Disclaimer: While we do our best to provide accurate and up-to-date information, this article is not a substitute for expert advice from your local healthcare provider and public health authorities like the CDC or WHO. Please consult these organizations for the most updated recommendations and safety procedures.
Last updated: May 12, 2020
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19 aka SARS-CoV2) pandemic differs greatly from familiar natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and wildfires.
Unlike these weather-related natural disasters, the COVID-19 outbreak does not entail evacuation. Instead of withdrawing to safe locations, we’re being asked to hunker down at home, practice physical distancing, and self-isolate to protect vulnerable groups (and ourselves) and slow the spread of the disease. Many jurisdictions have implemented shelter-in-place restrictions that are typically reserved for tornadoes, earthquakes, and other hazards.
Like all natural disasters, navigating the COVID-19 epidemic and other pandemics requires planning and preparation. Here’s what you can do to prepare for a pandemic
How to make a pandemic preparedness plan
The best thing you can do to prepare for a pandemic is to make a plan for how you’ll handle the outbreak before it arrives and spreads in your community. If there are already confirmed cases in your community, it’s not too late to make a plan to prevent it from reaching your household. Creating a plan will help you weather a second wave, as well as prepare for the long-term impact of pandemics like COVID-19 or other similar outbreaks.
Here’s what you should include in a pandemic preparedness plan:
1. How you plan to change your regular habits to reduce your exposure to crowded places
The best way to prevent illness is to avoid it altogether, and that means embracing social distancing to reduce your exposure to crowds and other people. This can include actions like:
- Setting up a temporary home office so you can work from home
- Planning ways to keep your kids busy at home while schools and daycares are closed
- Meal planning so you can stock up on supplies that will last a week or longer, reducing the amount of times you’ll need to go to the grocery store
- Shopping for essentials only at off-peak hours
- If you commute to work using public transit, adjusting your work hours so your commute falls during off-peak hours if possible
- Exercising at home or alone outdoors instead of at an indoor fitness class
- Refilling prescriptions before you need them so you won’t have to go to a pharmacy if you do get sick
- Supporting local businesses and restaurants by ordering products or gift cards online, or ordering meals with a contactless delivery
Read the CDC’s resources and recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
2. What to do if you get sick with COVID-19 or any other seasonal illness
Normal seasonal illnesses may not seem like a serious threat compared to viruses like COVID-19, but these ailments will lower your immune system as well as that of anyone else you might infect, putting yourself and others at greater risk of getting sick.
Planning for how you’ll handle any illness, including COVID-19, a common cold, or the flu, before you get sick will prevent you from needing to leave the house while you’re ill, and is especially important if you are a caregiver for children, the elderly, the immunocompromised, or other loved ones.
If you do get sick, it’s important that everyone in your household stays home until you are no longer showing symptoms and that you isolate yourself from your family/housemates as much as possible. Monitor yourself and any dependents for symptoms, and notify your workplace, school, and other places where you’ve had close contact with people. If you live alone, stay in touch with others by phone or email in case you need assistance.
TSI TIP: Talk to your employer about working from home before you or someone else in your household gets sick. If you wait till after, you may have already spread it to your workplace.
Read and follow the CDC’s recommendations for what to do if you think you might be sick.
3. What to do if a family member gets sick
If someone in your household gets sick with COVID-19 or another illness, everyone in your household should stay home till they are no longer showing symptoms.
All members of your household should take the following precautions within the home to prevent spread:
- Limit contact. If possible, only one person in your household should provide care. Vulnerable groups such as seniors or those with underlying medical conditions should avoid caring for someone with COVID-19 or another illness.
- Don’t share personal items, such as towels, bed linens, electronic devices, or utensils.
- Use a separate bathroom if possible, and encourage the ill person to put the toilet lid down before flushing.
- Dispose of used masks, gloves, and other items in a lined container. Secure the contents of the container in a plastic bag and dispose of them with other household waste.
- Place contaminated laundry into a container with a plastic liner, taking care not to shake it. Wash the laundry in hot water with regular laundry detergent. Contaminated laundry is safe to wash with your regular laundry.
- Clean frequently-touched surfaces like door knobs, toilets, phones, TV remotes, tables, and other surfaces with disinfectants or diluted bleach once daily.
If you are caring for a sick family member, protect yourself by:
- Wearing a washable, non-medical mask and eye protection when you are within 6 feet of the person. Do not reuse single-use masks and dispose of them immediately after use before touching anything else.
- Wearing disposable gloves when touching the person, their environment, or any soiled items like dirty laundry. Do not wash and reuse disposable gloves.
- Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds after every interaction, especially after close contact
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Read and follow the CDC’s recommendations for what to do if someone in your household is sick.
4. Create an emergency contact list
In addition to your loved ones, compile a list of local aid organizations in case you or another member of your household need information, health care services, support, or any other resources, including:
- Your normal healthcare provider
- Your local health department
- Local hospital and ambulance service
- Mental health or counselling services
- Delivery services for food and other supplies
5. Keep essential supplies on hand
Keeping 14 days of necessary supplies on hand ensures that you won’t need to leave your house if you or another member of your household get sick. Stocking up on supplies does not mean that you should be ready to go into lockdown, and it does not mean you should panic-buy, stockpile, or hoard essential items.
TSI TIP: It’s easier on the national supply chain if you gradually build up your household stores rather than purchasing everything at once. Instead of panic-buying the entire meat section of your local supermarket or clearing out an entire shelf of toilet paper, add a one or two extra items to your cart every time you shop.
Read our novel pandemic supplies guide for a comprehensive list of what you should keep on hand.
Additional preparedness measures
In addition to creating a preparedness plan, you can also prepare by taking the following steps to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and prevent the spread of a viral outbreak:
- Stay informed: Stay up to date on the state of this and future outbreaks in your area and listen to your local public health officials. Follow their recommended community actions at all times, including quarantine requirements, bans on mass gatherings, and other prevention measures.
- Consult your healthcare provider: If you are a senior, immunocompromised, have an underlying medical condition, or live with someone who is considered high-risk, consult your healthcare provider for their advice on how to stay safe and healthy, as well as what to do if you do become ill.
- Check in with loved ones: Reach out to loved ones to check in and find out if anyone requires assistance or has special needs in case they get sick.
- Discuss your preparedness plan with all members of your household: Involve all members of your household when creating your pandemic preparedness plan, including seniors, children, and teenagers. Work together to develop household physical distancing and sanitization protocols using the CDC’s recommendations, and make sure everyone understands and is practicing these protocols within and outside of the home.
TSI TIP: Children experience stress and anxiety differently than adults. Visit the CDC’s website for advice on how to talk to your children about novel coronavirus.
Sesame Street has also created a number of tools for helping parents and children care for each other while staying safe and healthy. Check out Sesame Street’s COVID-19 resources.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is unprecedented, and many of us are unsure how best to prepare for the outbreak. The usual emergency preparedness procedures don’t necessarily apply, but we can still make a plan for how we’ll safeguard ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities by preventing the spread and reducing the impact.
For the most up to date information on COVID-19 in your area, consult your local public health website.
For advice on how to prevent the spread and what to do if you get sick, visit the CDC website.
For more information on how to prepare for COVID-19, read our other resources:
Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Preparedness Resources
Prepare yourself, your home, and your loved ones for COVID-19 with our emergency preparedness resources:
- What Makes Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Different from Other Natural Disasters?
- How to Help Communities & Individuals Impacted by Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- How to Create a Pandemic Preparedness Plan
- Supplies to Have on hand During the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic
- How to Safely Pack, Ship, and Receive Packages During a Pandemic