The coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, with hundreds sickened and dozens dead in the United States.
Health experts have been warning that the virus’s spread in the country is inevitable. That means it’s time to prepare your home and family in case your community is affected.
Most important: Do not panic. While the outbreak is a serious public health concern, the majority of those who contract the coronavirus do not become seriously ill, and only a small percentage require intensive care.
By following some basic steps, you can help reduce your risk and do your part to protect others.
Keep your hands clean, and keep your distance from sick people
Wash your hands. It’s not sexy, but it works.
It’s worth repeating, over and over again: wash your hands. Wet your hands with clean running water and then lather them with soap; don’t miss the backs of your hands, between your fingers or under your nails. Make sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds (or about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice), and dry them with a clean towel or let them air dry.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which should be rubbed in for about 20 seconds, can also work, but the gel must contain at least 60 percent alcohol.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands (tough one, we know).
Meanwhile, if someone else is showing flu- or cold-like symptoms, try to stay six feet away. If that’s not possible, even a little distancing is helpful, according to experts, as the virus seems to spread through droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze.
Sneezing or coughing yourself? Direct it into your elbow so as to avoid leaving germs on your hands, which can then quickly spread to other surfaces. Other ways to be smart include using the “Ebola handshake,” where you greet others with elbow bumps, and pushing elevator buttons with a knuckle instead of a fingertip.
Stay home if you are sick
Protect other people from infection by being extra cautious if you are not feeling well.
Coronavirus starts deep in the lungs, and the most common signs are fever and dry cough, followed by fatigue and shortness of breath. If you have any of these symptoms, please make every effort to remain at home. Don’t go to the office; don’t drive the kids to school; don’t go to the store; don’t ride public transportation. If children exhibit any illness, they too should remain home from school.
Contact your employer and inform them of your illness and figure out how to best manage your job from home.
If you begin to have a high fever, shortness of breath or any other more serious symptom, the best thing to do is to call your doctor to let them know and inquire about next steps. (Testing for coronavirus is inconsistent right now — there are not enough testing kits, and it’s dangerous for people with coronavirus to go into a doctor’s office and risk infecting others. So please follow your doctor’s instructions.) Check the C.D.C. website and your local health department for advice about how and where to be tested.
Unless you are already infected, face masks won’t help
But if you’re infected, masks can help prevent the spread of a virus.
Face masks have become almost synonymous with the coronavirus outbreak overseas, but they don’t do much to protect you — most surgical masks are too loose to prevent inhalation of the virus.
The C.D.C. and infectious disease specialists do not recommend face masks if you’re healthy.
But if you’re a health care worker or are caring for sick people at home or in a health care facility, you should wear one.
If you’re infected, masks can help prevent the spread of a virus. The most effective are the so-called N95 masks, which block 95 percent of very small particles.
On Saturday, the surgeon general urged the public to stop stockpiling masks, warning that it won’t help against the spread of the coronavirus but will take away important resources from health care professionals.
Stock up on home supplies, medicine and resources
Skip the masks, but don’t skimp on your household supplies — and that goes for prescription and over-the-counter medicine, too.
Experts suggest stocking at least a 30-day supply of any needed prescriptions, and you should consider doing the same for household items like food staples, laundry detergent, and diapers, if you have small children.
Remember, alcohol is a good disinfectant for coronaviruses so make sure to keep surfaces in your home clean. Throw out those tissues in a wastebasket after you blow your nose.
The C.D.C. also recommends cleaning “high touch” surfaces, like phones and tablets.
Beyond physical items, prepare your home for a potential outbreak in the United States by staying up-to-date with reliable news resources, such as the website of your local health department.
Prepare your family, and communicate your plan
Create a family emergency checklist that answers basic questions about evacuations, resources and supplies.
Make sure every member of the family is up-to-date on any and all emergency plans.
Be sure to be in communication with your child’s school on what types of plans are established for any sort of schedule change, including early dismissals or online instruction. And if you have elderly parents or relatives, or family members with any special health concerns, make sure you have a plan for caring for them if they get sick.
There’s also some reassurance that could be had by creating a family emergency checklist, which could answer basic questions about evacuations, resources and supplies — especially if you have any preconditions or illnesses. The C.D.C. provides a checklist here.
With children, keep calm and carry on — and get the flu shot
The good news is that coronavirus cases in children have been very rare.
Protect your child by taking the same precautions you would during cold and flu season: encourage frequent hand washing, move away from people who are coughing or sneezing and get the flu shot.
Experts recommend getting the flu vaccine, noting that vaccinating children is the best protection for older people against bacterial pneumonia.
Right now, there’s no reason for parents to worry, the experts say, and the good news is that coronavirus cases in children have been very rare.
When talking to your children about an outbreak, make sure you first assess their knowledge of the virus and that you process your own anxiety. It’s important that you don’t dismiss their fears and speak to them at an age-appropriate level.
So keep calm, and if there’s an outbreak in your community, practice what’s known as “social distancing,” which means more TV bingeing at home and fewer trips to the park.
Concerned about the stock market? Take a deep breath.
There’s little reason to be alarmed long-term, even with the recent declines.
Despite financial markets on a roller coaster, The Times financial columnist Ron Lieber says there’s little reason to be alarmed long-term. After all, “stocks are how your savings fight inflation, the market is not an absolute proxy for your personal finances, and you’re playing a long game.”
“Stocks have delivered decent gains over long periods of time to people who persist, and successful investors do not buy when prices are high and sell when they are low,” he said.
“Nothing that is happening today changes that.”
Your vacation may have to be postponed
Consider your destination and how you feel about risk
Experts say that people currently should feel “very comfortable” traveling to destinations in the United States like California and Florida, “but that could quickly change.”
On Sunday, the State Department warned Americans against travel on cruise ships; older adults or those with compromised immune systems should consider postponing nonessential travel altogether, said Dr. Fauci. Many businesses, including Facebook and Amazon, have postponed most employee travel altogether.
The Times also publishes an interactive map to show where the authorities are warning against travel.
“Cancel for any reason” travel insurance could protect you, but it will cost you. Be sure to know read all the fine print to understand the terms.
Expect that your travel might be disrupted, or that popular sites or attractions may be closed or offer restricted hours.
Still, if you are sick, don’t travel. Pregnant women and others with compromised immune systems should also think twice about nonessential travel.