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If you’re worried about the Wuhan outbreak or feel unprepared, this guide is for you.
Experts explain what you should do to get ready, how to protect yourself, what researchers believe are the likely scenarios going forward, and the latest fact-checked news.
Always be skeptical of what you read online — particularly in situations like this. You can trust this page because it’s built by actual emergency experts with decades of experience, including researchers in relevant fields, and we’re working with primary sources within China and at orgs like the WHO.
Your most important goals:
- Be able to shelter in your home for at least two weeks (the longer, the better) without leaving for supplies or outside help. If we have a significant amount of transmission here in the US, you’ll probably want the option of avoiding other people and public places. Or, if things get really dire, it may be recommended or required that you stay in your home for a period of time.
- Be able to protect yourself against picking up the virus. There are steps you can take now, and more serious steps you may want to have ready in case things get much worse.
- Listen to legitimate sources so you can make decisions based on accurate, rational news. This epidemic already has enough actual cause for concern —- there’s no need to make things worse with fake news!
- Latest news and key developments
- What to buy to protect yourself against the coronavirus
- What to buy for the other challenges of an outbreak
- Ready to go past those simple basics?
- Best practices
- What the next weeks might look like
- Links to online news sources and portals
Latest news and key developments
If you’re just getting started, check out our lengthy background piece on the Wuhan coronavirus.
Latest blog posts:
- The US & the world do not look prepared for an nCoV-2019 pandemic
- Why is it so hard to tell how deadly 2019-nCoV is?
- No, 2019-nCoV case numbers were not fabricated to fit a curve
- See our blog for more
Key developments from Wednesday, February 12, 2020:
- [9:01 pm] There is a new presumptive case in British Columbia. The person came in from Shanghai and had not contact with Hubei province. This is only a single data point, but it seems to indicate community transmission in Shanghai.
- [8:59 pm] Singapore adds nine more cases, today.
- [8:57 pm] China is mandating that everyone entering Beijing self-quarantine for 14 days.
- [8:55 pm] Coronavirus victim attended conference in London with 250 people. “London’s first Coronavirus patient arrived at hospital in an Uber, contrary to public health advice.”
- Get more summaries of the latest developments, here.
What to buy to protect yourself against the coronavirus
The further down the list you go, the more you can handle serious scenarios:
- Hand sanitizer
- Nitrile gloves
- Respirators — see below
- Eye protection such as industrial safety goggles, swim goggles, or anything that would keep someone else’s sneeze from hitting your eyes (even basic glasses are better than nothing)
- Bleach or other household cleaners that will kill viruses on door knobs, etc.
- Tyvek hazmat suit (the coveralls you see hospital staff wearing in China) or similar disposable outerwear
- Plastic sheeting and tape to seal air access points to your home (especially if in a shared building).
We’ve put together a more complete list of home medical, hygiene, and sanitation items that can get you through a shelter-in-place scenario.
Respirators are tricky, and there’s a lot of bad info out there. You can read the full beginner’s guide to respirators and gas masks, including tips on how to use them and recommended models. The most important bits:
- You want a respirator rated N95 or above (eg. P100).
- Surgical masks — the common types found at corner stores that are more commonly worn in Asia — are not proper respirators. They are mostly designed to protect other people from you, not the other way around.
- However, proper respirators are in low supply around the world right now (3M is running their factory 24/7 just to meet urgent medical needs). If the best you can do is a surgical mask, it’s better than nothing.
- Respirator filters/cartridges don’t last as long as most people think, so buy as many as you reasonably can.
- A full-face respirator (ie. a gas mask) protects your eyes, nose, and mouth at the same time. If you buy disposable or half-face respirators, you’ll also want separate eye protection.
- Fit is important — respirators need a tight seal around your face in order to stop bad particles from getting inside.
- Which means those with facial hair or children with small faces need to be extra careful, since there isn’t a proper seal around the face.
What to buy for the other challenges of an outbreak
Note that under even the most severe scenarios experts currently envision within the US, utilities and local services/governments will still function. So for now, what you’re mostly focused on is being able to comfortably survive locked in your house for a few weeks.
You also might not have much warning before the moment comes that you need to stay in your home for days or weeks — don’t assume you’ll have time to run to the store or that the supplies you want will still be on the shelves.
- Potable water. It’s very unlikely the tap would run dry, but water is so critical that you never want to risk being without it. Try to reach at least 15 gallons per person (for one gallon per person per day). Here’s a review of common water containers you can fill from the tap.
- Shelf-stable food. Prefer food that doesn’t need more than boiling water to prepare — eg. pasta, oatmeal, rice.
- Basic medical supplies. It’s possible that you’ll want to avoid emergency care facilities and pharmacies if you’re not infected, so you’ll want to be able to deal with as many medical contingencies as you can at home.
If you want to go a little further and cover scenarios where some local services start failing or you have to evacuate:
- Portable water filter.
- Battery- or solar-powered radio.
- Portable power pack, for keeping phones and other gadgets charged when you’re either on-the-go or in a crowded living situation without convenient access to a wall outlet.
- Entertainment that works without power/internet — people quarantined in Wuhan are starting to make bad decisions because they’re bored.
Ready to go past those simple basics?
The items above are the bare essentials for this specific scenario and for people who don’t want to go any further.
But if this event has opened your eyes to just how fragile our world is — and how important it is for you to be self-reliant — it’s easier than you think to become more properly prepared. Check these out:
- Beginner’s emergency preparedness checklist
- How to build a first aid kit
- How to build an emergency kit / bug out bag
How to keep from getting infected:
- Staying away from other people (ie. “social distancing”) is the best way to avoid getting sick.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Don’t shake hands with other people — it’s a gross custom that needs to end anyway.
- Be aware of how often you touch your face and try to break that habit right now.
- Don’t forget that your eyes are just as much of a “front door” for the virus as your mouth and nose.
- If you venture out using gloves, respirators, and/or goggles, wash your hands before removing the protective gear, then be careful of what/where you’re touching as you remove the items. SARS workers were getting sick just from the short moment when they removed their gear and dirty parts/fingers touched places they shouldn’t.
What to do if you think you’re infected:
- Isolate yourself and warn family members.
- If you haven’t travelled in the last week or two, and there aren’t known coronavirus cases in your area already, it’s likely you have the normal flu.
- Call your doctor.
- If you go to a hospital or other healthcare facility, wear your protective gear and don’t take it off unless a pro tells you to. If you don’t have proper protective gear, use anything possible, such as a bandana or t-shirt over your mouth and nose while wearing sunglasses and winter gloves.
What the next weeks might look like
The range of realistic scenarios laid out below are not predictions. They’re planning tools to help you prepare based on what you might face.
Even in pessimistic models, experts aren’t planning for doomsday. We don’t think a really bad situation where food stocks are low and critical infrastructure is iffy is even worth talking about at this point.
We’ll update this page if expert predictions get worse.
Our baseline scenario — what we feel is most likely to unfold — is modeled after the SARS epidemic, and it assumes that the virus will be contained in first-world countries outside of China. We’ll see some limited spread in the US and Europe, but the impact on the US will mainly be via second order effects (eg. economic supply chain disruptions from China into the US economy).
Outside of America and Europe, countries without robust health systems, like those in sub-saharan Africa, may see uncontrolled spread of the virus. We don’t yet have a clear idea of how that would impact us here in the US, beyond the obvious problem that if the virus becomes endemic in these regions then it may mutate into something much worse.
What to prepare for:
- Foreign travel restrictions to/from Asia.
- Some domestic hoarding and shortages of respirators, Tyvek suits, gloves, and related items.
- Some amount of bad stock market and economic news, as western companies that depend on Asian supply chains fail to meet sales forecasts due to shortages of products or components.
- Rumors, fearmongering, fake news, and disinformation around the spread of the virus and/or techniques for prevention or cure. This happens in all scenarios — it’ll just get more extreme (and wrong) as the underlying story gets worse.
- Xenophobia aimed at those who share an ethnicity with people from heavily affected areas. E.g. targeted groups are barred from places of business, neighborhoods, or some towns.
If the virus begins spreading person-to-person in a sustained way outside of China, especially in the US or Europe, then we’ll see more disruption to daily life.
Our moderate scenario envisions a rising case count in one or more major US cities, possibly to the point that a city has hundreds of cases before serious lockdown measures are taken to halt the spread.
What to prepare for:
- More international travel restrictions that extend well beyond China, including the rest of Asia, Africa, and LatAm.
- Some pressure on US healthcare systems as hoarding of supplies results in shortages for healthcare workers. Health systems in the most affected cities will likely be overloaded.
- Possible disruptions in domestic air travel, due to the following: 1) pilots and airline staff refuse to fly in and out of affected cities, 2) fear and infection control measures like temperature checkpoints make air travel too inconvenient and people stop flying, which translates into lots of canceled flights.
- Cancellations of large gatherings or events (eg. concerts), especially in affected cities.
- Some significant amount of voluntary home quarantine by people whose work and/or lifestyle makes this possible (eg. remote workers, parents who homeschool).
- Isolated examples of voluntary relocation within your own network, as friends, family, or coworkers opt to move out of an affected zone until things calm down.
- Isolated but high-profile instances of xenophobic/racist violence, which causes widespread worries about physical safety among targeted groups.
If the virus goes pandemic and begins spreading uncontrolled domestically, then the big questions that determine how severely our lives are disrupted are the following:
- What is the fatality rate here in the US, with our advanced healthcare system?
- What percentage of non-fatal cases have severe symptoms that require hospitalization, or even just a doctor visit and treatment?
These are big unknowns, so for the sake of planning we’re currently assuming the following general outlines: the fatality rate in the US is some low multiple of seasonal flu’s, so maybe 0.5%, and the percentage of severe cases that require treatment is enough to stress the carrying capacity of hospitals and clinics for a few months until the case count starts to recede.
What to prepare for:
- Long waits at hospitals and clinics, and more deaths from unrelated illnesses because of overall reduced access to healthcare.
- Widespread voluntary lockdown in homes for severely affected regions.
- Dedicated quarantine areas set up by FEMA, the military, the Red Cross, and other groups.
- Serious restrictions on domestic air travel, either from official order or because pilots and crew refuse to show up.
- Widespread school and daycare closures.
- Widespread closures of local businesses.
- Large companies pushing employees into remote work, halting all air travel, and moving meetings to video chat.
- Extended delivery times from carriers like USPS, UPS, and FedEx, as they cope with a combination of increased load (everyone’s ordering from home), reduced staff, and travel restrictions.
- Internet slowdowns in some neighborhoods, since everyone is home and streaming (or remote working) at the same time.
- Sealing off an area of a home or apartment in order to quarantine an ill family member.
- Temporary relocation to a safer area with much lower case count and less chaos and disruption.
- More instances of xenophobic/racist violence, along with some inter-ethnic conflicts in urban areas, as scared people begin to group up and turn on one another.