Public health officials have been urging people to prepare — not panic — for the new coronavirus (also known as COVID-19). Those calls took on added urgency as cases of the virus have started to spike in countries outside China. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself right now:
Dos and Don’ts for Everyone
DO wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, several times a day. Use soap and water or a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol:
- Before cooking or eating
- After using the bathroom
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
DON’T touch your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you have somehow come into contact with the virus, touching your face can help it enter your body.
DO learn the symptoms, which are similar to flu:
- Shortness of breath
Most cases do not start with a runny nose.
DON’T wear a mask unless you’re sick. Masks help protect others from catching the virus, but wearing one when you’re healthy won’t do much. Demand has been so high worldwide that shortages have begun. Leave the masks for people who really need them, like the sick or health care professionals.
DO consider taking extra precautions and staying out of public places if you’re over 60 years old, or have a condition, as you have a higher risk of developing the disease. Note that as of now, the highest-risk groups appear to be seniors and people with preexisting conditions like heart disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes.
DON’T travel if you have a fever. If you get sick on flight, tell crew immediately. When you get home, contact a health professional.
DO reconsider travel to affected countries. Currently, the CDC advises against all nonessential travel to China and South Korea. For people in a higher-risk group — seniors and people with preexisting conditions — the agency suggests postponing nonessential travel to Italy, Japan, and Iran as well. Find the latest advisories here.
DON’T panic. At this point, public health officials still say the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 is low. Taking proper precautions — wash your hands! — and making prepartions are the best things you can.
DO: Prepare by making sure you have supplies at home in case someone gets sick and needs to be quarantined. This would include prescription medications for anyone in the family, other health supplies such as over-the-counter pain relievers, and disinfectants to clean household surfaces. Studies suggest that coronaviruses can live on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. Clean them regularly with a disinfectant to kill the virus. While COVID-19 has not yet been declared a pandemic, a government web site also suggests keeping a 2-week supply of food and water in the case of a pandemic and having copies of electronic health records.
Dos and Don’ts When You Don’t Feel Well
DO seek help early if you have a fever, cough, and a hard time breathing. But don’t just drop into the nearest urgent care clinic. Call your doctor to find out the protocol first, to make sure you won’t spread the disease to others.
DON’T go out except to see your doctor, after calling first. And if you do have to go out, avoid public transportation, taxis, and ride-sharing.
DO cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or a tissue, and dispose of the tissue immediately in a covered bin. (You should be doing this whether or not you suspect COVID-19 — you don’t want to spread a common cold, either.)
DON’T hang out with your family or pets if you suspect you have the virus. In order to protect them, eat and sleep separately from them, try to stay in one room, and use a separate bathroom if possible. Yes, pets are included in the recommendations. There has been one report of a dog testing positive in Hong Kong for the virus. But officials there said they are not sure the dog is actually infected. The CDC says experts don’t know for sure whether pets can catch it.
DO wear a mask properly around others if you suspect you may have the virus — the mask itself can be a source of infection if you don’t follow the guidelines. The World Health Organization has videos on when and how to use a mask.
DON’T reach for antibiotics. If you happen to have some lying around from a previous illness, you may be tempted. But antibiotics work only on illnesses caused by bacteria, and the coronavirus is — you guessed it — a virus.