This started as a single post on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. When I started on Wednesday, I thought I’d hit “publish” on Friday. We are now living in a different world, and that single post is MUCH too long to be a single post. (Click here for the second one, A Practical Guide to COVID-19.)
Top Five Tips for COVID-19 Sanity
1. Get news and information from reliable and trustworthy sources.
Your two best sources are the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and your state or local (county, province, city) health authority. The World Health Organization (WHO) is another reliable resource. Unless your people are citing to similarly fact-checked and reliable sources, skip Facebook. Skip the well-meaning mommy bloggers. Skip the fear-mongering fake news sites. Sadly, skip any source that reports the current president’s public statements about the virus are credible (because, in fact, they are not—we’re well behind the ball on developing and implementing effective testing, a vaccine is only just now starting phase 1 human trials, and you only have to read about the experiences of a few travelers to learn we have not “closed the border” and kept COVID-10 out). Skip anyone who is peddling a cure, too–there is no cure, and megadoses of vitamins and other fake cures promoted on YouTube can make you sick.
When you’re sharing information about COVID-19, whether online or in person, stick to the known facts—what you’re reading on the CDC website, your local health authority website, and MAYBE (sadly, also not a given) MAYBE your local news affiliate. Spreading false information doesn’t help anyone, may incite more panic than is reasonable, and has the potential to hurt others. This includes well-meaning but false statements that imply COVID-19 is just a flu.
2. Save your money. Skip the slick marketing campaigns, and the snake oil.
This past week, the FDA and FTC issued warning letters to Vital Silver; Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd.; Xephyr, LLC doing business as N-Ergetics; GuruNanda, LLC; Vivify Holistic Clinic; Herbal Amy LLC; and The Jim Bakker Show. All of these companies were claiming they have a product that can prevent or cure this virus. Read more here.
There is currently no vaccine (they’re working on it), no reliable (evidence-based) preventive lotion or potion or pill or serum or drug or herb or anything else, and no “miracle cure” for those who are already ill. (This doesn’t mean everyone who gets sick is going to die—far from it. It just means it’s not like an ear infection where you can take an antibiotic and it will go away.) You can’t prevent yourself from getting sick by mega-dosing on vitamins (though megadosing vitamins can make you sick), or diffusing “thieves” essential oil blend, or putting potatoes in your socks, or slathering your body with “flu cream” (thanks for that ad, Instagram), or whatever else people are proposing on Facebook.
Sadly, health and fitness professionals are sending out misinformation (Jorge Cruise just sent an email titled “The superfoods help fight coronavirus”), nutrition companies including Nuun, FNX, Kuli Kuli, and The Feed are holding sales on their “immunity” products (none of which have evidence that the enhance your immunity in any way, and none of which and even some doctors are trying to make a fast buck by claiming their test can diagnose, or their magic powder can cure, COVID-19. Many companies are not saying/writing “this product will protect you from coronavirus” but are implying it by serving up ad campaigns and sales on products for “immunity” (I’m looking at you, nuun: there’s no evidence that adding all the trendy ingredients du jour to your drink will do anything to help your immune system stave off COVID-19!). If the pleasant scent of lavender essential oil calms you, great. If drinking extra vitamins in your water makes you feel better mentally, great. If you’re buying it to “protect yourself,” save your money. You’re better off using it to stock your pantry with essentials in case you need to stay home.
3. Don’t panic—and don’t panic buy anything.
It started with face masks, even though the most effective thing to do with a face mask is to put it on a sick person to help them not spread germs. There hasn’t been any credible recommendation that the general public wear them for COVID-19 prevention, and there is little to no evidence that they are effective in the general public for keeping healthy people from catching the virus. Yet try to buy any type of mask—from the hospital face covers to the white 3M masks intended to keep dust out of your mouth—and the stores have none. In some places gloves were similarly popular, and I saw at least one article reporting people buying condoms to put on their fingers so they don’t have to touch elevator buttons.
If you’ve been in Costco lately, you’ve noticed the shelves that usually hold toilet paper, tissues, and hand sanitizer are bare. Why? Did people just suddenly start wiping their noses, butts, and hands? Look, I understand that people associate being sick with running from both ends…but unless your last name is Duggar, you don’t need a truckload of toilet paper to make it through the next two weeks. While we’re at it, why are people panic-buying bottled water? Did I miss the CDC announcement that COVID-19 has the power to turn off the municipal water supply or something? Look, you’re not doing yourself any favors by stockpiling cold and flu medication—and at the moment, people who are actually sick can’t buy those things because the shelves are empty! If you’ve got to spend money to feel like you’re prepared, stock your pantry and fridge, refill your prescriptions early if you can, and set aside money to pay the bills
Remember that hoarding doesn’t help you, and it hurts your community. Personally, I’d like all of my neighbors to have enough toiler paper and soap. Oh, and while we’re at it, please DO NOT support virus profiteering. Yes, there are people hoarding-for-profit.
4. Stick with the basics.
The first lesson of kindergarten? Keep your hands to yourself! Unfortunately as the #MeToo movement illustrates, some adults never got the memo. We currently understand the COVID-19 spreads primarily by coughs and sneezes that propel little water droplets into the air or onto other people. It’s also possible to share those droplets by shaking hands or being in similarly close contact. While it isn’t the primary manner of spreading, current best knowledge also says that the virus can live on surfaces for quite some time after contact. (This is why you keep reading about “deep cleaning” or “enhanced sanitation” and seeing pictures of workers wiping down concert venues and shutting down schools and office buildings for cleaning.)
If you are currently healthy, your very best course of action is to get a little germophobic. Wash your hands like you’re Adrian Monk—and if you’re tired of singing “Happy Birthday,” look on Twitter for dozens of other options—using soap and water. Do it often. Wash ‘em after riding public transit, after handling things other people touch (like door handles), after going into a bathroom for any reason, and before eating or touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth. When you can’t wash, use 60% alcohol hand sanitizer. Use bleach wipes or similar to wipe down your home and office (keyboard, phone, and door knobs among others). Wipe down your cell phone too—what’s the point of washing your hands if you phone is filthy?
Gotta sneeze? Cover your nose and mouth! If no tissue is handy, use your elbow—NOT your hand. (BTW, regular ol’ runny noses are not a known symptom of this virus.) Speaking of hands, did I mention to wash them? Consider a fist bump or elbow bump instead of shaking hands.
5. Be kind to others: if you are sick, stay home!
If you are a generally healthy person, be kind to those with weaker immune systems. Chances are good that someone you know has a weakened immune system that makes them more susceptible to viruses. That’s anyone who has had chemotherapy, for example, or who is elderly, but also anyone with an autoimmune disorder like lupus, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, Guillian-Barre syndrome, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and more. Evidence to date shows that “older adults” (which appears to be anyone over 60) and those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, or high blood pressure, are at a higher risk. The best things you can do to help those who have weaker immune systems or are known to be at a higher risk? Stick with the basics (wash your hands, etc.) and if you are not feeling well, stay away from public spaces and gatherings—stay home if you can.
BONUS TIP: Be kind to others: help if you can. (more on this in Part 2)
The most common advice in circulation is to prepare in advance by stocking your home with at least two weeks of supplies, and staying home if you feel sick. This is sound advice, I’m following it—maybe you are too—and I’m glad to see it being repeated. If you can join me in following it, you’re facing this virus from a place of privilege. No matter where you stand, I encourage you to remember those who don’t share in that privilege.
Millions of Americans do not have paid sick time or paid vacation. This means they don’t get paid for time they don’t work. Worse, if they are not working because they are sick, there are probably medical bills and other costs stacking up too. Two weeks of lost wages might be the difference between paying the rent and getting evicted.
Even with some paid sick time—let’s be real here, most of us don’t get three weeks of paid sick time—or paid sick time and paid vacation (because some employers are telling workers they need to use vacation if they get sick—that’s right U. Conn, I saw your notices), lots of people don’t have the ability to stock up for two or more weeks at home. Looking just at medication, if you are in the early phases of a methadone treatment program you are required to go pick up (and take) your medicine at a clinic. Some medications are restricted by federal law, and that’s not just limited to opioid painkillers; you might have to go see a doctor in person to get a refill, or wait until you have taken your very last dose before you can get more. Other drugs are limited by insurance coverage that won’t allow you to refill “early” (which is anywhere from 5 to 10 days before the medication runs out) unless you can afford to pay the full cost out-of-pocket. Some drugs, including some injections, have a very narrow window between opening the container and the expiration (loss of effectiveness of the medication).
Please don’t think I’m implying that only the economically disadvantaged are going to need help. Plenty of people are facing reduced hours and cancelled shifts as concerts are postponed, flights get canceled, tourism is down, conventions are nixed, and the economy takes a nose-dive.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
- The Lancet (highly respected British medical journal) https://www.thelancet.com/coronavirus?dgcid=kr_pop-up_tlcoronavirus20
- People in High-Risk Groups are Not Disposable https://www.huffpost.com/entry/disabled-immunocompromised-people-coronavirus_n_5e6a6acfc5b6dda30fc51c2f
- Prepare for a New Normal https://slate.com/business/2020/03/coronavirus-goodbye-to-the-before-times.html
- Don’t Spread the Virus—Or Misinformation https://www.snopes.com/collections/new-coronavirus-collection/
- Protect your Mental Health https://www.virusanxiety.com/
- “Stay Home” is Not a Complete Plan (good for details on the virus and effects) https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/where-do-you-go-if-you-get-coronavirus/607759/
- Asthma and COVID-19, a blog with information all from credible medical sources: https://livingbeyondallergies.com/asthma-and-covid-19/
- Simulator that explains why “social distancing” works. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator
- How I’m tracking today: https://projects.oregonlive.com/coronavirus/
- For those who are visual learners, a compilation of charts that explain the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/3/12/21172040/coronavirus-covid-19-virus-charts