ow, health officials say, is the time for people in the United States prepare — for canceled events, closed schools and interrupted work, and for the potential of widespread illness.
No one knows what community spread could look like in the United States — it could be mild or very severe. In case of an outbreak that spreads within US communities, what can you do to protect yourself and your family?
Here are 10 questions answered about how to prepare.
1. What should I buy?
“Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins,” according to the department.
2. Are there places I should avoid?
The CDC has released travel warnings and alerts in relation to coronavirus disease.
Also, if you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
3. Should I keep my child home from school?
If your child is sick, it’s important to keep them home from school in order to protect other students from getting sick — but if your child is not sick, monitor local school closings.
Closing schools or canceling gatherings in response to public health concerns are common actions that school districts have had to make before throughout history.
For the coronavirus, however, “one of the questions that is scientifically out there that will govern or drive how school closures are calculated is to what extent children themselves carry or transmit this virus,” he said. “Scientifically we need to have a better understanding of to what extent children are carriers or transmitters of the virus — the point of that is, it’s premature right now based on the science to make uniform claims about what school closures may look like.”
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told her family that while they are not at risk right now, they should plan for what to do if their lives were significantly impacted, she said during a press briefing on Tuesday. She also said she called the children’s school district about what would happen if schools need to close.
Messonnier said her agency wants people to understand their lives might be disrupted.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” she said, adding that while CDC officials hope the spread won’t be severe in the United States, they are planning as if it could be.
4. Should I work from home?
Yet “what community spread looks like in the United States will vary greatly community by community. It might vary by time, it might vary by place,” Shah said.
“Although we believe, according to the US CDC, that community spread is likely in the United States, the magnitude of that possibility as well as how it actually plays out, that will vary greatly between Washington state, Florida, Maine and any other state,” he said, adding because of that, “there will not be a one-size-fits-all approach here.”
5. What should I do about my medications?
Also, it could be helpful to get copies and maintain electronic versions of health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other sources and store them, for personal reference.
6. What if I have to go to the doctor?
Talk to your doctor’s office about telehealth options.
Your doctor likely offers the option to conduct an appointment over the phone or via video conferencing, and if not, your doctor could recommend a physician who does.
7. Do I need a facemask?
Rather, the CDC recommends to only wear a mask if a health care professional recommends it. A facemask should be used by people who have the novel coronavirus and are showing symptoms — that is in order to protect others from the risk of getting infected.
Overall, the use of facemasks remains crucial for health workers and people who are caring for someone infected with the virus in close settings, such as a health care facility or at home, according to the CDC.
8. If I don’t need a mask, how can I avoid getting sick?
The CDC also notes that there are several things to do to prevent the spread of any respiratory diseases:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throw the tissue away
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects
- Wash your hands often with soap and water
The proper way to wash your hands is for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating, after going to the bathroom and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
“Exercise, eat a good diet, get a lot of sleep, wash your hands, do everything you can to stay healthy right now,” Shah, of Maine CDC, said.
9. What if someone in my household has the virus — or thinks they do?
The best way to first determine whether you have the virus is to get tested.
Your doctor will then work with your state’s public health department and the CDC to determine if you need to be tested for the novel coronavirus.
If you are sick or suspect you are, the CDC recommends to stay home except to get medical care and separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.
Call ahead before visiting your doctor’s office so that the office can make preparations to keep other people from getting infected or exposed to the virus.
10. What if I want more information?
“One of the things that local health departments and state health departments are really doing is trying to make sure that we’re getting the best information out so that we’re quelling fear but at the same time leaning forward and preparing people as this continues to grow and develop,” said Kertanis, of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
“In any type of situation like this where we’re dealing with a new illness, something that’s growing and changing rapidly, it’s almost fear of the unknown,” she said.
Experts have said that the most important thing you can do is not panic and stay informed.
“We really want to urge everyone to avoid dubious sources of information and stick with trusted sources like their state health departments or the US CDC,” Shah said. “We’re in a situation where fear and misinformation can spread more quickly than this virus.”