How to survive the coronavirus outbreak
COVID-19 is contagious — but experts say we still have a chance to contain it.
So far, 2020 has been marked by the coronavirus — a novel virus that’s spreading throughout the globe. While COVID-19 is a worrying pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other professional health organizations have provided guidelines for helping to stop the spread of the virus.
If you live in a city, travel a lot or use mass transit, the goal is to prepare — not panic. Focus on steps you can take to contain transmission and protect yourself during the outbreak.
What's in this guide?
- Practice good hygiene to stay healthy
- Refill your prescriptions
- Stock up on food and home essentials
- Buy face masks and household cleaners
- Switch to contactless payments
- If you're a parent or caregiver, plan for backup care
- Ask your manager about working from home
- Take advantage of delivery
- Sign up for Teladoc or another telemedicine system
- 7 tips for taking rideshare or public transportation during the outbreak
- Bottom line
- Frequently asked questions
Practice good hygiene to stay healthy
The virus spreads through respiratory droplets — like coughs or sneezes — and by touching infected surfaces. The easiest way to avoid contracting or transmitting the virus is by washing your hands regularly and vigorously — especially before and after eating and using the bathroom.
To wash your hands like a pro, follow these five tips from the CDC:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
- Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands naturally or using a clean towel.
Don’t have access to soap and water? Use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and smooth it across the front and back of your hands until they’re dry.
Other ways to practice good hygiene while you’re out and about, according to the World Health Organization (WHO):
- Maintain social distancing. Stay at least 3 feet away from anyone who’s coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If you come into contact with an infected person and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, the virus can enter your body and make you sick.
- Practice respiratory hygiene. Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you use a tissue, toss it immediately.
- Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, are coughing or experience difficulty breathing, don’t go to work or school. Seek medical care as soon as possible — and be sure to let your doctor know if you’ve recently traveled to an area affected by the coronavirus.
Refill your prescriptions
Think about it: If COVID-19 starts spreading through your community, the last place you want to be is standing in line with other sick people at the pharmacy.
If you take prescription medications, ask your health insurance company about an extended supply with your next refill. If your pets take medication or have prescription diets, check with your vet about getting extra refills too.
While you’re at it, chat with your pharmacist about how to handle filling prescriptions in the near future. Many pharmacies now offer home delivery that you may be able to take advantage of. Some are even waiving delivery fees right now.
Prescriptions aside, stock up on cold and flu medications and anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen.
Stock up on food and home essentials
Imagine if a blizzard or hurricane was about to hit your hometown. What would you need to grab before you bunkered down?
Aim to buy enough of the essentials to last 2 weeks — the time experts say it takes for symptoms to surface:
- Nonperishable foods, such as pasta, rice, cereal and shelf-stable milk
- Frozen fruits and vegetables
- Foods you can easily freeze, including meat, bread and cooked grains
- Bottled water, as well as hydrating drinks like Pedialyte in case you do get sick
- Toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap and household cleaners
- Hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes
- Pet food, baby food and food for family members with special diets
Avoid hoarding food and medications
Remember, we’re preparing — not panicking. Try to secure a 2-week supply of food, medications and home goods, but don’t go overboard. Hoarding can leave others without access to the essentials they need during the outbreak, and lead to the kind of hysteria and bare shelves we’re seeing in Australia and Italy.
Buy face masks and household cleaners
If you’re healthy, face masks aren’t necessary, according to WHO. But if you’re feeling unwell or taking care of a sick person, it’s a good idea to wear a mask. Just make sure it’s fitted to your face so that you don’t breathe in infected droplets, and avoid touching the front of the mask.
At home, clean and disinfect all surfaces using a cleaning spray or wipe. Most standard household cleaners, like bleach wipes and alcohol, are effective in killing the virus.
If you’ve run out, use soap and water. Because soap is a detergent, it can break down the lipids in virus particles.
Not all hand sanitizers are created equally
When it comes to the coronavirus, natural sanitizers won’t cut it. The CDC recommends a heavy-duty hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to effectively kill bacteria.
The high alcohol content can be super drying, so follow up with a nourishing hand cream.
Switch to contactless payments
We don’t need to tell you that money is often covered in germs — and WHO has confirmed it can be a means of transferring COVID-19. During the outbreak, try to avoid handling cash and use contactless payments instead, like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay.
You can connect to a contactless payment app on your smartphone, or use your credit card if it’s equipped with NFC technology. That way, you can hold up your phone or card to the checkout reader and pay without handing over your card or touching a keypad.
If you’re a parent or caregiver, plan for backup care
Map out a plan for what to do if you get sick or if your child’s daycare center or school closes because of the outbreak.
This could involve:
- Asking a friend or family member to help.
- Pooling childcare with your neighbors, so parents can take turns watching the kids.
- Finding a backup nanny or babysitter.
- Checking whether working from home is an option.
If your child’s school does shut down, keep your kids entertained while they maintain their distance from others:
- Create fun challenges — like, how many books can you read this week?
- Set up virtual playdates with their friends through Skype or FaceTime.
- Make them feel useful by enlisting their help with household chores and bigger projects, like painting.
- Relax any rules around screen time. Your kids may need a computer to do their school work and communicate with teachers and friends.
As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in the crisis. But children are resilient, and they appear to be more resistant to the virus, according to the CDC. That said, if it’s possible that they’ve come into contact with COVID-19, try to keep them away from vulnerable people, like grandparents and those with health issues that put them at a higher risk.
Ask your manager about working from home
Many companies across Canada are offering employees the option to work from home, with some making it mandatory.
If your workplace hasn’t said anything yet, talk to your boss about telecommuting — especially if you live in a big city like Toronto, where crowds are inevitable. If they’re hesitant, suggest some parameters to follow, like setting up a morning video call and staying reachable via IM, Slack or text during working hours
When working from home isn’t an option
Some companies aren’t allowing employees to work from home without a cut in pay, posing a financial threat to those who can’t afford to miss work. And for other people, working from home isn’t feasible because of the nature of their job — think teachers and factory, restaurant and retail workers.
If these circumstances apply to you, the best thing to do is ramp up the hygiene at your workplace. Wipe down all commonly used surfaces — like doorknobs — before and after you touch them, and ask your employer to arrange regular deep cleanings.
If you feel ill, please stay home while you recover. Doing so gives you time to get well while also keeping your illness contained from your community. If you face backlash, know that there legislation prohibiting employees from threatening workers who raise concerns about safety and health conditions.
Take advantage of delivery
Ordering groceries or takeout? Services like Instacart and Amazon Prime have added delivery options to help you avoid coming in contact with your delivery driver.
Services offering no-contact delivery
Sign up for Teladoc or another telemedicine system
Telemedicine allows physicians to diagnose, treat and prescribe medications to patients online or through an app. Companies like Teledoc make it convenient to get the medical help you need in real time, and they’re becoming more popular amid the coronavirus outbreak.
With telemedicine services, you’ll need to create an account before you can start searching for healthcare providers and making appointments.
Cost structures differ by system. For instance, Teladoc offers subscription-style pricing, while other services may charge a fee per visit.
7 tips for taking rideshare or public transportation during the outbreak
Taking public transportation from A to B isn’t always a choice. Practice ways to stay healthy while taking the train, bus or subway, or riding in an Uber or Lyft:
- Keep your hands away from your face. Avoid touching your face, especially if you’ve made contact with the turnstiles and poles on public transport.
- Wipe down surfaces you come into contact with. Like the seatbelt, doorknob or window button. And if you drop your bag on a seat or the floor, give it a good wipe afterward.
- Avoid eating and drinking. To keep your hands away from your face, save sipping and snacking for when you get to your destination.
- Carry hand sanitizer. Use it as soon as you hop off, and wash your hands properly when you get a chance.
- Stagger your commute. Aim to leave work or school an hour earlier or later to avoid rush hour.
- Move away from coughing or sneezing. If you can’t physically put space between you and someone who’s coughing or sneezing, turn around so you’re not facing them. (Sorry, not sorry!)
- Change clothes when you’re home. That way, you avoid transferring germs you might have picked up while traveling onto your couch or bed.
Plan your travel wisely
No one wants to cancel their upcoming trips and travel. But it’s best to play it safe when it comes to pandemics like the coronavirus.
The CDC updates its travel advisories frequently. If the place you’re traveling to has a Level 3 or Level 4 warning, consider postponing or canceling your trip. For context, the CDC has issued Level 4 alerts for China and Italy, 2 countries with a sustained spread of the coronavirus.
The coronavirus is officially a pandemic, and there’s a lot we don’t know yet. But experts at WHO and the CDC continue to offer guidance for staying safe and healthy during the outbreak.
Along with practicing good hygiene, read up on the latest coronavirus news to stay on top of changing information.
Frequently asked questions
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