How to Protect Yourself and Prepare for the Coronavirus

The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a pandemic, and the number of cases continues to rise worldwide. These basic steps can help you reduce your risk of getting sick or infecting others.

The coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, with over 185,000 confirmed cases and at least 7,200 dead. In the United States, there have been at least 5,000 cases and more than 93 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

Coronavirus is here, and it’s spreading quickly. Older Americans, those with underlying health conditions and those without a social safety net are the most vulnerable to the infection and its societal disruption.

Though life as we know it is sharply off-kilter, there are measures you can take.

Most important: Do not panic. With a clear head and some simple tips, you can help reduce your risk, prepare your family and do your part to protect others.

You can do your part to help your community and the world. Do not get close to other people.

This is called “social distancing” or “physical distancing,” and is basically a call to stand far away from other people. Experts believe the coronavirus travels through droplets, so limiting your exposure to other people is a good way to protect yourself.

Avoid public transportation when possible, limit nonessential travel, work from home and skip social gatherings. Don’t go to crowded restaurants or busy gyms. You can go outside, as long as you avoid being in close contact with people.

That might be hard to follow, especially for those who can’t work from home. Also, if you’re young, your personal risk is most likely low. The majority of those who contract coronavirus do not become seriously ill, and it might just feel as if you have the flu. But keeping a stiff upper lip is not only foolhardy but will endanger those around you.

If you develop a high fever, shortness of breath or another, more serious symptom, call your doctor. (Testing for coronavirus is still inconsistent — there are not enough kits, and it’s dangerous to go into a doctor’s office and risk infecting others.) Then, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and your local health department for advice about how and where to be tested.

Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. That splash-under-water flick won’t cut it anymore.

A refresher: Wet your hands and scrub them with soap, taking care to get between your fingers and under your nails. Wash for at least 20 seconds (or about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice), and dry. Make sure you get your thumbs, too. The C.D.C. also recommends you avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands (tough one, we know).

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which should be rubbed in for about 20 seconds, can also work, but the gel must contain at least 60 percent alcohol. (No, Tito’s Handmade Vodka doesn’t work.)

Also, clean “high-touch” surfaces, like phones, tablets, and handles. Apple recommends using 70 percent isopropyl alcohol, wiping gently. “Don’t use bleach,” the company said.

To disinfect any surface, the C.D.C. recommends wearing disposable gloves and washing hands thoroughly immediately after removing the gloves. Most household disinfectants registered by the Environmental Protection Agency will work.

Try to stand away from other people, especially if they seem sick. Wave, bow or give an elbow bump, rather than shake hands. Maybe skip the kiss on the first date.

There’s a lot of information flying around, and knowing what is going on will go a long way toward protecting your family.

Johns Hopkins has a comprehensive web guide, as does Harvard Medical School. The C.D.C. has up-to-date information, and your local health department is a great resource for questions.

Right now, there’s no reason for parents to worry, the experts say; coronavirus cases in children have been very rare.

The flu vaccine is a must, as vaccinating children is good protection for older people. And take the same precautions you would during a normal flu season: Encourage frequent hand-washing, move away from people who appear sick and get the flu shot.

As with airplanes, it’s always best to make sure your metaphorical oxygen mask is on before helping others. When talking to your children about an outbreak, make sure that you first assess their knowledge of the virus and that you process your own anxiety. It’s important that you don’t dismiss their fears and that you speak to them at an age-appropriate level.

Be sure to be in communication with your child’s school, including about early dismissals or possible online instruction. Be prepared for schools to close; many districts and universities around the world have already taken that step.

Communicating with your workplace about child-care concerns that you have is suggested as well.

If your children are stuck at home, get some games going, turn on a movie and try to make it feel a little like a vacation, at least for the first few days.

Face masks have become a symbol of coronavirus, but stockpiling them might do more harm than good.

First, they don’t do much to protect you. Most surgical masks are too loose to prevent inhalation of the virus.

(Masks can help prevent the spread of a virus if you are infected. The most effective is the so-called N95 masks, which block 95 percent of very small particles.)

Second, health care workers and those caring for sick people are on the front lines. Last month, the surgeon general urged the public to stop stockpiling masks, warning that it might limit the number of resources available to doctors, nurses, and emergency professionals.

Stock up on a 30-day supply of groceries, household supplies, and prescriptions, just in case.

That doesn’t mean you’ll need to eat only beans and ramen. Here are tips to stock a pantry with shelf-stable and tasty foods. (Don’t forget the chocolate.)

If you take prescription medications or are low on any over-the-counter essentials, go to the pharmacy sooner rather than later.

And, in no particular order, make sure you’re set with soap, toiletries, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and diapers if you have small children.

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