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How to prepare for coronavirus in the United States: 10 questions answered

Iran's health ministry has confirmed 43 cases of the novel coronavirus, including eight deaths. Schools, theaters and sporting events have been shut down over fears the virus will spread. Journalist Ramin Mostaghim reports from Tehran, Iran.

Posted: Feb 27, 2020 8:59 AM


Officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that the novel coronavirus will spread in US communities, and a case announced on Wednesday might be the country's first instance of it.

"Our aggressive containment strategy here in the United States has been working and is responsible for the low levels of cases that we have so far. However we do expect more cases, and this is a good time to prepare," Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC's principal deputy director, said during a press conference at the White House on Wednesday.

"The coronavirus that we're talking about is a respiratory virus. It's spread in a similar way to the common cold or to influenza. It's spread through coughs and sneezes," she said. "So those everyday sensible measures that we tell people to do every year with the flu are important here -- covering your cough, staying home when you're sick and washing your hands."

No one knows what community spread could look like in the United States -- it could be mild or very severe -- and the World Health Organization has noted that, while the deadly coronavirus outbreak has the potential to develop into a pandemic, it's not quite there yet.

In case of an outbreak that spreads within US communities, what can you do to protect yourself and your family? Here are 10 questions answered about how to prepare.

1. What should I buy?

The US Department of Homeland Security recommends on its website that, before a pandemic strikes, to store a two-week supply of water and food, as well as over-the-counter medications you tend to take.

"Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins," according to the department.

"In general for emergency preparedness, we encourage all households to have an emergency response kit," which could be used during any public health or severe weather emergency, said Jennifer Kertanis, president-elect of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

2. Are there places I should avoid?

The CDC has released travel warnings and alerts in relation to coronavirus disease.

As of Wednesday, the CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to mainland China and South Korea. Travel alerts for older people and people with chronic medical conditions to consider postponing nonessential travel have been issued for Italy, Iran and Japan.

Regarding whether there are places to avoid in your community, such as the grocery store or library, health officials recommend to simply be mindful of avoiding close contact with people who may be sick.

Also, if you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

3. Should I keep my child home from school?

If your child is sick, it's important to keep them home from school in order to protect other students from getting sick -- but if your child is not sick, monitor local school closings.

Widespread transmission of the novel coronavirus could lead to schools, child care centers and other places for mass gatherings experiencing more absenteeism and even shutting down if that precaution is needed, according to the CDC.

Closing schools or canceling gatherings in response to public health concerns are common actions that school districts have had to make before throughout history.

"Even in my own state of Maine, schools have in recent weeks and months had to close for influenza. During the H1N1 crisis many years ago, schools were also closed then," said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and a member of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

For the coronavirus, however, "one of the questions that is scientifically out there that will govern or drive how school closures are calculated is to what extent children themselves carry or transmit this virus," he said. "Scientifically we need to have a better understanding of to what extent children are carriers or transmitters of the virus -- the point of that is, it's premature right now based on the science to make uniform claims about what school closures may look like."

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told her family that while they are not at risk right now, they should plan for what to do if their lives were significantly impacted, she said during a press briefing on Tuesday. She also said she called the children's school district about what would happen if schools need to close.

Messonnier said her agency wants people to understand their lives might be disrupted.

"We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad," she said, adding that while CDC officials hope the spread won't be severe in the United States, they are planning as if it could be.

4. Should I work from home?

Community spread of the virus could be reasonably mild or very severe -- but Americans should still talk to employers about whether working online will be an option if needed, according to the CDC.

The CDC has even posted guidance on its website to help businesses and employers plan for possibly including telework or flexible sick leave policies into operations if there is significant spread of coronavirus across the country.

Sick employees shouldn't return to work until their temperature has stayed below 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) for at least 24 hours, without the help of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicine, the CDC said.

Yet "what community spread looks like in the United States will vary greatly community by community. It might vary by time, it might vary by place," Shah said.

"Although we believe, according to the US CDC, that community spread is likely in the United States, the magnitude of that possibility as well as how it actually plays out, that will vary greatly between Washington state, Florida, Maine and any other state," he said, adding because of that, "there will not be a one-size-fits-all approach here."

5. What should I do about my medications?

Before a pandemic, it is recommended to periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure you have a continuous supply in your home if needed, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.

Also, it could be helpful to get copies and maintain electronic versions of health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other sources and store them, for personal reference.

6. What if I have to go to the doctor?

Talk to your doctor's office about telehealth options.

Your doctor likely offers the option to conduct an appointment over the phone or via video conferencing, and if not, your doctor could recommend a physician who does.

7. Do I need a facemask?

The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear facemasks.

Rather, the CDC recommends to only wear a mask if a health care professional recommends it. A facemask should be used by people who have the novel coronavirus and are showing symptoms -- that is in order to protect others from the risk of getting infected.

Overall, the use of facemasks remains crucial for health workers and people who are caring for someone infected with the virus in close settings, such as a health care facility or at home, according to the CDC.

While the CDC does not recommend N95 respirator masks for the general public, it does recommend them for health care workers. But certain types of facial hair can prevent respirators from working effectively. So, the CDC created an infographic showing which styles of facial hair are riskier than others.

8. If I don't need a mask, how can I avoid getting sick?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease, so the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus, according to the CDC.

The CDC also notes that there are several things to do to prevent the spread of any respiratory diseases:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throw the tissue away
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water

The proper way to wash your hands is for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating, after going to the bathroom and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

In general, the public should do "what you do every cold and flu season," said Dr. John Wiesman, the health secretary in Washington state -- where the first US case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed.

Since it is currently flu season in the United States, the CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine -- it's not too late. Remember to also practice other good health habits too, such as managing stress and drinking plenty of fluids.

"Exercise, eat a good diet, get a lot of sleep, wash your hands, do everything you can to stay healthy right now," Shah, of Maine CDC, said.

9. What if someone in my household has the virus -- or thinks they do?

The best way to first determine whether you have the virus is to get tested.

If you develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath within 14 days after travel from China, call your doctor right away. If you have had close contact with someone who has traveled and is showing those symptoms, you should call ahead to a doctor, according to the CDC.

Your doctor will then work with your state's public health department and the CDC to determine if you need to be tested for the novel coronavirus.

An infected person might not show symptoms for up to 14 days after exposure. That's especially worrisome because this novel coronavirus can be transmitted while a person isn't showing any symptoms. Fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and trouble breathing are some of the most common symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

If you are sick or suspect you are, the CDC recommends to stay home except to get medical care and separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.

Call ahead before visiting your doctor's office so that the office can make preparations to keep other people from getting infected or exposed to the virus.

In the case of suspected coronavirus, if you are sick, the CDC does recommend to wear a facemask -- and cover your coughs and sneezes, clean your hands often and avoid sharing personal household items with others, such as utensils, dishes or bedding.

10. What if I want more information?

If you have more questions about the novel coronavirus, reach out to your local health department or find more information on the CDC's website at www.cdc.gov.

"One of the things that local health departments and state health departments are really doing is trying to make sure that we're getting the best information out so that we're quelling fear but at the same time leaning forward and preparing people as this continues to grow and develop," said Kertanis, of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

"In any type of situation like this where we're dealing with a new illness, something that's growing and changing rapidly, it's almost fear of the unknown," she said.

Experts have said that the most important thing you can do is not panic and stay informed.

"We really want to urge everyone to avoid dubious sources of information and stick with trusted sources like their state health departments or the US CDC," Shah said. "We're in a situation where fear and misinformation can spread more quickly than this virus."

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Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 354457

Reported Deaths: 9537
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1664575369
DuPage21231599
Lake19714506
Will17106422
Kane15616342
Winnebago9314167
St. Clair7623213
Madison6832152
Champaign574128
McHenry5726120
Peoria431064
McLean391831
Rock Island372189
Unassigned3627260
Sangamon355660
Kankakee319078
Macon263348
Kendall248527
Tazewell244549
LaSalle220760
DeKalb213842
Coles179838
Williamson173758
Boone168725
Adams165915
Clinton163124
Vermilion15627
Jackson144325
Whiteside116722
Randolph115914
Knox11519
Effingham10953
Ogle10897
Grundy8897
Jefferson86744
Franklin8666
Marion86613
Monroe86128
Bureau85517
Stephenson8207
Morgan81024
Henry7987
Christian78425
Macoupin74110
Union73825
McDonough66815
Fayette63821
Crawford6306
Lee6271
Shelby5928
Douglas5638
Livingston55710
Montgomery55515
Woodford55311
Logan5474
Saline5057
Bond4719
Warren4647
Iroquois45919
Jersey45621
Cass45011
Wayne44011
Jo Daviess4367
Fulton4290
Perry40916
Moultrie3785
Carroll3678
Johnson3220
Richland31815
Lawrence3068
Hancock2853
Clay28411
Washington2771
Clark2729
Greene27015
Pike2674
Cumberland2586
Jasper25010
Mason2381
White2351
De Witt2333
Pulaski2261
Mercer2256
Piatt2180
Wabash2105
Ford1829
Menard1651
Edgar1478
Massac1412
Marshall1403
Hamilton1142
Henderson1110
Alexander1091
Gallatin1052
Edwards990
Brown980
Scott950
Putnam860
Schuyler801
Stark802
Calhoun670
Hardin490
Pope361
Out of IL20

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 150664

Reported Deaths: 4008
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion24697784
Lake13220352
St. Joseph8877159
Elkhart8469132
Allen7880222
Hamilton5962113
Vanderburgh559360
Tippecanoe354714
Monroe320738
Hendricks3183130
Johnson2995128
Porter297848
Clark285461
Delaware282074
Vigo252637
Madison229593
Cass222021
LaPorte215557
Warrick188464
Kosciusko176823
Floyd174867
Howard158866
Bartholomew139758
Dubois135125
Marshall132526
Henry122628
Grant120939
Wayne119327
Boone118848
Hancock114145
Noble113533
Jackson108713
Morgan92240
Dearborn91628
Daviess84033
Gibson83411
Clinton81616
Shelby79429
Lawrence78534
LaGrange76715
Harrison74024
Putnam71016
Knox70310
DeKalb69411
Posey6796
Steuben6008
Fayette58517
Miami5845
Montgomery57222
White56815
Jasper5624
Greene51837
Scott50813
Decatur49839
Adams4725
Clay4346
Whitley4316
Sullivan42812
Ripley4228
Wells4155
Starke3937
Wabash3919
Orange38725
Huntington3785
Spencer3706
Franklin36525
Jennings36013
Washington3592
Randolph3398
Fulton3362
Jefferson3305
Pike31913
Carroll31413
Perry29514
Jay2876
Fountain2863
Tipton26823
Parke2203
Newton21811
Vermillion2181
Rush2044
Owen2021
Martin1950
Blackford1923
Crawford1491
Pulaski1471
Brown1303
Ohio1227
Benton1070
Union1040
Switzerland890
Warren751
Unassigned0233