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8 Ways to Prepare for the Next Pandemic (Coronavirus Outbreak)


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Pandemics have been part of human history for thousands of years.

Time reports that microbes evolve about 40 million times faster than humans. Eventually, one tiny virus evolves in a way that spreads easily and completely devastates our immune systems. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of how a virus can quickly ravage communities on a global scale.

Are you and your family prepared to stay home for weeks at a time, venturing out only when absolutely necessary, if state or local authorities implement another stay-at-home order? Do you have ways to keep your children engaged and learning if schools close again? Are you prepared for future surges of COVID-19?

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many people to ramp up their emergency preparedness and start learning how to be more self-sufficient. And you can be one of them.

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Pandemic preparedness is similar to preparedness for other emergencies, like a long-term power outage or natural disaster. But pandemics do have some unique qualities, so there are some key differences.

What Is a Pandemic?

The word “pandemic” stems from the Greek words “pan” (meaning “all”) and “demos” (meaning “people”). Thus, a pandemic is a widespread infectious disease, bacteria, or virus that sickens a multitude of people worldwide. When a disease or illness is isolated to one region or country, it’s called an “epidemic.”

Throughout history, humans have experienced multiple pandemics, some of which have killed tens of millions of people. These pandemics include cholera, smallpox, measles, yellow fever, tuberculosis, malaria, and Ebola.

One of the most devastating and well-known pandemics is the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, which swept across Europe and Asia during the mid-1300s. It’s estimated that the plague killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population, or 75 million to 200 million people.

The influenza virus has been the cause of many pandemics. In 1918, a strain of the virus called the “Spanish flu” swept the world. The CDC estimates that this pandemic influenza sickened up to one-third of the world’s population (around 500 million people) and killed more than 50 million people. Some died within hours of symptom onset.

The 2019 – 2021 Coronavirus Outbreak

Abraham Lincoln Five Dollar Bill Mask Covid Financial Crisis Quarantine

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause a range of illnesses, from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The coronavirus family is zoonotic, which means they can spread between animals and humans through close contact. The CDC reports that they also spread in similar ways. Infected people transmit MERS and SARS through the air by coughing or sneezing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) first learned of the 2019 to 2021 outbreak of novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, on Dec. 31, 2019. Early in the pandemic, experts believed the COVID-19 virus originated in an animal at the Hunan Seafood Market, a live-animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. However, a Lancet-published January 2020 summary of 2019 data on the first patients diagnosed with the then-unnamed pathogen showed that some early cases of COVID-19 had no connection to the Huanan Seafood Market.

Kristian Andersen, an evolutionary biologist at the Scripps Research Institute who has attempted to analyze the origin of the virus that causes COVID-19, tells Science magazine the market may have simply been a superspreader event, with someone picking up the virus elsewhere and infecting the people they encountered at the market.

Scientists are still trying to discover the true origin of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, also known as SARS-CoV-2. According to a September 2020 Science article, evidence now shows the virus originated in bats and then jumped to humans. But how and when this happened remains unknown.

Nature reports that an international team of doctors and scientists are leading a WHO team to answer these questions. The search will begin in Wuhan but will spread to other parts of China — and perhaps the world. And it could take years to find the virus’s origins.

But this isn’t the first time the true origins of a disease remained unknown until much later. MERS was initially thought to have originated in Saudi Arabia. Later studies linked it to a previously unexplained outbreak in Jordan.

How the Novel Coronavirus Spreads

The CDC believes the COVID-19 virus spreads easily through close contact (typically within 6 feet, though infection at greater distances is possible, depending on the circumstances) with infected people. When an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes, they send respiratory droplets into the air. If you inhale these droplets, you can become infected.

It’s also possible the virus can spread when you touch a surface or object with the virus on it and then touch your mouth, eyes, or nose. Transmission is similar to other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, and the CDC believes COVID-19 is more contagious than the influenza virus, especially among certain age groups and populations.

September 2020 preliminary research published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases shows the COVID-19 virus can also transmit through aerosols. Aerosols are microscopic particles 0.005 millimeters, or one-tenth the width of a human hair, in size. Particles larger than 0.005 millimeters are considered droplets.

According to the study’s findings, aerosols carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus can stay suspended in the air for up to 16 hours, potentially retaining their ability to infect others during that time. However, researchers stress that this is a preliminary study, and further research needs to occur before scientists make definitive conclusions.

A September 2020 review published in the journal Environmental Research came to a similar conclusion — that aerosol transmission might play a significant role in the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. These researchers also stress that additional studies are necessary to validate their findings.

A November 2020 study published in the journal Frontiers of Public Health found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can adhere to pollution particles, which means higher pollution rates can increase infection rates.

If there’s one spot of good news, it’s that the COVID-19 virus has dramatically sped up research on how viruses travel through the air. Linsey Marr, a research scientist at Virginia Tech who has spent years studying virus transmission, told NPR in December 2020 that in the past year, scientists had come further in understanding airborne transmission than they have in decades.

And scientists are continuing to study how the COVID-19 virus travels through the air to better understand how it spreads between people.

However, more notable than the specific means of transmission is that you can even transmit the virus if you show no symptoms (asymptomatic transmission) and before symptoms manifest (presymptomatic transmission). That makes the virus especially dangerous because people who don’t realize they’re infected might not take the necessary precautions to avoid contact with others, thereby spreading the virus even faster.

A 2020 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine and an in-depth analysis by the CDC note that we still don’t know the full extent of asymptomatic transmission in the U.S. The CDC estimates that 40% of infections are spread by asymptomatic individuals and 50% by presymptomatic individuals. And a January 2021 study published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) estimated that asymptomatic individuals are responsible for over 50% of all infections.

Coronavirus Symptoms

COVID-19 presents a serious global public health threat and can be fatal.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 symptoms can manifest between two and 14 days after initial exposure. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The CDC reports that groups at higher risk of developing severe complications from the novel coronavirus include:

  • People ages 65 and older
  • People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • Anyone who is immunocompromised, such as those undergoing cancer treatment and bone marrow or organ transplant recipients, those with poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and those with prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune-weakening medications
  • Obese or severely obese individuals
  • People who smoke
  • Pregnant people
  • People with Down syndrome

You may also be at higher risk if you have certain preexisting medical conditions, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Liver disease
  • Serious heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary heart disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (damaged or scarred lung tissue)
  • Lung disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Moderate to severe asthma
  • Neurological conditions, such as dementia
  • Thalassemia
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Hypertension, or high blood pressure

The observed case-fatality rate for COVID-19 differs dramatically between countries. According to an ongoing analysis conducted by Johns Hopkins University, as of March 2021, mortality rates in the top 10 most affected countries are as follows:

  • Mexico: 9.0%
  • Bulgaria: 4.0%
  • Peru: 3.5%
  • South Africa: 3.4%
  • Hungary: 3.3%
  • Italy: 3.2%
  • United Kingdom: 2.9%
  • Germany: 2.8%
  • Indonesia: 2.7%
  • Colombia: 2.5%

As of March 2021, the mortality rate in the U.S. is 1.8%. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects there will be 598,623 deaths by July 1, 2021. (Note: This number can change over time, so click the link for the most accurate information as of today’s date.)

How to Protect Yourself From Coronavirus

The WHO and CDC recommend taking simple steps to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy during the outbreak.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds whenever you return home, after coughing or sneezing, after caring for the sick, before eating, after using the toilet, and after handling animals or animal waste.
  • If you cannot wash your hands, use alcohol or an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • When coughing or sneezing, use the crook of your arm to cover your mouth or use a tissue. Throw the tissue in a closed bin, and then wash your hands.
  • Stay home when you’re sick, and don’t go out until you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. The CDC believes the virus spreads most effectively within 6 feet, so keep at least that much distance between yourself and other people, whether they’re showing symptoms or not. The WHO notes that your risk is higher in crowded spaces where there is little ventilation, such as restaurants, fitness classes, choir practice, nightclubs, offices, and places of worship.
  • The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering whenever you’re in a place where social distancing guidelines are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores or pharmacies. The CDC recommends wearing a mask with two to three layers or masks with an inner filter pocket. On Jan. 25, 2021, Dr. Anthony Fauci, immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told TODAY that wearing two masks makes sense with the new COVID-19 variants circulating.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Follow the same guidelines for preventing other illnesses, such as the common cold and seasonal flu virus.

Note that the current pandemic has caused dozens of travel restrictions worldwide, and it’s crucial you take steps to stay safe while traveling. The CDC says travel increases your risk of contracting and spreading the virus. Taking steps like wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and lessening your proximity to others by traveling in a car versus a plane or train can help lower your risk.

Keep in mind that as of Jan. 21, 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring masks on all forms of public transportation, on national and international flights, and when inside public transportation hubs.

Pro tip: If you’re planning to travel over the next few months, look into an insurance policy through Allianz Travel Insurance.

The Economic Impact of Coronavirus

The world has taken unprecedented steps to contain the outbreak, with most countries implementing stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines to slow the spread. In the first quarter of 2020, entire sectors of the United States’ economy — including retail, tourism, and restaurants — closed entirely.

This forced shutdown led to millions of Americans being furloughed or losing their jobs entirely. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as of March 2021, the unemployment rate was 6.2%. While the economy is slowly improving, 10 million people (about the population of the state of Georgia) are still out of work.

Although these numbers are sobering, actual unemployment numbers are likely much higher than the official BLS unemployment rate. Once you factor in underemployed workers and those who haven’t searched for a job in four weeks or longer, the BLS reports that the unemployment rate is 13.6%.

Many people returned to their previous job when states reopened their economies. However, many jobs have disappeared entirely. According to a July 2020 analysis of payroll data by payroll processing firm Gusto, only 37% of workers furloughed in March and April of 2020 have returned to their jobs.

Economist Nouriel Roubini, who predicted the collapse of the housing market in 2006, said in an interview with New York Magazine that the U.S. could experience a decade-long depression instead of the slow but steady rebound many others are predicting.

A prolonged economic retraction is more likely if the U.S. experiences additional surges of the pandemic. However, the good news is that nationwide, cases have declined from their peaks in January 2021. The CDC reports that the seven-day moving average of daily cases as of March 2, 2021, was 78% lower than the highest daily total of new cases on January 11 (249,378).

While the recent declines in new COVID-19 cases is reason for hope, many experts feel this is just a temporary reprieve. Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine told CNN he believes the United States is “in the eye of a hurricane,” thanks in large part to new variants of the virus that are beginning to circulate.

Lisa Maragakis, a specialist in infectious disease at Johns Hopkins University, writes that human behavior plays a significant role in the likelihood of a second wave. People are tired of staying home and taking preventative measures like wearing masks and washing hands. And cellphone data show that many people are no longer social distancing. That causes cases to rise.

Maragakis notes that medical experts also study past pandemics to see what COVID-19 might do in the coming months. And during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic, cases were mild in the spring and increased in the fall and winter.

Finding Trustworthy Information on the Pandemic

There is plenty of misinformation online. False information quickly fuels panic and can lead to fear and hoarding behaviors, such as stockpiling face masks and food, that do more harm than good. At its worst, hoarding can lead to shortages that put medical staff at risk, such as a shortage of medical supplies.

The best way to get trustworthy, up-to-date information on the current outbreak is through the WHO’s situation reports, which they publish weekly. Additionally, the WHO has a “myth busters” page where it uses scientific information to debunk ongoing myths and hoaxes about the virus.

You can also get reliable information about the outbreak occurring in the U.S. from the CDC.

How to Prepare for a Pandemic

Boy Staying At Home With Mask Teddy Bear Quarantine Pandemic

According to Harvard Business Review, current models suggest that a pandemic might sweep the globe in waves, with each lasting from a few weeks up to three months. That means you and your family should be prepared to stay home as much as possible. Avoiding unnecessary trips and errands helps reduce your risk of contracting the virus, as you’re not interacting with as many people.

Preparing for a pandemic is an integral part of disaster planning and requires many of the same steps. However, there are some additional precautions you need to take to keep your family safe.

Pro tip: If you don’t currently have health insurance, you can sign up for a short-term health plan through eHealthInsurance to ensure you’re protected financially if someone in your family gets sick.

1. Be Prepared to Treat at Home

It’s always best to be prepared to treat sudden illnesses or injuries yourself. But during a pandemic, several factors can make such an ability vital.

Lack of Medical Care

Health care workers face an ethical and moral dilemma during a pandemic. Do they report to work and help care for the sick, putting themselves (and their families) at risk for infection, or do they stay home and help ensure their loved ones don’t fall ill?

In a 2006 survey conducted by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, almost half of health care workers admitted they would stay home during a pandemic. Another 2006 study published in the journal BMC Public Health found that 28% of health care professionals agree it would be acceptable to abandon their workplace during a pandemic to protect themselves and their families.

Even if only 10% of health care professionals opt to stay home during a pandemic — and another 10% fall ill themselves — that’s still a conservative 20% reduction in the medical labor force at a time when hospitals and doctor’s offices will be flooded with patients. There’s a chance some patients won’t be able to see a doctor at all.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. hard in the spring of 2020, many doctors and nurses found themselves without personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gowns, to treat patients safely. Many news outlets, including NBC News and The Atlantic, told stories of doctors and nurses who resigned over their lack of PPE and fear they would become infected and bring the virus home to their families.

And when there are fewer doctors to treat the virus and other emergencies, such as heart attacks or car accidents, everyone suffers.

Medication Shortages

Certain medications can become hard to obtain as the pandemic continues to worsen. In an April 2020 commentary published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, doctors Esther K. Choo and S. Vincent Rajkumar wrote about the shortage of sedatives and antimicrobials.

A November 2020 article published on the American Medical Association website also points to an early 2020 spike in shortages of drugs like analgesics, sedatives, and paralytics because medical staff need them to put COVID-19 patients on ventilators. In fact, an October 2020 report by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota found that 72% of critical drugs needed for COVID-19 patients are in short supply.

Many of these drugs are also essential for treating conditions like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, bacterial infections, septic shock, and heartburn.

Medication shortages during widespread illness are not unique. During the 2017 – 2018 flu season, which was only slightly more severe than usual, the Los Angeles Times reported that pharmacies in California had medicine shortages.

Supply Disruptions

Sporadic supply disruptions became a reality during the early months of the pandemic. For example, to save on storage space and costs, most hospitals and pharmacies only keep enough medicine on hand for a few days, depending on daily deliveries to keep their supplies stocked.

Additionally, many lifesaving medicines are now made in Asia. If the pandemic continues to worsen, there’s a good chance deliveries will be interrupted or halted entirely. Stores are also likely to sell out of over-the-counter medication quickly.

We have already faced the reality of shortages in many areas, especially with hand sanitizer and bleach, both of which are essential to keeping viruses and bacteria at bay. Stocking up now or when these products become available means already having what you need when you need it. You’ll be less likely to have to leave the house for supplies, potentially exposing yourself to the virus.

In addition to hand sanitizer and bleach for keeping your hands and surfaces pathogen-free, stock up on over-the-counter medication like:

Keeping your medicine cabinet stocked with essential over-the-counter medication can be expensive, especially when you’re trying to buy it in large quantities. To save money, look for sales and coupons and only buy what you need when it’s on discount. Rotate your medication by checking expiration dates every few months so it doesn’t expire.

You should also have a well-stocked first-aid kit in your home and know how to administer emergency first aid like stopping traumatic bleeding and administering CPR.

Remember, during a pandemic, hospitals will be overcrowded, and an ambulance might not be available to take you or your family member to a hospital should you break a leg or have a heart attack, so you should be prepared to deal with these emergencies yourself. Knowing first aid is an essential survival skill and could save the life of someone in your family.

2. Have Extra Face Masks

It’s also crucial to have a few masks on hand to protect yourself and others if you do have to go out in public. During public health emergencies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) typically recommends using an N95 respirator, which you can purchase on Amazon when they aren’t being reserved for medical professionals. The N95 designation means the respirator blocks 95% of tiny (0.3-micron) airborne particles.

Another option is to purchase a KN95 mask, which like the N95, blocks 95% of airborne particles. KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of N95 masks, so they’re not regulated by the U.S. government.

According to the FDA, while KN95s are not necessarily approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), they may provide similar protection. And many KN95 manufacturers have taken the extraordinary step of getting their products tested by the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL), a division of NIOSH. Confirmed test results — even positive ones — don’t imply approval. But they can give consumers peace of mind.

Before you purchase KN95 masks, check the CDC’s NPPTL emergency respirator assessments page to see the company’s test results. There’s also a list of companies whose devices have tested well but are known to have been counterfeited at some point. Before buying from those companies, carefully check the product page for evidence it may not be from the manufacturer identified. And check the product when you receive it to ensure it bears the company’s logo or other markings and appears to be the product pictured.

But due to shortages of N95s, many medical professionals have also taken to using KN95s. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the availability of medical-grade face masks. When shortages occur, it’s vital we reserve medical-grade equipment for health care workers. They work in close quarters with numerous infected people and are at increased risk of inhaling high viral loads and becoming infected themselves. Because of that, they need the highly effective N95 equipment (or even the similarly tested KN95 equipment).

So be prepared to make your own face mask or purchase a non-medical-grade cloth mask if they’re in short supply. But don’t worry. Not being N95 doesn’t mean cloth masks are ineffective.

According to an October 2020 study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Disease, cloth masks provide reasonable protection against COVID-19. Multilayered masks made with high-thread-count, water-resistant fabrics offer the most benefit.

A May 2020 study published in the journal ACS Nano found that hybrid fabrics, such as cotton-silk or cotton-flannel, filtered more than 80% of particles less than 300 nanometers (nm) and more than 90% of particles that were greater than 300 nm. For reference, the COVID-19 virus ranges in size from 60 nm to 140 nm in diameter.

And a September 2020 study published in the journal Pathogens researched the efficacy of several different cloth masks. Researchers found that the best-performing cloth mask used a vacuum cleaner bag or a dried baby wipe as a filter. When these filters were in place, the mask blocked 97.6% to 99.5% of aerosols, depending on size.

A June 2020 Lancet meta-analysis of 172 studies found that mask-wearing can significantly reduce virus transmission. Given the high transmission rate from symptomless individuals, wearing a mask even when you don’t feel sick can prevent you from spreading the virus to people around you.

Evidence also suggests you might get less sick if you contract the virus while wearing a mask. A July 2020 systematic review in the Journal of General Internal Medicine postulates that because cloth masks filter out the majority of the virus, wearers inhale a smaller viral load, which makes subsequent illness less severe or even leads to asymptomatic cases.

And on Nov. 10, 2020, the CDC updated its guidance on masks. Evidence now shows that wearing a mask provides personal protection from the COVID-19 virus in addition to protecting those around you.

Note that new government recommendations (and in some places, mandates) to wear a mask in public have caused many people to turn to neck gaiters as a mask alternative.

However, a September 2020 study published in the journal Science Advances found that neck gaiters might be worse than not wearing a mask at all. Researchers concluded that the neck gaiters’ stretchy material disperses larger respiratory droplets, making them smaller and causing them to hang in the air for longer periods.

That said, a November 2020 study published in the journal Aerosol Science and Technology found that neck gaiters stop 60% of cough aerosols when they are double-folded.

As the new COVID-19 saw goes, the best face mask to buy is the one you’re actually going to wear. Of course, the reality is a bit more complicated. When it comes to choosing a face mask, opt for a design with multiple layers and plenty of adjustability for a better fit. The more layers a face mask has, the more protection it will provide. For example, Herschel’s classic cloth face mask has three layers and adjustable ear loops for a closer fit.

And a good fit is essential for adequate protection. A well-fitted mask should fit snugly around your face, with no gaps around your nose, the sides, or under your chin. If you wear glasses, using a mask with a nose wire can reduce the likelihood of your glasses fogging and increase comfort.

You must also purchase child-size masks (which you can also find on Amazon) to protect your children.

Another option is to stock up on surgical masks, which as of February 2021 are still in stock at many retailers and on Amazon. According to an April 2020 analysis conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, 3M surgical masks remove 75% of respiratory droplet particles. According to a January 2021 commentary in the medical journal Cell, wearing a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask can provide maximum protection when you don’t have access to medical-grade N95 masks.

3. Plan for a Sick Room

The CDC recommends that during any pandemic, the sick should stay in a dedicated sick room and use a dedicated bathroom no one else will use.

Start thinking now about which room in your home would work best as a sick room. If the room doesn’t have a door, have an extra plastic shower curtain on hand to partition it from the rest of the house. If someone does fall ill, quarantine them to the sick room and clean the room daily with bleach while wearing a mask and gloves.

You and everyone in your household should also wear face masks indoors if you suspect infection or if someone in your family falls ill. A May 2020 study published in BMJ Global Health looked at households in Beijing where one family member got sick with COVID-19. Families who wore masks indoors as a precaution before a household member showed symptoms of infection reduced transmission by 79%.

4. Stock Up on Food, Water, & Household Supplies

The Department of Homeland Security recommends that families have at least several days’ or weeks’ worth of water and food during a pandemic. Supplies for a month or more are even better. Typically, you need 1 gallon of water per person per day for drinking and hygiene.

Building a long-term food storage pantry means you won’t have to put yourself at risk of infection by going to the store, and you’ll be insulated from the food shortages that could very well occur if supply chains are disrupted.

For example, food and supply shortages became a sobering reality during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time in recent history, Americans faced bare shelves at the grocery store. Staples such as meat, milk, paper products, dried rice and beans, and canned food were hard to obtain for the first several months.

Even as the supply chain regains its footing, sporadic shortages in some regions of the country are still common. Some specific products — such as toilet paper, meat, and dried beans — continue to be scarce in some parts of the country.

With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, stockpiling has returned to some grocery stores. According to an October 2020 survey conducted by data analytics firm Inmar, 57% of shoppers are considering replenishing the stockpile of food and goods they compiled when the pandemic began. And some local news outlets are already warning of empty shelves and stockpiling due to possible statewide shutdowns.

Inflation is also a factor to consider. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) December 2020 Food Price Outlook, at-home food prices (foods purchased at grocery stores) were 3.6% higher than they were in November 2019. The USDA estimates that food prices will continue to increase in 2021, rising 1% to 2%.

In August 2020, consumer data science firm Dunnhumby released a global study on the impact of COVID-19 on customer behavior and attitudes. According to their research, 48% of those polled say they are spending more money on food, while 42% have noticed the rise in food prices since the pandemic began.

In light of all this, it’s smart to have a well-stocked food pantry. So, what should you stock up on? Focus on shelf-stable foods your family already eats and enjoys. These might include:

  • Rice
  • Dried beans, lentils, or peas
  • Protein bars, granola bars, or fruit bars
  • Canned soups, fruit, and vegetables
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate
  • Powdered drink mixes
  • Nuts and dried fruits
  • Beef jerky
  • Pasta
  • Instant soup mixes
  • Flour
  • Baking essentials (such as baking soda, salt, and yeast)
  • Sugar
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Dried milk
  • Evaporated or condensed milk
  • Trail mix
  • Applesauce
  • Comfort food (such as cookies, candy bars, and chocolate)
  • Oils (such as olive oil, vegetable oil, and coconut oil)
  • Crackers
  • Oats
  • Pancake mix
  • Cereal (including hot cereals like Cream of Wheat)
  • Chicken, beef, and vegetable bouillon cubes
  • Liquid seasonings (such as soy sauce, vinegar, and Sriracha)
  • Liquid sweeteners (such as honey, maple syrup, chocolate syrup, and agave syrup)
  • Spices (such as salt, onion flakes, cinnamon, and ginger)
  • Packaged foods (including macaroni and cheese and instant potatoes)
  • Canned meats (such as tuna, sardines, oysters, chicken, turkey, pork, sausage, and Spam)
  • Formula or baby food (for very young children)

As you stock up on food, the Department of Homeland Security asks that you avoid buying WIC-labeled products so the people who depend on this program have access to these foods.

You should also stock up on the supplies you need to stay healthy at home. These include:

  • Hand soap and sanitizer
  • Bleach or other surface cleaners
  • Toilet paper
  • Kleenex
  • Prescription medication
  • Fluids with electrolytes (like Gatorade and Pedialyte)
  • Garbage bags (for medical waste disposal)
  • Plastic gloves
  • Diapers (for very small children)

Again, it can get expensive if you hit the stores to stock up on all these items at once. Instead, purchase items slowly, over time, and only when they go on sale or you have a coupon. Don’t forget to stock up on food and supplies for your pets too.

Although the chance of an outage is remote, it is possible utilities and power supplies might be interrupted or stop entirely if a substantial portion of the working population falls ill or must stay home to care for sick family members. It’s also important to realize that natural disasters don’t stop just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Preparing for hurricanes, wildfires, and winter storms is even more necessary to prevent twin emergencies. Anything you can do to lessen your dependence on others means that those first responders are free to help people in greater need.

Have enough supplies to survive without power for several days or weeks, including flashlights, lanterns, a hand-crank or solar-powered radio, and the ability to cook food without electricity, such as with a solar oven cooker. Solar ovens can cost a few hundred dollars. However, you can easily make a serviceable one at home. You can find a list of various DIY solar cooker designs at Solar Cookers International.

Pro tip: Make sure you download the Ibotta app before shopping for food and supplies. You will receive a $20 welcome bonus just for downloading and using the app.

5. Make an Emergency Plan

In March and April of 2020, schools around the country closed for the rest of the school year to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Under the CDC’s current guidelines, schools may be forced to suspend in-person learning during the 2020 – 2021 school year to halt the virus’s spread. And many districts around the country have already had to do just that.

The rate of transmission in children is skyrocketing. According to a Jan. 7, 2021, update from the American Academy of Pediatrics, child cases were up 15% in the previous two weeks alone. Between Dec. 31, 2020, and Jan. 7, 2021, 171,079 children tested positive for the virus.

The 2020 – 2021 school year already looks dramatically different than usual. Many kids attend class in person just two or three days per week and do distance learning at home on other days. Other practices, such as staggering arrivals and departures for all children or abruptly shifting education from in-person to virtual in response to infection, wreak further havoc on parents’ work schedules.

How would you care for your children if your children were home but still had to report for work? Under what circumstances would you stop going to work to protect yourself and your family from illness? Do you have enough in savings to stop working for a while if necessary?

It’s crucial you consider these questions before the pandemic forces the issue. With a plan in place, you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do if the situation worsens.

Start thinking now about who might be able to care for your children during such an emergency. Consider other family members, friends, neighbors, or community members. Talk to these people beforehand to find out how you could help each other during a pandemic.

Next, find out how your company might handle work absences if your state issues a new stay-at-home order. Can you telecommute? If not, what would you need to get started?

Also, make a list of community organizations you can contact to receive help in the form of information, medical assistance, food, and supplies. A good place to start is the Red Cross. You can also talk to local officials about how they would distribute emergency assistance in your community.

Last, make sure you have enough in your emergency fund to survive for a while without a regular income.

Pro tip: If you don’t currently have an emergency fund, start now. Ideally, you want to have enough money to cover several months’ worth of expenses, but start at $1,000. Place these funds in a high-yield savings account at CIT Bank. That way, you’ll have easy access to the money if needed.

6. Explore Natural & Herbal Medicines

While it’s essential you have over-the-counter medications to treat symptoms, it can also help to have an herbal medicine kit in your home to complement commercial medicine. Some herbal remedies are effective frugal flu treatments and can even be more effective than store-bought medication.

For example, a 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics examined the use of honey to treat nocturnal coughs in children. It found that the groups taking honey treatments fared significantly better than those taking the placebo.

Natural remedies like elderberries effectively prevent illness and lessen the severity and length of illness once it starts. A 2009 in vitro study published in Phytochemistry found that elderberry flavonoids bind to the H1N1 influenza virus and block the virus from infecting host cells. Additionally, a 2019 meta-analysis published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that elderberry substantially reduced upper-respiratory symptoms.

You can find elderberry syrup on Amazon or in local drugstores, but keep in mind that even during normal times, it frequently sells out when flu season hits.

Some herbs are also great natural remedies to keep your kids healthy during a prolonged illness.

7. Prepare to Help Your Family Adjust

It’s essential you think about how you might help your family adjust if the pandemic continues to worsen and daily routines are disrupted again. Children might experience stress, depression, or anxiety if schools are forced to close and they must transition to all-virtual learning.

NPR correspondent Megan Pauly spoke with Bob Nickles, a licensed mental health professional, on what families can do to help children adjust to the “new normal” of coronavirus. One strategy is to stick with the routines you can control. For example, continue with a family ritual of eating dinner together or reading bedtime stories together.

Nickles also says assigning chores or handing out jobs can also make children feel valued and important because they’re helping the family.

Other strategies, like starting a family game night or starting an impromptu family band, might relieve some of the boredom from being stuck at home and not seeing their friends as often as they’d like.

If your kids are still protesting wearing a mask, then try this tip Iowa math teacher Leland Shipper shared on Today. Shipper suggests parents only allow screen time if their child is wearing a mask. This trick can help your children get used to having a mask on for extended periods.

8. Get & Stay Healthy

Getting and staying healthy is critical to reducing your risk of severe complications from any virus, including COVID-19. There are plenty of ways to eat healthy on a budget, including eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat.

One element of a healthy lifestyle is reducing inflammation. Scientists are just beginning to learn how COVID-19 affects our body’s inflammatory response. A September 2020 article published in Science reports that doctors now fear COVID-19 might cause cardiac inflammation, called myocarditis, in some patients, even those who experienced mild to moderate symptoms.

According to CNBC, the private-sector biotech company BioAegis Therapeutics is experimenting with a naturally produced protein, plasma gelsolin, and how it might reduce the inflammatory effects of COVID-19.

According to a 2017 study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, moderate daily exercise can help reduce inflammation in your body. In an interview with UC San Diego Health senior author Suzi Hong of the department of psychiatry and department of family medicine and public health at UC San Diego School of Medicine says that this includes fast walking.

Going on daily walks is an easy and low-cost way to stay healthy and give your body the best chance of fighting whatever virus is going around. You can also walk up and down steps and do many other exercises at home to build muscle mass.

Final Word

The current pandemic has been a frightening and stressful experience for everyone, and no one wants to think of it getting worse or lasting well into 2021 or beyond. However, preparing to weather this pandemic long-term is one way to alleviate some of these fears.

If you can take care of your family at home for a significant period, you won’t have to worry about going to the store and exposing yourself to the virus. You also won’t have to worry as much about packed waiting rooms at the doctor’s office or hospital. Being more self-sufficient can also help alleviate stress since you know you’re less likely to be exposed or dependent on others.

Thankfully, several coronavirus vaccines have been developed, and health agencies are administering vaccinations around the country. The COVID-19 vaccine will save many lives and, hopefully, within the next year, we can begin to regain some sense of normalcy. However, many health officials and epidemiologists agree that there will be another pandemic, so it’s definitely worth the time, money, and energy to stay prepared for the next health crisis.


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Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.