What parents need to know about the coronavirus — what supplies to stock up on, should kids stay home from school, how to protect your family and prepare your home.
Update 3/18/20 — Because things have progressed so rapidly since I originally wrote this, it’s been hard, if not impossible, to keep this post up-to-date! However, I hope you still find it useful to read about how our family preps for emergencies.
The first time I heard the word was on the news at my mother-in-law’s house. It didn’t really seem like a big deal, as it only affected a handful of people in China.
Then China put 50 million people under quarantine — this new disease was obviously a BIG deal.
But what about us here in the United States?
China is far away. But within a matter of a couple weeks, and despite a massive quarantine, the virus was here:
- Just this week I read about a graduate assistant at Rice University (here in Houston) who may have been exposed. There are now 12 confirmed cases in our area.
- A couple of my friends live in the Seattle area which is the first place that the virus popped up in a US community, with no known source. They’re definitely on edge over there, and understandably so.
- Another friend in New York said her husband was asked to work at home this week.
We talked about when would be the right time to keep the kids home from school. No one had a good answer. How do you even know what to do as a parent?
Every night my husband and I watch the news closely to see what is the latest with the coronavirus. We’re not usually ones to get riled up or fearful, but this new disease is pretty scary when you think about the potential for worldwide spread.
We’ve started making preparations, just in case. You probably should too. Here’s why and what the experts have to say about it.
For your convenience, I’ve included shop-able ad links to products we use and recommend; full disclosure policy here.
What is the Coronavirus?
It sounds like a new and scary word, but coronaviruses are not new. They are actually a family of viruses in humans that usually cause minor illnesses, such as the common cold.
What IS new is this specific type of coronavirus, which has been dubbed the “Novel Coronavirus,” “Coronavirus disease 2019,” and “COVID-19.”
This is a type of coronavirus that has never been seen before. A few quick facts:
- There is no cure. We can only treat symptoms.
- Symptoms include cough, fever, and difficulty breathing.
- People with coronavirus are most contagious when their symptoms are most severe, but it can be spread without symptoms or only mild symptoms.
- The mortality rate of COVID-19 is just over 2%, which is about 20 times the mortality rate of the flu.
- The elderly and those with chronic health conditions are at the highest risk.
How Does the Coronavirus Spread?
The CDC details three main ways that COVID-19 spreads:
- Close contact with infected persons (within 6 feet)
- Through droplets expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes
- Touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching your nose or mouth (though this is not thought to be the primary way the disease spreads, it is possible).
It’s important to note that this information is based on what we know about other types of coronaviruses. The novel coronavirus is a brand new virus, so experts are still learning exactly how it works.
While it does appear that COVID-19 spreads fairly easily from person to person, experts explain that the virus is not just “floating around” in the air. Rather, the virus is carried in and spread via droplets. Those droplets are what we need to protect ourselves from.
How Can You Protect Yourself and Your Family from Coronavirus?
As of March 9th, there are around 500 known cases of the new coronavirus in the United States. However, that number is likely to grow as testing kits become more available.
Aside from a few specific instances (such as this nursing home in Washington and a self-imposed quarantine of a group of Rice University students and employees), there are few widespread quarantine measures in the United States at this time.
That doesn’t mean a quarantine won’t happen, but it does mean that the virus will likely spread further before a quarantine is imposed.
Many of the same precautions that you’d take during flu season apply for the coronavirus:
- Wash Hands — This is the first line of defense for yourself and to prevent spreading germs to others! Wash hands thoroughly and regularly. Wash hands after touching any surface in a public place. Wash hands after touching your own face.
- Stay Home if You Feel Sick — Unfortunately, containment measures were not 100% effective against the coronavirus and it has started to enter some communities. This likely happened because there were people who had the virus and didn’t know it or thought it was “just a cold.” If you feel sick, avoid going
- Keep Sick Kids Home from School — Let’s face it…kids are gross. They don’t wash hands as well as they should, they’re always touching stuff, and they like to put things in their mouths. If your child is sick, please do your entire community a favor and keep them home from school. I promise I’ll do the same!
- Don’t Shake Hands — It’s not rude to avoid hand-shaking at a time when the world is on the cusp of a potential pandemic. If you must, fist-bump instead and wash hands afterwards.
How to Teach Your Kids About Good Hygiene
- We created this Glitter Germy Hands Experiment to show kids just how easily germs spread and teach good hand washing habits! Our 4-year old loved it and made an abstract concept make sense to her!
- This list of books about germs and hygiene from Happily Ever Elephants is awesome too!
- Rachael at Wunder-Mom.com created a clever hand-washing song if you’re getting tired of singing Happy Birthday over. You can find that and more of her tips here.
Dr. James Robb, MD, FCAP and former professor of pathology at University of California also recommends these additional measures for protecting yourself from the coronavirus:
- Use your knuckle or elbow to turn on light switches, push buttons, etc.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue (not your elbow) — We’ve all heard that coughing into your elbow is the “sanitary” way to cough, but those droplets (remember the droplets?!) get onto your clothing and stay there. Use a tissue and throw it away instead.
- Use sanitizer wipes — Carry sanitizer wipes in your purse or diaper bag to wipe down shopping carts, restaurant high chairs, etc.
- Wear gloves — If the virus does begin to pick up steam, experts advise wearing latex or nitrile gloves when in public places. I included the ones we bought in our supply list later in the post.
Do Masks Protect Against Coronavirus?
There is a lot of mixed information out there about the effectiveness of face masks for protection against the coronavirus.
Dr. Robb recommends purchasing disposable medical masks for the purpose of protecting yourself when you touch your own face. He explains that a mask won’t protect you from a direct hit by a cough or sneeze, but that it will offer protection if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face.
Since the average person touches their face around 100 times a day, it’s probably worthwhile to heed that advice!
Masks are worth buying, but what about extra food, water, etc? How much do we need to stock up on in preparation for a coronavirus pandemic? Do we need to stock up at all?
What Supplies Should I Stock Up On?
Because no one knows how far the virus will spread and what measures will be necessary, there isn’t an exact list of supplies that everyone should have on hand.
Because I live in a Hurricane-prone area, I started by prepping as I would for a hurricane. Click here to see my hurricane preparedness checklist.
If you don’t live in an area that has frequent natural disasters (lucky you!) try imagining that you wouldn’t be able to go to a grocery store for 1-2 weeks at a time, possibly longer. What would you need to get by if you were stuck at home for a couple weeks?
We stocked up on easy to prepare foods that are filling, as nutritious as possible, and keep well for a long time. That way if the coronavirus outbreak dies down and we don’t use our emergency food, we still have it ready for hurricane season.
- Large bags of dry rice (Carbs, energy, fills everyone up)
- Large bags of dry beans (Good source of fiber and protein)
- Large cans of vegetables (Vitamins and minerals, supplements what we’re able to grow in our garden)
- Canned meat and fish, like chicken and tuna (Protein, fat, will come in handy if we go through all the meat in our fridge and freezer)
We started container gardening this year, so we can supplement any dried and canned food with fresh herbs and fresh vegetables. Our gardens aren’t large enough yet to fully sustain us, but a little bit of fresh produce goes a long way towards making food taste better!
Hopefully water won’t be an issue! However, we always keep emergency water on hand because you just never know.
For example, last week in Houston we had an incident where construction workers burst a giant water main that compromised over half of the entire city’s water supply. Over 2 million people were on a boil water notice for a couple days straight – with no warning!
Fortunately our new home is on a well system, so it didn’t directly affect us. But we knew plenty of family and friends that were affected by school cancellations, hospital/doctor’s office closures, etc. And the stores saw a run on water and many shelves went bare!
When planning how much water you should have on hand, a good rule of thumb is a gallon of water a day per person. However, in the event of a true emergency, healthy persons should be able to get by on 2 liters of water per day.
We always keep a dozen or so gallons jugs of water in the house, as well as long term water storage that we won’t open unless we lose access to any other water. Plus we are working on rain collection buckets to take care of our gardens without using any drinking water.
Here’s a look at some of the water storage options we use and recommend:
For rainwater collection, you can purchase a ready-to-go rain barrel:
In a pinch you can also collect rainwater with large buckets or (clean!!) trash cans placed under an awning or gutter.
It’s good practice to always keep general first aid supplies in the home. But are there specific supplies that are needed to protect ourselves and our families from the Novel Coronavirus?
In addition to a well-stocked medicine cabinet, these are essentials that are good to keep at home:
- Nitrile gloves — If there is ever a quarantine situation, or if the virus becomes more widespread, gloves are a good idea to have at the ready. That way you can wear them when in a public place or when you need to touch something that many other people have (like gas pumps) and dispose of them afterwards.
- Face masks — It may be possible to find these cheaper at a home improvement store (look for respirator and particulate masks). Our local stores have been selling out quickly, so I linked to them on Amazon too.
- Hand soap — The number one method of protection against the coronavirus (or any virus) is hand-washing. Nothing beats good ol’ soap and water for keeping hands clean and killing germs!
- Hand sanitizer — When water is limited or unavailable, hand sanitizer is the next best thing for hand washing. The CDC recommends using an alcohol-based sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol for maximum effectiveness. We’ve always used and trusted PURELL brand hand sanitizer because it was developed for medical professionals and contains 70% ethyl alcohol. If hand sanitizer is hard to find, here are 7 other things that can be useful in an emergency.
- Toilet paper — Toilet paper is often the first thing to run out at stores! Sometimes even before water
Related: Why I’m Not Going to Apologize for Stocking Up On Toilet Paper (And You Shouldn’t Either)
While this sounds like a luxury, hear me out!
Imagine you’re stuck at home for a couple weeks. You stocked up on food, water, and supplies. You’re confident that you’ll have what you need to keep everyone fed throughout a quarantine.
But did you think about being in the same small space with your family for that extended period of time…with no breaks.
Even though you love your family, you’re going to drive each other crazy after a while! Not being able to leave the house for days or weeks is enough to make anyone go stir-crazy!
Creating an “emergency fun kit” of books that the kids haven’t read yet, games they haven’t played, etc. can help beat some of the boredom that’s bound to arise.
Should I Travel?
If you made travel plans for spring break or even later in the summer, you’ve likely been watching all the developments closely. There are a few places that are a no-brainer to avoid (see below), but the rest is a personal judgement call for now.
Currently there are Level 3 Travel Advisories to the following countries:
- Mainland China
- South Korea
While travel to these locations is not banned, it is advised to avoid “all non-essential travel.” So if you were planning a visit to Italy over Spring Break, that would be something you probably want to reconsider.
There is also a Level 2 Travel Advisory for Japan, which means that travelers should take “special precautions” and that older adults or those with chronic health conditions should consider postponing any planned trips there.
If you’re planning a trip somewhere else in the world or a cruise, experts don’t currently say that you need to cancel. However, I would definitely get trip insurance just in case cancelling or postponing becomes necessary.
UPDATE 3/8 — The CDC now advises against cruise travel for the time being: “CDC recommends travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.”
Personally, I’m not comfortable with international travel until this is under control, rather than a developing situation.
Should I Keep My Kids Home From School?
There are quite a few countries that have temporarily closed schools in an attempt to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus. Many companies throughout Europe and Asia have also asked employees to work from home.
Right now it’s business as usual in the United States, though the CDC has warned that there could be serious disruptions to daily life in the near future.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to just sit around wondering and waiting.
Is there anything parents can do to prepare in the meantime?
In a recent press briefing, Nancy Messonnier, a director at the Centers for Disease Control recommends parents take the following proactive steps:
- Ask your children’s schools about plans for school dismissals or school closures
- Ask about plans for teleschool
- Contact the superintendent’s office about your district’s plans for handling an outbreak
Messonnier explains that it is not a matter of if, but when, the disease will spread throughout the US. She says that the CDC is currently examining scenarios for “exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”
Despite later attempts to downplay the severe tone of the CDC announcement, it definitely sounds like we parents need to be on guard and in close contact with schools.
TIP: My friend and fellow blogger Laura at Sunny Day Family suggests making plans for emergency child care, should schools be cancelled and you are still expected to report to work.
I’ve been talking to other parents in areas where the coronavirus has been confirmed, and like my husband and I, they are also thinking about when it would be prudent to keep kids home from schools. Would waiting for schools to make the call be too late?
While I can’t tell you what you should do, I know that I am following the news closely and not ruling out the possibility that our kids may need to stay home at some point.
What About the Economy?
Another scary unknown about the coronavirus is the way it is affecting or will affect the world economy. In recent days the stock market has plunged, leaving many to wonder if we should be taking steps to protect our finances too.
Meghan, blogger at Family Finance Mom and former hedge fund analyst says the best thing the average family can do is to make sure that they have emergency savings. That way if you’re unable to work for a period of time, there is money in the bank to pay bills.
See the rest of Meghan’s tips here, including top questions answered, such as whether or not this is a good time to invest or buy a house!
But What Will People Think? Isn’t Prepping for Loonies?
For now we’re kind of stuck waiting to see what happens. Will the virus fizzle out when the weather gets warm? Or will we end up in a pandemic situation unseen in a century?
If you’re like me and waiting around drives you crazy, then I’d recommend putting that energy to good use and prepping your home and family just in case.
Even if the coronavirus doesn’t turn out as serious as predicted, those preparations are never a waste of time and may come in handy down the road for another event we don’t even yet know about.
Or in our case here in Texas, whenever the next hurricane hits. Because while COVID-19 is uncertain, storms and flooding are a certainty for us!
There are a few people in my family who have poked fun at my husband and I for prepping. But I’d rather endure a few jokes then feel unprepared should something bad happen. Plus, our kids are counting on us to keep them safe. Yours are too.
It’s not about spreading fear or panic — it’s about being ready.
We teach our kids to prepare for things in life. Prepare for tests. Prepare for college. Prepare to take care of themselves as adults.
Why not prepare to stay safe in an emergency?
No one laughs about fire safety prevention or installing smoke detectors. I think disaster preparedness should be important too. We’ve lived through a few disasters here in Texas, and I’ve never once said, “Golly, I think we’re actually TOO prepared!”
I promise you’ll be glad for any preparations you do choose to make!
What are you doing to prepare for the coronavirus? Is there anything I should add to our list? Feel free to let me know in the comments below and check back often as I’ll update this post when I have new information!
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Note: I’m a parent, not a medical professional – this article is based on my own experience, research, and the latest advice from the CDC.