Also, be careful of what you share, and try to steer clear of conspiracy theories. We’ve already seen some far-out—and inaccurate—stories about the coronavirus take hold and spread like wildfire. My favorite to date involves a space meteor as a source of the virus—this is not true. As silly as that sounds, sometimes incorrect information about this coronavirus can do real harm. These stories can encourage racism, harm efforts to understand the virus, and stoke fear and knee-jerk reactions in place of logic and rational thinking.
2. Create an emergency kit.
It’s always a good idea to have an emergency kit on hand for your family for any type of potential disaster. The CDC has a robust checklist you can examine to make sure you’ve thought of all the needs for yourself, your family, and your pets.
Ideally, your emergency kit would prepare you to manage for days to weeks if regular life and services are interrupted. The goal is to be able to make it through in the event that supplies run low or you need to shelter in place (during a quarantine, for example). In the case of a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., supply chains may be disrupted based on international or domestic travel and trade restrictions, so it’s best to stock up on supplies now before any major shortages occur. That way, your local stores can re-order while there’s not a run on basic goods.
Consider collecting essentials that will keep for an extended period of time and are easy to prepare, like rice, beans, pasta, and peanut butter. (The CDC recommends at least a three-day supply.) Don’t forget extra water for cooking and drinking. (The CDC suggests storing at least a gallon of water per person per day, and making sure you have at least three days’ worth for all of you.)
In addition to food and water, do you have a good flashlight? Essential medications? Food for your pets? Extra chargers for cell phones? A battery-operated radio in case of a power outage? Hard copies of reading material in case the internet is down and your devices are low on power? (While not technically a survival tool, if we have any kind of lockdown like they’re experiencing in Wuhan, you’ll want plenty of entertainment on hand.) You may also want to keep some cash ready to go in case ATMs are unavailable and you can’t access your bank.
You might be wondering if any type of face mask needs to be part of your emergency kit. The CDC and WHO both don’t suggest that healthy people wear face masks to try to prevent getting the new coronavirus. The current recommendation is to only use a mask if you are caring for someone who either has or is suspected to have the new coronavirus or if you have the virus yourself. Even N95 masks, which can block much smaller particles than regular face masks, aren’t recommended for healthy people who aren’t in these situations.
N95 masks are more properly called respirators to distinguish them from the looser, less protective surgical masks, and they are often used by health care workers. The average person doesn’t need them to protect against this coronavirus, Saskia Popescu, Ph.D., M.P.H., senior infection prevention epidemiologist at a Phoenix-based health care system, tells SELF. N95 masks aren’t great for use by the general public because they “require fit-testing to form a good seal,” she explains. Most individuals buying and using N95 masks at home will not have a proper fit, decreasing the effectiveness of the respirators. Health care workers, on the other hand, do receive this testing, and they’re much more likely to engage in procedures that create aerosolized respiratory particles that can transmit infections, like intubating someone, Popescu says. As there is a looming N95 shortage, it’s best to keep them available for the people who need them most so that they’re able to stay well and care for patients.
3. Make (or brush up on) your emergency plans.
Contact your local leaders and see what your community’s pandemic plan is—and if they have one at all. Also consider discussing this with your employer. Do you have a job where you could telecommute if coronavirus in the U.S. becomes a real threat? If you can’t, how does your employer plan to keep you safe? If they don’t have this worked out yet, encourage them to get directions written down and provided to employees to prepare for the apparent inevitability of coronavirus in the U.S.