COVID-2019, the new coronavirus, is coming to American communities. The Centers for Disease Control has warned that the only question is when -- not if -- we'll see the new virus start to spread in this country. With that in mind, CDC officials have warned Americans that we need to prepare. But how exactly do you do that?
Here are a few straightforward precautions that are easy enough to put in place, and could make a very big difference if the coronavirus comes to your town.
1. Review your sick leave and remote work policies.
It should go without saying that your paid time off policies should make it easy for employees to choose to stay home if they're not feeling well. And you should be prepared for the possibility that some or all of your employees might have to work from home for a while. In this era of chat and shared documents and videoconferencing, there's really no excuse for not being ready to switch to a remote-work model, even if in normal times you require everyone to be in the office.
2. Stock two weeks worth of food and your regular medications.
Whether or not the supply chain from China gets disrupted, you and your employees should have at least two weeks worth of non-perishable food and any medications and supplements you regularly take. In an outbreak, the CDC explains, your best defense will be "social distancing" -- that is, staying home and avoiding places where there are a lot of other people, such as a grocery store. And it's a better idea to stock up now than to plan on Amazon, Instacart, and other delivery services. In an outbreak, they could lose many of their drivers.
While you're at it, make sure you have household cleaners. Wiping down surfaces, especially if anyone in your household is infected, is a great way to stop the spread of a virus.
3. Stock up on whatever you need to get through the flu.
Most cases of the new coronavirus are mild, the equivalent of the flu. If you come down with those symptoms, your health care provider or other officials may tell you to stay home, both so you avoid infecting anyone else and so as not to add pressure to overburdened hospitals and urgent care facilities. So be prepared to ride it out by laying in a supply of tissues, chicken soup, cough drops, and whatever else you typically use to get through the flu. (If you're running a high fever, are dehydrated, or have trouble breathing, then do go seek medical care ASAP.)
You should also buy some face masks for you to wear in case you get sick, to avoid spreading the illness to others. If you're caring for a sick family member, a face mask may also help protect you so long as you leave it on whenever you're with them and are careful not to touch it. If you and your household are healthy, then experts say there's no point in wearing a mask, so save it for later when you might need it.
4. Get in the habit of hand-washing.
Experts suggest that everyone in your household should immediately wash their hands whenever they walk in the door, and that's an excellent suggestion. Most of us wash our hands too fast, by the way. You should wash your hands for 20 seconds, scrubbing between fingers and under fingernails. Twenty seconds is long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" -- or recite a limerick -- twice.
5. Get a flu shot.
There is no vaccine as yet for the coronavirus, and there may not be for a while. But you should still get a regular flu shot. While the flu is less deadly than the coronavirus, thousands of people die of it every year. And it's possible that a coronavirus infection could make you more vulnerable to worse effects of the flu.
Besides, in a coronavirus outbreak, hospitals and urgent care facilities are liable to be overloaded with patients, which could make it tough for you to get medical attention for your garden-variety flu. Better to avoid getting it in the first place.