The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends having extra supplies of items such as soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and tissues — but there's no need to go on an immediate shopping spree.
This story was updated March 6 at 9:48 a.m.
With the D.C. region's first three confirmed cases of coronavirus, officials say it's prudent to begin preparing your homes in the event of a wider outbreak.
Maryland officials confirmed the three cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, on March 5. Gov. Larry Hogan, in turn, declared a state of emergency, but urged residents not to panic, saying that the state is well-prepared to handle a possible outbreak.
Still, stores' shelves have seen a run on disinfectant supplies and many have reported difficulty finding hand sanitizer and other antibacterial supplies.
"You hear stories of stores running out of toilet paper, running out of basic supplies. It might be useful to have those things on hand," says Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "The same thing that tends to happen right before a snowstorm."
There are more cases pending in D.C. and Virginia, and officials, meanwhile, say health agencies and residents should not panic — but be ready in the event of an outbreak.
Here are some ideas to help you start preparing:
Non-perishable Food And Drinks
Begin stockpiling non-perishable food and drinks. But there's no need to go on a wild shopping spree. Pick up a few items each time you're at the store, with a goal of having about two weeks of non-perishable foods: pasta and jarred sauce, rice, beans, canned meats — tuna or chicken, for instance — soups, fruits and vegetables, shelf-stable milk, peanut butter and jelly, crackers, granola, cereal and oatmeal. Here's an in-depth look at stocking your kitchen.
Also, make sure you have enough other household staples like garbage bags, toilet and tissue paper, batteries and a working can opener.
If you have children, stock up on formula and diapers. Nuzzo says it's good to have things like Pedialyte and juice on hand to prevent dehydration — in kids and adults alike. Make sure you have enough pet supplies, too.
The main reason experts advise building a bit of pantry isn't necessarily because the store is going to run out of rotini — it's so that in the event of an actual outbreak, you don't have to spend as much time out in public with other people. And if you or a loved one gets sick, "It's really important from a public health perspective that ill people stay at home so that they don't go out and infect others," Nuzzo says.
Stock Up On Cleaning Supplies, Medication
Make sure you have pain and fever reducers, a thermometer and cough medicine. If you have prescription medicine, experts recommend talking to your insurer and stocking up on a month's supply.
Nuzzo also recommends getting flu shot if you haven't already.
"While the flu vaccine doesn't prevent everyone from getting the flu, it does help reduce hospitalization and death," she says. "This will help reduce the number of people who will need medical attention and save hospital beds for COVID-19 patients."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends having extra supplies of items such as soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and tissues. It also recommends frequently wiping down high-touch areas such as tablet and computer keyboards, light switches, faucets and doorknobs.
Here's a list from the Center for Biocide Chemistries of EPA-approved cleaning and disinfecting products for use against the novel coronavirus.
Please, Don't Buy Face Masks
"The general rule is that if you're a well, you don't need a face mask. The only well people who use face masks should be health care providers," Nuzzo says.
The only effective type of mask is the heavy-duty N95 respirator — and health officials can't stress enough how they need to be available for people taking care of people with COVID-19.
"If we make it harder for health care providers to have masks, that will put us all at risk."
Other types of masks — surgical or dust masks — aren't effective, and sometimes can actually expose you to more risk.
"Those are not going to be effective at preventing viral particles from getting near people's mouths," Nuzzo says. "So it's not likely that people are going to be able to get and keep masks that are going to keep them fully safe. Sometimes masks give people a false sense of confidence. They might wind up actually touching their face more often because they're trying to adjust the mask."
Create An Emergency Contact List
A lot of the CDC's recommendations, like creating an emergency contact list, simply reflect good preparedness for any number of extenuating circumstances. The agency also suggests, if possible, thinking about a room and bathroom that someone who becomes sick could use.
Ultimately, this need for vigilance isn't going to go away in a couple of weeks, Nuzzo says. There are still so many things researchers don't know about the novel coronavirus.
"Expect there to be change," she says. "You want to see change. You want to see a dynamic response. You want to see evidence that they are actively collecting new information and analyzing it and making decisions based on that."
Maureen Pao is a reporter in the WAMU newsroom. This story was updated to reflect that the D.C. region has confirmed its first three reported cases of COVID-19.