How Families can Prepare for COVID-19 Before It Arrives

[Updated March 9, 2020] As the situation is rapidly evolving and I don’t want to present out of date information, I’ve removed parts of this article that refer to changing policies. Please check the CDC’s information on travel and pregnant women and children.

Otherwise, read on for tips on ways that parents can prepare for the very real possibilities of school and business closures, working from home, or caring for a sick family member.

Things To Do

Brush up on basic hygiene, and reinforce practices with your children. The CDC recommends avoiding close contact with people who are sick, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, washing your hands thoroughly and often with soap (hand sanitizer is a second choice as necessary), covering your cough (but not with your hands), and staying home when you are sick. If you get a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, contact your doctor immediately and check out the CDC’s info.

In terms of travel, check out the CDC’s information on restrictions and recommendations. In order to reduce your personal risk and to help protect medically fragile members of your community, you may want to consider reducing travel by leaning on staycations for leisure, and on conference calls for work, whenever possible.

For childcare, what are your options in case your children’s school, daycare, or preschool closes for a month or more? If there are reasonable steps you can take now to make this outcome less stressful, consider taking them.

  • Do you have a family member, nanny, or friend who may be able to help? Talk with them about this possibility.
  • Is there another family in your area that you could swap playdates with?
  • Consider stocking up on inexpensive toys and books that could entertain your children at home, pre-purchasing their next birthday gift just in case you need it, or swapping unused toys with friends.
  • Identify nearby outdoor and natural areas where your children can play. Because the virus spreads through close contact, outdoor activities such as hiking and kite-flying safer than, say, a visit to the indoor playground. If you’re in San Francisco, you can access Littldata’s map of family-friendly outdoor destinations by joining my free email list.

Working from home might become optional or necessary, where feasible.

  • Do you need to get set up with VPN or any other resources?
  • Stay home if you feel even a little sick, and encourage your colleagues to do so as well.
  • If your workplace does not yet have a work from home option but your role would be compatible with it, ask about this possibility.

Join your neighborhood group on Nextdoor or Facebook, to keep up to date on resources and information, and to find ways to help each other.

Choose a room in your home where a sick family member can be separated, ideally one with access to a separate bathroom. The CDC has advice on how to take care of a flu patient at home, including how to clean their room daily, to reduce the chance of transmission.

For medically fragile people: What would they need in terms of help, resources, and supplies if there were a lockdown in your community? Elderly family members, friends, and neighbors are particularly vulnerable, and could benefit from active assistance or just a plan to check in on them regularly.

Things to Buy

While it’s important to not buy more than you need, you should keep the following supplies on hand, as a hedge against supply-chain disruptions, so that you’re ready to self-quarantine, and in order to reduce your exposure by consolidating and minimizing outings. I’ve linked to the best option I’ve found from Amazon or other suppliers, if you want to keep things simple.

  • Prescription medicines: While you shouldn’t hoard, make sure to keep any current prescriptions filled, ideally with a two-week supply.
  • Over-the-counter medicines: Make sure your adult acetaminophen (Tylenol), adult ibuprofen (Advil), liquid acetaminophen for children, and liquid ibuprofen for children, as well as any other over-the-counter medicines you typically use, are topped up and not expired.
  • A thermometer is a must, and this ear thermometer can be easily, hygienically, accurately used for the whole family. If you’re on a budget, this oral one is also great.
  • Basic hygiene supplies: Toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels; soap, hand sanitizer, and feminine hygiene products–enough for a few weeks is plenty.
  • Baby supplies: Diapers, baby food, formula, wipes, and anything else your baby regularly needs.
  • Household cleaning: disinfecting spray cleaner, disinfecting wipes, laundry detergent, dish sponges. An inexpensive jug of bleach, stored well out of the reach of children, is also indispensable if there is illness in your home. If you’re concerned about the toxicity of conventional cleaning products, consider investing in a Force of Nature kit–it is an EPA registered disinfectant.
  • Face masks are now proven to be a crucial tool in keeping yourself and others safe. Surgical masks are widely available and provide efficient filtration; cloth masks are reusable and may fit better than a disposable surgical mask; and N95 masks are the gold standard for higher-exposure situations, but are expensive and often difficult to find. A well-fitting KN95 mask from a major supplier can be used instead of an N95 mask, and can be layered with a cloth or surgical mask for extra protection. Note that any valves need to be covered with tape or another mask, and that masks are only for adults and children aged two and older.
  • Toys and books that could keep your kids entertained if their usual childcare or school arrangements are disrupted.
  • Fuel in your car’s tank, and batteries for anything essential that requires them (though of course, you are using a charger for rechargeable batteries).
  • Nonperishable food that you can keep at home and actually enjoy eating, which could include nuts, cereals, beans, canned fruit, pasta and sauce, shelf-stable milk, granola and protein bars, coffee, tea–and obviously, chocolate and wine. Don’t forget food for any pets. (If you’re looking for another retailer, Thrive Market ships shelf-stable organic food and household goods, as well as frozen meat, throughout the mainland United States at relatively affordable prices.)
  • Vitamins can be a nutritional hedge if a disrupted food supply changes your usual eating habits. This is a good general multivitamin.
  • Perishable food such as eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, bread, meat, frozen prepared foods, and fresh produce are obviously preferable to shelf-stable alternatives. If you’re able, keeping your fridge on the fuller side (while not buying more than you will eat before food spoils) can help you be ready for an unexpected family illness.

Context and Details

[Note as of March 9, 2020: I am not updating this section, as the situation is evolving so quickly. Please check the CDC or major news outlets for current developments.] On February 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that Americans should begin preparing for the spread of coronavirus (officially known as COVID-19) in the United States. “It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said according to the New York Times. “We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad.” Stocks markets have also been in decline this week over concerns about growing economic disruptions worldwide.

Coronavirus is a problem because there’s no vaccine for it yet; it spreads easily and can be incubated and transmitted by people for up to 14 days without symptoms; and because its effects can be severe. While much is still unknown, and treatment in the United States may be more successful than in China, Coronavirus has been fatal for somewhere between 0.4% and 2.3% of people in mainland China. This is higher than the death rate from the flu in the United States, which is closer to 0.1%.

That said, your chances of getting Coronavirus and of it becoming severe depend on your age. Most of the people getting Coronavirus are adults from 30-70, but deaths have been concentrated among the elderly. So it’s a good time to help your older family and community members to stay in good health and avoid contact with anyone who may be sick; and to enjoy some peace of mind that no children under 10 have died from Coronavirus to date.

Further Reading

Littldata’s content to support parents during the pandemic is on our Taking Care of Your Family During COVID-19 page, and includes a list of indoor toys for independent play; outdoor toys that are conducive to social distancing; a map of outdoor places in San Francisco where socially distanced exercise is possible; and the three easiest things you can do to help your family stay sane while staying at home.

Get the latest Littldata here.

About Littldata: At Littldata, my goal is to help parents figure out their family logistics by sharing calendars, maps, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. This post uses Amazon Affiliate and referral links.

I would love to hear from you anytime at Join Littldata’s mailing list here for updates and special content to make your family logistics easier. Follow Littldata on Twitter @littldata, and on Facebook at Littldata.

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