Coronavirus

Your Family Needs a Coronavirus Plan. Here’s How to Make One.

A very practical guide to how to prepare, what to do if you think you or a loved one is infected, and how to handle quarantine


Does your family have a coronavirus plan? Full graphic via CDC

The coronavirus just got real for all of us, real fast.

Events are being cancelled left and right. Universities are moving classes online. Schools are closing in Philly and Montgomery County. And everyone’s using the terms “social distancing” and “flattening the curve.”

There’s a wealth of information online, which can make an already staggering situation feel all the more overwhelming. Among the reports? Infectious disease epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch at Harvard said earlier this month that it’s “plausible” that 20 to 60 percent of adults globally will be infected with COVID-19 in the coming year. That means there’s a very real possibility that you or a loved one could get it.

At this point, you should be asking yourself: Do I have a coronavirus plan? How can I prepare for the spread to reach me or a loved one, and what should I do if it does?

To help answer those questions and more, we’ve reached out to some experts and created a guide that includes: preparing for the possibility that you could get infected with COVID-19; how to keep calm in light of that; what to do when you suspect you have the virus; and how to handle the situation after visiting the doctor. Read on.

Prepare for the possibility.

Crystal Reeck, assistant professor and associate director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University, recommends coming up with a plan for what happens if you or a loved one contracts COVID-19.

“One of the things that often can cause people stress is uncertainty — not knowing what’s going to happen,” Reeck says. “Preparation is one thing you can do to change your circumstances and help mitigate your anxiety about the risk.”

Should you write a will? Discuss who should take care of the kids if something happens to you and your spouse? Neither of those actions is a bad idea — now or ever — especially if you fall into the demographic of people who have a higher chance of mortality (the elderly and immunocompromised, as most of us know by now).

That said, keep in mind that about 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild. The World Health Organization has said that the death rate is an estimated 3.4 percent, a figure based on the number of cases known around the globe and the number of people who have died. But epidemiologists and disease modelers studying COVID-19 have told outlets like Vox and the New York Times that a more realistic global case fatality rate is around one percent, taking into consideration insufficient testing in countries around the world. Still, it’s important to note that we have a lot to learn about the virus.

Either way, there are myriad dangers in the world besides coronavirus — dangers that we certainly don’t consider on a daily basis or anywhere near as frequently as we do this (for good reason). So don’t start panicking now. Just remember that it’s always good to be prepared.

The majority of us are quite likely to bounce back from the virus if we do get it. So by all means, before you start writing your will, you should prioritize a plan for mitigating spread between your loved ones and your community, especially considering that others may be more at risk than you. Start with — you guessed it — washing your hands A LOT and coughing or sneezing into your elbow (not your hands).

Then prepare for the possibility that you or your loved one may have to quarantine. Temple epidemiology and biostatistics assistant professor Krys Johnson says it’s important to come up with a self-quarantine plan; this means stocking up on at least two weeks’ worth of food and whatever else you may need to ensure you don’t leave the house during that time. (If you need food but are worried about leaving the house, consider asking a young, healthy neighbor or friend to shop for you or ordering your groceries online.) You can find a quarantine grocery list recommended by nutritionists right here.

If you need medications, make sure you’ve got plenty at home. Again, see if you can get them delivered if you’re elderly or immunocompromised and worried about leaving home. CVS, for example, is offering free prescription medication delivery during the outbreak.

You’ll also want to buy plenty of disinfectant so you can routinely clean surfaces, especially if you or your loved one lives with others or if others are visiting your home to deliver supplies. (Maybe have them leave those at the door.) If you or someone you live with does get sick, you’ll want to avoid spreading the virus within your home by keeping your distance and disinfecting anything the infected party touches. (More advice on that later on.)

Now, on to emotions.

Keep calm during the pandemic.

Reeck recommends practicing regulating your emotions and preparing for the “emotional waves” that can arise during these times.

Stress can weaken our immune systems. To keep it in check, she says, it can be helpful to reframe the way you’re thinking about the situation by focusing your attention on any positive information you can find, especially regarding the virus — like a relatively low number of cases identified in your area, or the fact that most cases are mild. There can be personal benefits, too: Are all the cancellations giving you a much-needed chance to slow down, stay home and relax, or, at your own pace, take care of chores or cleaning you’ve been putting off?

“Maybe this is an opportunity to try working from home,” says Reeck, “or an opportunity to think about connecting with people in a way that you might not have been able to previously.”

If you’re experiencing stress or anxiousness regarding the virus, it’s only natural. Reeck recommends that you not punish yourself for these feelings, which can lead to a “negative loop” of emotional reactions. Instead, try to acknowledge the feelings and then move on by pursuing activities or habits that make you feel uplifted (provided they don’t contribute to worsening the spread). Consider taking walks outdoors (if you’re healthy), practicing yoga, downloading a meditation app (I recommend Insight Timer, which offers a lot of free guided meditations), or chatting with friends and family members on the phone or during walks.

And don’t underestimate your ability to influence your friends and family to think positively: Reeck says close contact is “absolutely critical and can make such a big difference with people.”

“There’s research showing that if people are reminded of a close other when experiencing pain, that pain is not as bad as it would’ve been otherwise,” Reeck adds. “Even just being reminded of these social bonds can do a lot to reduce people’s suffering and stress.”

What to do if you suspect you have COVID-19

First things first: Stay home if you have any symptoms — even if you feel like you just have a cold. (The CDC lists COVID-19 symptoms here.) As our testing capacity increases, it’s becoming more apparent that some people with mild cases of COVID-19 feel relatively normal or even asymptomatic. But if you suspect you may be sick, don’t (I repeat: DON’T) put others at risk. If people you know tell you they’re not feeling well, instruct them to do the same.

Instead, call your doctor. Tell him or her you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are interested in getting tested. (If you’re stressed, speaking to someone in the medical industry could also help calm you down; Reeck says people often take comfort in seeking out information from those with expertise in the health industry.)

If you’re going to the doctor or to a local hospital, try your best to travel by private vehicle. If that’s not possible (for many in the city, it’s not) and you must use public transportation or a ride-share company, be smart and do everything you can to minimize the spread of germs. Johnson recommends wearing a mask if you have one. If not, consider wearing a turtleneck or another shirt you can raise over your mouth. And sanitize any surface you touch. In the car, keep the windows down — “Ventilation will make it more likely for droplets to go out the window and land outside,” Johnson says.

If you or a loved one tests positive — or if your doctor instructs you to self-quarantine while you wait for results — here’s what to do next.

How to handle quarantine

Time to put that quarantine plan from the first section into action. Again, make sure you’ve got your food, medications, and anything else you might need. Tell a trusted friend or loved one you’re sick, and ask that person to check in with you via phone — or you can be the person who checks in on someone else.

If someone in your household has tested positive for COVID-19, everyone in the house should go into quarantine immediately. If someone in your house hasn’t yet tested positive but is exhibiting respiratory symptoms, you and everyone else should stay home as much as possible, monitor your symptoms, avoid public areas and public transit, and wear a face mask if you do feel sick. Avoid sharing personal household items, and clean high-touch surfaces daily until that person tests negative for COVID-19.

Ideally, whoever is sick would have their own room and adjoining bathroom. If that’s not the case, stay away from those you share your home with as much as possible, and wipe down any surfaces before you touch them, especially in the bathroom. That includes the faucet, the shower door, the toilet handle, etc. Clean all surfaces every day. And needless to say, don’t invite anyone over.

Consult your doctor first, but you should be able to leave home after two weeks, as long as you’re feeling better by the end. That’s a while — we know. Occupy your time with shows, movies, games, any light movement you feel capable of (try yoga videos on YouTube) and phone calls with friends. If you live in a shared apartment, be aware that you may be using the same doorknobs as other people, and do your best to keep them clean.

Finally, Johnson recommends using a fan or some other form of ventilation or a humidifier, if you have one.

Monitor your symptoms or those of your loved ones. Seek emergency care immediately if you’re experiencing warning signs like difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, and/or bluish lips or face.

And finally, after your quarantine period is over, prioritize your family’s mental health. Being separated from others can be stressful even if you’re not sick. Being released from quarantine can lead to mixed emotions, anxiety from the experience of monitoring yourself or others, guilt about not being able to perform work or parenting duties, and more. Children may also feel upset if they or someone they know is quarantined. Visit the CDC’s website for information on how to help you, your loved ones and your children cope. As Reeck says, contact and support is extremely important during this time.