The key to realistic planning in times of crises is to balance social and personal responsibility. And now that we’re in a state of emergency, the best we can do in the time of COVID-19 is to do what it takes, to the best of our ability, to flatten the curve.
This means taking protective and preventative measures so that the number of cases are spread out over time so our healthcare system more realistically manage those who are sick and need help.
And the best measures we can take? Self-quarantine. If that’s not immediately realistic, then extreme social distancing. We still have time to do our best to take care of ourselves and each other, symptomatic or not, as feeling ill isn’t a sign contagion. In this time, it’s often a delayed sign of one.
Here’s your checklist to being prepared for a lockdown, voluntary or not.
Splitting hairs between the symptoms of cold vs. flu vs. hay fever is worth the time because, frankly, it’s difficult to know which infection’s incubation period you’re in, and being a little more certain of your condition may bring some comfort in your isolation.
COVID-19’s main differentiator, according to the CDC, are these three symptoms: shortness of breath, fever (which can lead to fatigue), and cough. These symptoms tend to start off mild and develop slowly. After 8 to 9 days, symptoms may worsen and start to resemble symptoms of the flu or common cold.
Known COVID-19 vs. flu, cold, and hay fever symptoms
|Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties||✓|
|Body aches and pains||✓||✓|
Undetermined but possible
|Runny or stuffy nose||Undetermined but possible||✓||✓||✓|
|Itchy eyes and face||✓|
If you have difficulty following the precautions below and can put yourself in a self-quarantine for the next 14 days, that’s the best thing you can do to help.
- Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds after using the bathroom or returning home.
- Don’t touch your face in public spaces or high traffic areas.
- Sneeze and cough into your elbow, not palm.
- Throw all tissues in the trash immediately after use.
- Wipe down high-contact surfaces such as door handles, light switches, and steering wheels.
- Don’t share foods, dishes, or utensils.
- Have “inside” clothes to change into once you get home.
It’s suggested the virus may survive anywhere from 24 hours on cardboard to two to three days on plastic or stainless steel. If this has you worried about deliveries, create a separate area for unpacking and sanitizing before bringing items into your home.
Imagine wet paint and marbles in a box. The more marbles there are, the further the paint will spread. Decreasing the number of marbles is how we limit how much the paint spreads. (Yes, we are all loose marbles.)
Especially since WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, quarantine and practicing social distancing for the next 14 days is the best way not to be an additional marble in a box of wet paint. At this point it’s not about whether you are infected but whether or not you are actively transmitting the virus.
Remember, even if you don’t show symptoms or feel confident about recovery, you can still be a carrier and spread the virus.
This especially applies if you:
- have been traveling (or living) in an area where a COVID-19 transmission is occurring
- have been in proximity of someone with a confirmed diagnosis, contraction, or transmission
- are not good with hygiene protocols (not touching your face or bus poles)
Avoid running out and about when you’re displaying symptoms! Take the time now to stock up on your symptom-fighter stash at home but don’t go all-out prepper mode as you don’t want to take away supplies from those in need.
Your kit for when you’re sick should include:
- paracetamol or Advil* for reducing fever and pain relief
- cough medicine
- drinks with electrolytes
- soap and/or hand sanitizer
- hand lotion (for dry hands)
*Note: While the French Health Minister has warned that inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, Advil, and cortisone could potentially increase your risk for severe COVID-19 infection, WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen. Talk to your doctor about which fever-reducing drugs are best for your health condition.
Food and other considerations
The average healthy adult may be able to fight off an infection on their own, but if you’re living with roommates or family, consider stocking up on foods that limit your time in communal living spaces, or foods others can quickly heat for you and leave at your door.
If you are able to cook up a storm, consider buying perishables so that others who need frozen or canned meals can have them. You can stick to comfort recipes that use few ingredients, or make 2 weeks’ worth of ready to microwave meals.
While there’s no evidence yet that food transmits the virus, you still want to be cautious about what you eat. Be careful around open packaged foods as the virus can live on surfaces. Thorough cooking is thought to kill the virus, but there’s no evidence freezing will. If you do end up freezing raw foods, like onions and garlic, cook it before you eat.
If you’re unable to quarantine because work hasn’t allowed it, keep these foods in the freezer for when you do experience symptoms and have to stay home.
Even if you have the strongest immune system ever and an endless supply of hand sanitizer, don’t go out unless you absolutely need to (grocery or medication runs). If you do go out, practice social distancing, which means keeping a distance of 3 to 6 feet from people.
It doesn’t mean completely losing contact with the world. It might mean simply mean suspending your gym subscription for a month or two. Or putting that webcam to use by Skyping with long lost friends.
Between social media, group texts, and news notifications, information right now is horribly overwhelming. To counter this, identify the friends you trust for breaking news and rely on them for COVID-19 updates.
For everyone else — especially and potentially parents — who send news at anxiety-inducing levels, establish boundaries by letting them know you won’t be reading or responding to their messages about COVID-19.
Instead, create a document that you and your trusted friends have vetted and share that in chats that tend to escalate #FakeNews. A living document like this can help if you’re feeling a loss of control or stability in this current news cycle.
Include plans for if, and when, complete isolation may happen, and make it specific to your living experiences and relationship with each other. One great example of this is “Half assed disabled prepper tips for preparing for a coronavirus quarantine” by Leah Piepzne-Samarasinha.
Don’t assume you have to go no-contact, for the sake of the greater good, until the pandemic is over. Between climate change, the political atmosphere, and a pandemic, your fears are valid! But your actions shouldn’t only address your fears.
You have to also learn how to take care of yourself too, which means being honest about how this coronavirus outbreak impacts your mental health. If you’re feeling anxious, talk about it with a friend. Don’t keep the words inside, and even while you are inside, recognize you are doing your best.
We can do our best to try and influence people but it’s important to also recognize the line between holding ourselves responsible and holding ourselves responsible for the actions of others. Sometimes the best we can do is set our boundaries, such as cancelling plans and rejecting invites, and those actions send a message.
Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to reparent yourself. Be responsible and more communicative than usual. If you have roommates who are high-risk, reconsider frequency of guests.
Figure out how to be alone and have those difficult conversations with yourself or share them with a friend. Pick up new hobbies (I started cross stitching) or watch a TV series you were reluctant to start. If you haven’t done this in a while, try mindfully watching TV.
Bad with routines? Then stick with the ones you have and don’t let them go. Everyone has at least one routine they don’t need to change “just because” and that’s sleep.
Pretend you still have to commute and use that time to mentally transition into work mode. When this is over, you don’t want to lose all executive functions.
If your forums aren’t too toxic, utilize Nextdoor to check in with your community, especially older adults in the area who don’t have additional help at this time.
Can you make extra food for your neighbor and leave it at their door if they’re sick? If you were hoarding hand sanitizers, can you afford to pass them out?
Look on social media to see if college students, especially those who are low-income or first generation, may have been impacted during the quarantine and could use supplies or donations.
Here is a running doc of immunocompromised people in need who have been specifically impacted by lack of supplies.
Consider purchasing gift cards from small, local businesses, especially Asian restaurants, as they will be most impacted by decreased foot traffic. Don’t dine in and tip as you normally would with deliveries.
If you’re able to part with something you bought too much of, maybe this is the time to engage in your inner teen. Write a note about your gift, place it at someone’s front door, ring the bell (with your elbow), and dash.
Christal Yuen is a senior editor at Greatist, covering all things beauty and wellness. Find her musing about therapy on Twitter.