How to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak

Here's what to do – and what not to do – in case the spread of the COVID-19 virus escalates in Ontario

This weekend, seven more positive coronavirus cases were confirmed in Ontario, bringing the total in the province to 15. The additional cases in the GTA, and the potential public exposure to the respiratory virus, is one more data point in what seems to be a growing collection of cases around the world.

Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has spread considerably from its apparent beginnings in Wuhan, China. On February 28, the World Health Organization raised its global risk assessment for coronavirus from “high” to “very high.”

Countries around the world – Canada included – are putting measures into place to try to prevent a global pandemic, but the increased spread and number of cases is cause for concern.

The good news is that there are things you can do to get ready for a potential localized outbreak of COVID-19. Preparing now can help protect your own health, of course. But it also benefits the health of your family, friends, neighbours, coworkers, and community.

What doesn’t help you or anybody else, though? Panicking. With that in mind, here is a guide for sensible, reasonable, evidence-based coronavirus preparation.

Do wash your hands – a lot

The most effective way to prevent the spread of respiratory disease is to wash your hands properly and frequently. We should all be washing our hands properly already, but there’s no time like the present to fine-tune your technique.

Wash them after you go to the bathroom, before you eat, and after you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose. If frequent handwashing dries out your skin, get lotion and moisturizing hand soap.

Hand sanitizer with alcohol also prevents the spread of respiratory illness and is a good solution for when full handwashing isn’t possible. If you have kids, you can give them some sanitizer to shore up their handwashing efforts, which we all know will be subpar.

As an aside to this, if you are finding it impossible to stop touching your face (likely) that activity is made less risky if your hands are clean. (Seriously though, try not to touch your face.) 

Get a flu shot

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. However, preventing the contraction and spread of the flu helps overall public health. Coronavirus tends to affect those with other health problems – like, say, influenza – more seriously, so preventing those problems is good practice. It’s also just the right thing to do for the people around you who are most at risk.

Take care of current health issues

If you have been putting off dealing with a new or chronic health condition, now is a good time to see your doctor. Deal with issues now in order to prevent them from being a complicating factor if you do get sick. 

If you take regular medications, try to get extras to have on hand. If you are on your last refill of recurring prescriptions, talk to your pharmacist or physician about getting it renewed and filling a few doses at once if you are able. 

Think like a prepper… sort of

You don’t need to go full bunker – and if you’re hitting up the food sample trays while you’re stockpiling toilet paper at Costco, you’re kind of defeating the purpose. However, if you contract COVID-19 or are exposed by someone else, you may find yourself quarantined at home for a period of days or weeks.

Have the things on hand you’d need to manage that. Canned and frozen food is a given, but you should also consider toiletries, sanitary supplies, cleaning products, medications (experts recommend having a 30-day supply on hand), diapers, cat litter and pet food, water, etc. 

Of course, stockpiling items can be difficult for a lot of people for reasons of finances or space. If you can store items for a friend or family member, or can afford to buy extra things for someone who has less financial wiggle room, it would be a kind offer to make. 

Prepare to work from home

If you have a job that allows you to work from home, you may end up doing so as a safety measure. Find out what you need to set up to work remotely. Ask if your employer has plans for this kind of situation, and how you can help get them set up if they don’t. 

Of course, not everyone has a job that allows them to work remotely. Others will have to contend with childcare, eldercare, or other caretaking responsibilities if they are stuck at home. Reach out to friends and family to discuss contingency plans. And if you have the ability to save some money, it would not be a bad idea to shore up your reserves in case of a period of unemployment or underemployment.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do:

Don’t stock up on masks

Facial masks are useful for sick people because they prevent the spread of germs from the ill person to everyone around them. But they won’t do much to keep you from getting sick if you aren’t. Hospital visitors and healthcare workers don’t wear masks to protect them from illness. They wear them to protect the medically vulnerable people around them from catching something they might not know they have.

There are already shortages of medical-grade face masks in some parts of the United States. In the cast of a pandemic, healthcare facilities will need masks for their own staff and for people who are ill. Stockpiling these masks yourself is both an ineffective way to keep yourself from getting sick, and a crappy thing to do.

Don’t be racist

Yes, the coronavirus outbreak appears to have begun in Wuhan, China. However, it has now spread to countries around the world, including this one, and the risks of community transmission exist no matter who you are or where you are exposed.

Chinese communities in Toronto are experiencing xenophobia, along with reduced business and paranoia. Spread some extra love around by spending money at local Chinese-run businesses and pushing back against fear-based racism.


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