8 Ways You Can Prepare for a Coronavirus Outbreak

AlexRaths/iStock via Getty Images
AlexRaths/iStock via Getty Images

On Tuesday, February 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave an update on the status of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in the U.S. Though there have been about 60 cases of the disease in the country so far, and only one from an unidentified source, the federal government warns that Americans should start preparing for a coronavirus outbreak—or, potentially, a pandemic. That may sound alarming, but it’s not a signal to buy surgical masks in bulk or lock yourself indoors. Mental Floss spoke with an expert about what to expect if the new coronavirus spreads in the U.S. and the best ways to keep yourself and your community safe—as well as what “safety” practices to avoid.

1. Don’t panic.

If the word pandemic calls to mind a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie, give yourself a reality check. The World Health Organization defines pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease.” In other words, it describes the range and infection rate of a virus, not how deadly it is. “The word pandemic has been used when discussing how this outbreak may unfold, and while it may be scary, pandemics are not always deadly,” Caitlin Wolfe, a doctoral student at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health, tells Mental Floss. (Wolfe was a former consultant epidemiologist for WHO, but her statements are her own.)

As of February 23, the CDC reported 78,811 cases of COVID-19 and 2462 associated deaths worldwide. In some cases, patients with the disease show no symptoms at all, and it's still unclear what percentage of infected people are symptomatic. So even when one expert suggests 40 to 70 percent of all people could get the new coronavirus within a year, it says nothing about how many people will die from it or even get experience symptoms.

Instead of fretting over sensationalist headlines, Wolfe recommends reading trustworthy sources. “Stay informed. Seek out information from local and state health departments on what is happening in your area. The relevant health authorities here in the U.S. have been very proactive in sharing information regarding this new virus as it becomes available,” she says. The CDC’s coronavirus webpage is an excellent place to start.

2. Stock up on essentials.

During its recent coronavirus update, the CDC warned that Americans should prepare for disruptions to their daily lives. This not only means potential quarantines that would keep people out of schools or offices, but also food and supply shortages as economies around the world deal with the fallout. The most important item to stock up on is medication. “The FDA commissioner went on the record stating that though it hasn't been seen yet, this outbreak will likely affect the medical supply chain,” Wolfe says. “In the event of medicine shortages, people should try to make sure they have a 30-day supply of whatever medications they need in case there is a delay in refilling their prescriptions.”

Once that’s taken care of, start stockpiling non-perishable foods, toiletries, and other items for your home. Wolfe recommends tissues specifically, with a reminder that they should always be thrown away immediately after use. As is the case with medication, having enough essential supplies to get through a month is ideal.

3. If you’re healthy, leave the mask at home.

Medical masks have already become a symbol of the coronavirus outbreak. Following unprecedented demand in China, there are currently shortages all over the world. But there’s no need to order a package of masks online for four times the regular cost. According to Wolfe, wearing a mask outdoors won’t do much to stop you from catching the coronavirus: “Wearing a mask in public if you are healthy, especially the commonly seen surgical masks, is not useful. These masks fit too loosely around the face to block the inhalation of viral particles.” The only cases when wearing such gear may be worthwhile is if you already feel ill. “Wearing a surgical mask if you are sick is a good idea, as this can help reduce the amount of germs you spread to others,” Wolfe says.

4. Buy alcohol-based cleaners and hand sanitizers.

When buying things to disinfect yourself and your home, make sure alcohol is listed as an ingredient. Alcohol-based cleaning sprays and wipes can kill the coronavirus. It should also be the main ingredient in your hand sanitizer. According to Wolfe, “Hand sanitizer is all right in a pinch, but make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol.” Washing your hands with soap and water, she notes, is the best way to keep your hands clean.

Alcohol’s protective properties don’t apply to a virus that has already entered the body, so don’t use the public health threat as an excuse to binge-drink, and definitely don't ingest cleaners or spray them onto your skin.

5. Spend more time washing your hands.

The simplest way to protect yourself from the coronavirus and viral infections in general is to improve your hand-washing game. A 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that Americans fall short of washing our hands properly 97 percent of the time. The minimum time for hand-washing recommended by the CDC is 20 seconds, or about two full renditions of “Happy Birthday.” You should be washing with warm, soapy water, scrubbing all parts of your hands and wrists, and drying off with a clean towel. Washing up before and after preparing food and after using the bathroom is essential, but in the case of a pandemic, you should be washing your hands as frequently as possible.

6. Stop touching your face.

That hand-washing statistic is even more disturbing coupled with the fact that people may touch their face up to 52 times per day. “Resist the urge to touch your face,” Wolfe says, because “you’re hand-delivering any germs on your hands right to where they may enter your body.”

7. Stay home if you’re sick.

If you feel sick, do the members of your community a favor and stay home. This applies to children who go to school as well as adults who work outside the home. If you’re unfamiliar with your workplace’s sick day policy, ask about it now even if you feel healthy. And if you're a parent, now’s the time to figure out a childcare plan if your kid needs to stay home sick during the day, or if schools close temporarily.

8. Get your flu shot if you haven’t already.

The best time to get your flu shot is early in the season, but late is better than never, especially as the threat of the coronavirus grows. “You do not want to be heading to the hospital with the flu during an outbreak of another disease,” Wolfe says. “You risk exposing yourself and your loved ones, and using resources that could be redirected in the event of an outbreak of coronavirus.” You can look up flu shot providers by ZIP code on the CDC’s website.

7 Quick Tips for Disinfecting Your Home the Smart Way

Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
BrianAJackson/iStock via Getty Images

With many people spending more time—or virtually all of their time—indoors, it’s natural for thoughts to turn to how to best clean surfaces that might help minimize the risk of spreading illness. Although researchers believe respiratory droplets are the primary way coronavirus is transmitted, preliminary data, which is not yet peer-reviewed, suggests the virus may remain on some surfaces for hours or days.

While scrubbing isn't a complex process, there are nonetheless some areas of your home you might be neglecting. Here’s how to best approach a household scrub, as well as identify and disinfect some common germ hot spots.

1. Pay attention to high-touch surfaces and clean them frequently.

High-touch surfaces are exactly what they sound like: Areas in the home that get handled and touched regularly. Think doorknobs, light switches, appliance handles, toilet handles, faucets, and remotes. And don’t forget laptops, keyboards, desks, and phones.

2. Don't just do a quick wipe down. Get the entire surface.

Taking a disinfecting wipe to the keyhole of a doorknob isn’t going to do you much good—it's important to really scrub all high-touch surfaces. Make sure you get every available surface area, including the plate behind the knob where fingers and hands often brush against it. When cleaning remotes, make sure you don't just scrub the buttons, but the space between them as well.

3. You can use soap and water.

While products claiming to kill 99.9 percent of germs are best in this scenario, there's another option if you're having a hard time tracking down those supplies—simply mix some dish soap in water. It won’t kill organisms, but it can remove them from the surface. (And while soap and water can work for high-touch surfaces throughout the home, you shouldn't use the solution on electronics like your remote or keyboard.)

If you’re looking to kill germs, diluted bleach (four teaspoons to one quart of water) and 70 percent alcohol solutions work well. But it's important to note that bleach and other cleaners can harm certain surfaces. So be sure to do your research and make sure the product you're using won't cause any damage before you start scrubbing.

4. Take laundry precautions.

If you’re trying to be extra-vigilant about the spread of germs in the house, you should consider washing clothes at the highest possible temperature and disinfecting laundry bins. It’s also advisable to use disposable laundry bags.

5. Remove your shoes before entering the house.

This step is more preventative, but it’s a simple way to keep from tracking in contaminants. Remove your shoes before going inside and leave them near the door. It's also a good idea to clean floor surfaces with disinfecting mop cloths, but be sure anything you use is safe for the finished surface. Cleaners like bleach can discolor certain materials.

6. Don't forget to clean your car.

Even people vigilant about cleaning their home can neglect their car interior. Since you’re constantly touching virtually every surface, be sure to wipe everything down regularly, including the steering wheel and door handles. If you have a leather interior, there are auto wipes available for those surfaces. And before you go wipe down any touchscreens, be sure to check your owner’s manual to see if they require any special microfiber cloth.

7. Give your debit cards a wipe.

It’s a good idea to disinfect credit or debit cards that follow you around on shopping excursions. As with all high-touch objects, be sure to wipe them down every day.

[h/t New York Times]

The World Health Organization Is Releasing a COVID-19 App to Combat Coronavirus Misinformation

WHO MyHealth is meant to help clear up misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus.
WHO MyHealth is meant to help clear up misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus.
MangoStar_Studio/iStock via Getty Images

As is the case with most crises, the novel coronavirus has become a breeding ground for misinformation. Because the disease is so new, there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding it, but that hasn't stopped people from claiming to know how to treat, prevent, and detect COVID-19. In an effort to separate fact from fiction, the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching an app dedicated to sharing what we know and don't know about the virus, 9to5Google reports.

Named WHO MyHealth, the new app is a collaboration between former Google and Microsoft employees, WHO advisors and ambassadors, and other tech and health experts. Users will be able to compare their symptoms with those linked to COVID-19 and receive public health updates specific to their location. As of now, there are plans to invite people who have been either been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19 to share their phone's location history to give experts a better idea of how the virus spreads.

WHO MyHealth, which is currently being built as open source, is set to roll out for Android and iOS on Monday, March 30. If you have questions about COVID-19 you need answered immediately, you can also access accurate and up-to-date information through the WHO's chatbot.

Any information regarding novel coronavirus should be met with skepticism when it can't be traced back to organizations like the WHO or the CDC—especially when it comes to supposed cures. No specific medication has been proven to treat or prevent COVID-19, so you shouldn't take advice from anyone claiming otherwise.

[h/t 9to5Google]