How to prepare for the coronavirus

Gina Kolata, The New York Times

Posted at Feb 26 2020 10:50 AM

People scramble to buy face masks in a medical supply store a day after the Philippine government confirmed the first novel coronavirus case, in Manila, Jan. 31, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

US health officials warned on Tuesday that the coronavirus is likely to spread in communities in the United States. They urged individuals to get themselves and their families ready. But what can you do?

Infectious disease experts stressed that people should not panic and offered practical advice.

“The mantra is, “Keep calm and carry on,” said Dr. Marguerite Neill, an infectious disease expert at Brown University.

And use common sense, experts said.

“If you see someone on a bus who is coughing, move away,” said Dr. Stanley Perlman, an infectious disease and coronavirus expert at the University of Iowa.

Stay home from work if you are sick.

Wash your hands frequently, said Dr. Trish Perl, an infectious disease specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It’s not super sexy but it works,” she said. With SARS, also a coronavirus, but one that is much deadlier, hand washing reduced the risk of transmission by 30-50 percent, she said.

Of course, you should cough into your elbow and dispose of tissues in a wastebasket after you blow your nose. You should keep surfaces in your home clean. Alcohol is a good disinfectant for coronaviruses, Perl added.

It would be sensible to have a good supply of food staples and necessary medications.

“Don’t wait until the last minute to refill your prescriptions,” Neill said. “You want to comfortably have at least a 30-day supply.”

With household supplies, she said, make sure you have essentials on hand, like laundry detergent and, if you have small children, diapers, perhaps enough for a month.

She also suggested finding the website for your local health department so you will have a reliable source of news.

Infectious disease specialists strongly recommended flu vaccines and, for older people, the vaccine against pneumococcal pneumonia, although, they added, neither influenza nor the bacterial pneumonia seem to affect a person’s risk of getting a coronavirus infection or becoming seriously ill. But it is possible that the coronavirus, by injuring lung cells, can make it easier for pneumonia to take hold, Perl said. Avoiding the flu also means you won’t take up the resources of a hospital and the time of health care workers in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.

Parents might want to contact their child’s school system and find out how plans for early dismissals or online instruction would be implemented, should they be necessary.

And people with elderly parents or relatives should plan for a support system in case they fall ill.