What To Stock Up On During The Coronavirus Outbreak In The U.S.

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You regularly wash your hands, and you've even got one of those cute little hand sanitizer bottles to clip onto your bag. You're already diligent about making sure you're not touching your face and mouth, especially after long subway rides. Now, you want to know what to stock up on during the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, and how you can best prepare.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared on March 11 that coronavirus "can be characterized as a pandemic," meaning the disease is spreading worldwide. "Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death," WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted on March 11. Making sure you're being cautious while not panicking can simply mean ensuring that your home is prepared. Keeping the communal fridge and medicine cabinet in good shape is also going to be super important for your peace of mind.

Reinvigorating your commitment to shared house cleaning responsibilities can be a big help, says Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a family physician with One Medical. Everyday chores like taking out the trash and cleaning apartment surfaces are going to be even more important than usual, so talking with your roomies is going to be key moving forward. In that way, prepping for the coronavirus spreading really shouldn't be much different than your average Tuesday — clear, direct communication with a healthy dose of empathy can go a long way.

What Supplies Do You Need For A Coronavirus Quarantine?

Having roommates is an advantage when it comes to buying in bulk. Make sure you have enough hand soap, tissues, and regular household cleaners to last at least a couple of weeks, Dr. Bhuyan advises. Other than those basics, she says, you don't really need to get anything special.

You don't have to grab everything off the shelf, but you'll want some extra supplies so you don't have to go to the grocery store as often, especially if you're at high risk for COVID-19 or are living in a city that's been ordered to shelter in place. Infectious disease expert Marguerite Neill told The New York Times on March 19 that you should maintain a 30-day supply of your regular prescription medications during the COVID-19 outbreak in case you need to self-quarantine or isolate. You should also make sure you have pain relievers, cough and cold medicine, and your go-to sick day beverage.

Foods like canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, pasta, and other non-perishables are also going to top your list. "Beans and legumes are a terrific, inexpensive source of plant protein and fiber, while whole wheat pasta and brown rice is rich in fiber and B vitamin," says Alyssa Pike, RD, manager of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC). Pike says it's also a good idea to stock up on steel cut oats or oatmeal packets, canned fruits and veggies, and canned or vacuum-packed tuna or salmon. Don't worry that these items won't give you the nutrition you need just because they're non-perishables. "Research has revealed that frozen fruits and vegetables can have just as many vitamins — and sometimes more — as compared to fresh," she tells Bustle.

Not sure what to do with all those non-perishables? Pike says there's a huge variety of meals you can make with just a few tricks. "Beans like chickpeas can be mixed with salads, pasta, or used in soups and stews. You can actually cook oats and add savory toppings like sun dried tomatoes or other seasonings for a quick, nutrient-rich meal. Frozen strawberries, blueberries, and peaches can be used for smoothies, while spinach, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and green beans can be mixed into pasta dishes."

Pike says that if you're going to be stuck in the house, you might as well have a solid amount of chocolate and caffeine, too. "Having a shelf-stable milk or plant beverage on hand isn’t a bad idea if you don’t want to or cannot venture out to the grocery store."

How Long Does Food Last When You Freeze It?

You can get as much frozen food as you feel like you need until your next grocery trip. "Because frozen foods can keep their quality while being stored in the freezer for a couple months to up to a year in some cases, they may help decrease the amount of food you waste," says Tamika Sims, Ph.D., director of food technology communications at the IFIC. "For best quality, use frozen fruits and vegetables within eight to 12 months."

If I Have High Risk Factors For COVID-19, What Medical Supplies Do I Need?

The CDC says that especially if you're at high risk for COVID-19, you should make sure you have several weeks' worth of medication and other supplies in case you need to self-quarantine. You're going to want to get thinking about your basics in case you wind up not being able to leave the house for a while.

Talk to your doctor or psychiatrist about how you can stock up on your prescription medications. If that's not an option, check to see if your local pharmacy offers prescription delivery services.

Because the CDC says that most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home, make sure you have over-the-counter medical supplies like cough medicine, pain killers, and tissues. You should also make sure that you have plenty of household cleaners and disinfectant supplies to limit the chances that you'll spread the virus to others in your home.

But just like you probably don't need every stitch of toilet paper the store has, the CDC doesn't recommend that you get or wear face masks if you're not showing symptoms and don't work in public health. "Since overall risk is still low, wearing a mask to protect yourself is unnecessary unless you are personally at high risk of contracting the disease," Dr. Bhuyan tells Bustle. "Medical masks are in limited supply nationwide and are reserved for first responders, healthcare providers, and highest-risk patients." So unless you or your roomies fall under those categories, you can skip it.

What Cleaning Supplies Do You Need To Stock Up On During The Coronavirus Outbreak?

If the doldrums of winter have gotten you and your roommates abandoning the tasks laid forth on the chore wheel, now is a great opportunity to recommit.

"Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily using a regular household detergent and water," Dr. Bhuyan advises. "Think: doorknobs, tables, counter-tops, light switches, and cabinet handles." If cleaning those places isn't currently on your roommate chore wheel, add them on. Work together to make sure your household chores are getting done, and hopefully you won't just be fending off infection — you'll also be improving your regular old quality of life.

According to the CDC, soap and water is a great first go-to for washing and cleaning. But for household surfaces that are touched a lot (don't forget places like faucets and doorknobs), the CDC recommends having a solid supply of EPA-registered household disinfectants. "Be sure to follow the instructions on the label to ensure safe and effective use of the product," the CDC's site says. "Many products recommend keeping the surface wet for several minutes to ensure germs are killed. Many also recommend precautions such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product."

A pandemic is never the time to passive-aggressively stay quiet when your roommate doesn't cover their mouth when they sneeze. And since there's not yet a vaccine for the coronavirus, now really isn't the time to avoid an awkward hygiene conversation with your sniffly roomie.

"Good hand hygiene includes washing your hands frequently, coughing or sneezing into tissue and immediately discarding it," says Dr. Bhuyan. For good measure, also throw out your tissue-containing trash often — and wash your hands afterward.

You can frame your conversation as a roommate check-in about household chores during the coronavirus — no one's trying to get sick, so let's make sure we're covering all our bases — rather than, hey you're a terrible roommate, use some darn tissues. Some talking points will be making sure you have abundant hand soap and tissues in the apartment and dragging out the chore wheel to make sure the place stays as clean as possible.


Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, MD, One Medical

Alyssa Pike, RD, Manager of Nutrition Communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC)

Tamika Sims, Ph.D., Director of Food Technology Communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC)

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.

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