How to Prepare for Coronavirus: Masks, Washing Hands, Masks and More

The coronavirus continues to spread in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, with more than 70 cases and one death confirmed in the United States.

While the Food and Drug Administration announced this weekend that testing in the United States would be greatly expanded, health experts have been warning that the virus’s spread in the country is inevitable. That means it’s time to prepare your home and family in case your community is affected.

Most important: Do not panic. While the outbreak is a serious public health concern, the majority of those who contract the coronavirus do not become seriously ill, and only a small percentage require intensive care.

By following some basic steps, you can help reduce your risk and do your part to protect others.

It’s worth repeating, over and over again: wash your hands. Wet your hands with clean running water and then lather them with soap; don’t miss the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails. Make sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds (or about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice), and dry them with a clean towel or let them air dry.

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.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands (tough one, we know).

  • Updated Feb. 26, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all nonessential travel to South Korea and China.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world was not ready for a major outbreak.

Meanwhile, if someone else is showing flu- or cold-like symptoms, try to stay six feet away. If that’s not possible, even a little distancing is helpful, according to experts, as the virus seems to spread through droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze.

Sneezing or coughing yourself? Direct it into your elbow so as to avoid leaving germs on your hands, which can then quickly spread to other surfaces. Other ways to be smart include using the “Ebola handshake,” where you greet others with elbow bumps, and pushing elevator buttons with a knuckle instead of a fingertip.

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