How to prepare for a quarantine

policemen wearing masks during 1918 flu epidemic
Public Domain : Policemen in Seattle during the influenza epidemic, December 1918. (Wikimedia Commons)

From what food to buy to how to access your medical records, here are the practical matters to consider before a pandemic strikes.

News of COVID19 (doing business as Coronavirus) is absolutely dominating the headlines, and doing so with a predictable mix of both alarmism and downplaying. I am not here to jump into the mosh pit of the politics of it all – I will leave that for the great gladiators of Twitter. But with the Centers for Disease Control asking families to be ready for the possibility of a “significant disruption to our lives,” it seems that some practical advice would be prudent.

So let’s talk quarantine preparation.

Accounts from China and elsewhere tell of the challenges of being sealed into one’s home. Whether or not such restrictions may land everywhere is yet to be determined. But even if mandatory quarantines are not enacted, there may be other good reasons to hole up for a while.

Even though for many the disease may be mild, it will not be so for everyone, and for that we all need to take responsibility. As Zeynep Tufekci writes in Scientific American about the importance of slowing the transmission of the disease: “…the only path to flattening the curve for COVID-19 is community-wide isolation: the more people stay home, the fewer people will catch the disease. The fewer people who catch the disease, the better hospitals can help those who do.”

She notes, “We should prepare, not because we may feel personally at risk, but so that we can help lessen the risk for everyone. We should prepare not because we are facing a doomsday scenario out of our control, but because we can alter every aspect of this risk we face as a society.”

Whether it comes to mandatory quarantines or self-imposed ones – or even just being helpful by staying out of the way – here are some things to keep in mind.

(And by the way, most of these work for natural disasters too!)

Stock the pantry

Unlike during a natural disaster, chances are your refrigerator will work. But having nonperishable food on hand is important, and in fact, ready.gov recommends securing a two-week supply of water and food before a pandemic. This is important should you be stuck inside, but also because available food supplies may dwindle.

Nonperishable food is also good because it won’t go to waste if it’s not used during dodgy times.

  • What foods to buy

    Think healthy and versatile: Soups, grains, beans, whole grain pasta, jarred tomato sauce, olive oil, oatmeal, trail mix, nuts, nut butters, dried fruit, root vegetables, frozen fruits and vegetables – whatever your favorites are. Buy in bulk when you can. See much more here: Pandemic pantry: a list for eating well with humble ingredients.
  • Set up a mini farm

    Fresh fruit and vegetables could end up being tough to get; if you’ve got a green thumb, you could set up a windowsill farm or start growing some wonderful microgreens.

  • Coffee, people, don't forget the coffee

    If you are anything like me, you need your morning coffee. Imagine being quarantined and not having coffee? Shudder. During hurricane and big blizzard warnings, I always make sure I have instant espresso powder and shelf-stable milk so that I can have coffee without electricity. Since power will likely not be affected, those draconian measures might not be necessary – but do ensure you have the supplies and a way to make coffee. And some shelf-stable milk or nut milk, since refrigerated milk may be in short supply.

  • Have a stash of tea

    When sick, tea is your friend. It is easy to make, soothing, and hydrating. So make sure you have plenty of tea supplies on hand. If you eat honey, it has been proven to be more effective for cough than cough medicine, so make sure you have some of that as well.

  • Watch the vices

    During hurricane supplying, I have a friend who always stocks up on vanilla vodka. Likewise, red wine may be on my hurricane supply list. Alas, no-fun Foreign Policy magazine reminds us that, "Smoking and drinking worsen the chance of pneumonia developing; try to give them up as much as you can."

  • But indulge in the treats

    Maybe we are not supposed to be drinking and smoking all night, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some comfort treats. Chocolate is great. Or go healthier-ish with energy bars (most of which are healthy junk food, but still). If you've got kids in the house, this could be an OK time to get them some generally verboten treats.

Check your medications

Stock up on your favorite herbal remedies, and/or painkillers, cold and cough cures, stomach remedies, prescription medications, et cetera. Even without a quarantine, avoiding the pharmacy will help keep you away from people who may be contagious. Also don’t forget fluids with electrolytes!

Stock up on basic necessities

What things do you buy on a regular basis? Make sure you are good on those things, items like toilet paper, toothpaste, and feminine care products.

Buy soap

If you’re going to hoard something, I vote on bar soap. Handwashing with soap is crucial in preventing illness, so it’s not something you want to run out of in the midst of a pandemic. More here: Everything you need to know about the ‘DIY vaccine’ against illness.

Remember the pets

For pets, be sure to stock up on food, litter, and medications.

Prepare for work

If you are able to work remotely, make sure you and your workplace are all set up with a good messaging platform (like Slack or Skype) as well as a video conferring option, like Zoom.

Set up a therapy alternative

If you have regular therapy sessions, look into setting them up by phone or video conferencing.

Get your health records in order

Pre-pandemic, ready.gov recommends that people get “copies and maintain electronic versions of health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other sources and store them, for personal reference.” Seems like this would be good to have on hand in case you get sick as well. Go here for help getting electronic health records.

Set up online services like banking

If you have resisted doing things like banking and shopping online, you may remain resistant. But having the option to do things like deposit checks and order cat food might come in very handy if you are prevented from leaving home.

Look into online activities

While we usually advocate for getting offline and into real life, in times of isolation, having an accessible social network could come in handy. And I don’t mean Facebook necessarily; but think about chat groups with friends or online games that you can play remotely. Another great idea is to look into educational programs. What better time to get that basket-weaving certificate than while on a pandemic lockdown?

Stock up on the cabin staples

By this I mean books, jigsaw puzzles, board games, Scrabble, craft and drawing supplies, playing cards, et cetera.

Prepare to exercise

If you don’t currently exercise at home, look for ways you can replicate your exercise inside. Get a yoga mat, resistance bands, a stand that turns your normal bike into a stationary one. A new treadmill may be a bit much, but if you have been considering one, now might be the time.

Create a playground

If you’ve got kids at home, make sure you have a place for them to bounce around a bit – they will have some energy to expend. If my teens were still tiny, I’d be searching second-hand stores for tumbling mats and a mini trampoline.

And what about masks?

I will turn this one over to the U.S Surgeon General, who says:

And here's an update (April 2, 2020): The recommendations for masks looks to be changing; check with the CDC or other federal health agency for the latest.

Our list is by no means inclusive; and we will add to it as more things come up. Hopefully this will all be in vain and the downplayers can take a victory lap. But as the CDC said, "It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when" ... so it certainly can't hurt to be prepared.

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How to prepare for a quarantine
From what food to buy to how to access your medical records, here are the practical matters to consider before a pandemic strikes.

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