces for longer than a week, so disinfecting wipes can be useful. Some researchTrusted Source shows bleach- and ethanol-based cleaning products may be the best at wiping out viruses on surfaces.
You don’t need to stockpile disinfectants and hand sanitizers, Ison says, but have a bottle or two available.
Stock up on supplies
Experts say that if you’re healthy, you probably don’t need to buy face masks.
For one, they’re not going to be very effective in preventing you from getting sick. Surgical masks are thin and have spaces through the sides where germs can easily get in. They’re mainly useful for people who are already sick to help limit how many respiratory droplets are shot into the air when they cough or sneeze.
But if people keep buying the masks, there will continue to be shortages, and the individuals who actually need the masks — sick people and healthcare providers — won’t have them. What you do need is a couple weeks’ worth of food and supplies, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“Having supplies that can help your household run normally for a few weeks is sufficient,” said Dr. Manisha Juthani, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist.
Look for frozen foods and canned items that won’t go bad.
You don’t need to stock up for the end of the world but stay on top of what you have to ensure you don’t run out of goods if you’re homesick for a couple of weeks.
“Be more thoughtful to get more before you run out instead of waiting until the last possible second,” Ison said, adding that grocery stores will continue to stay open, and you can always ask a friend or neighbor to bring over supplies if you do run out.
Stock up on medicine
It’s also crucial to keep an eye on your medications.
Over-the-counter medications like pain relievers, fever reducers, and decongestants are thought to help relieve milder symptoms of COVID-19. Rather than waiting until the last minute to fill prescriptions, keep them replenished.
“I think one of the most important steps people can take right now is to be sure they have a 30- or 90-day supply of critical medications that may be hard to get due to supply chain interruptions,” Linda Lee, DrPH, an environmental health expert and chief medical affairs and science officer at UV Angel, told Healthline.
People who have an underlying condition — such as lung disease, heart disease, or diabetes — need to be even more vigilant to protect themselves, Lee adds.
Early reports show the disease is most severe in people with other health conditions.
Check-in with work and school
We’re probably going to see the school and work closures in communities where the activity is heightened. Now’s the time to call your children’s schools and your boss and ask them about sick day policies so you can put a plan in place. Companies should reevaluate their work from home policies, as people will need to quarantine themselves if they contract the virus.
“We will need to listen to the guidance of our public health officials that will be best equipped to inform these decisions. All parents need to have backup plans should their children need to remain home,” Juthani said.
Pay attention to local news
Most importantly, stay up to date with what’s happening in your community. If the new coronavirus does strike, look to your local health officials.
“If COVID-19 hits your community, first remember to stay calm and not to panic. Listen to the guidance of your local government and public health officials,” Juthani said.
This is a quickly developing situation. New information comes out every day — so how we should prepare and respond will likely evolve in the coming days and vary from community to community. In the meantime, start to prepare and practice healthy hygiene habits just as you would during any cold or flu season, Lee says.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. And remember, some people with COVID-19 may be asymptomatic, so handwashing and cleaning surfaces can go a long way.