It can be frustrating to feel like the different levels of government don’t have better control over the spread of Covid-19, or that they don’t seem to be providing all of the information that families need to make practical decisions. But this needn’t stop us from taking sensible action.
Public health authorities play a key role in stopping an outbreak, but top-down measures like quarantines and closures are rarely fully effective on their own. Real change requires individuals changing their behavior to quell the spread of disease.
For example, controlling the spread of Ebola requires partnership with the affected local community, encouraging them to get vaccinated, bring the sick to treatment centers, change burial practices, and avoid close contact. Without the public’s support and participation, an outbreak spreads. With the public’s support, fatalities can be reduced and society can dodge the worst effects of an outbreak.
In the United States, if individuals, families, churches, and other civic organizations calmly create plans and change behavior to take precautions, we can slow the Covid-19 spread, prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, and ensure the severely ill have the best chance to fully recover. In that vein, from someone who spent years tracking infectious diseases and is now a busy mom of young children, here are a few tips to prevent disease spread, support the vulnerable, and protect your family from pandemic pandemonium.
1. Still Take Care with Kids
No doubt all parents are relieved to know that the virus is unlikely to make our children very sick, but I am still taking precautions because kids are generally fabulous germ spreaders and may be able to spread this virus without even appearing ill.
We should also be comforted that the majority of those infected will not require hospital care, but this should not lull us into complacency. All of us have a duty to limit disease spread and protect the vulnerable in our communities. Covid-19 might be a mild illness for me and my children, but could be a deadly infection for my neighbors, and our behavior will have a direct impact on them.
If your children’s school closes, don’t get them together with all the kids in the neighborhood. Don’t hold playdates. This isn’t the time to take your children out to lunch in a restaurant or to their karate class. If you must venture out with them, keeping younger children in a stroller can help you contain those (adorable) slobbery little fingers. Even if your area hasn’t had many cases, it’s still wise to undertake social distancing.
2. Keep Outside Contacts Minimum
Consider practicing the “jealous lover” strategy: consider who is in your immediate circle of contacts and only have contact with those people. For us, this is our immediate family and an additional family member who lives in town. We will be around each other, share meals and generally laugh and enjoy each other’s company. We will help each other with child care, getting supplies, etc.
But these are the only folks we will hang out with. We will not invite others in during this period of social distancing. This way, we reduce the potential sources of infection and if one of us become sick, the virus stays within our family unit.
3. Limit Time Spent in Public
Furthermore, limit your time spent in public. This is a good time to stream a yoga class, rather than going to a studio. Schedule and budget permitting, shop when there are fewer crowds or order your groceries online. If there is a necessary appointment, take as few people as possible.
If you’re a churchgoer, encourage your congregation to take steps to prevent spread and protect the vulnerable. This is a great time for streaming services or possibly atomizing the congregation into small groups that could offer each other support.
4. Wash Those Hands
Wash your and your kids’ hands regularly and vigorously. Like, really wash them, not a quick dash of water and soap, but a serious, I-just-chopped-jalapeños-and-wanna-take-out-my-contacts kind of washing.
Hand sanitizer is lovely in a pinch, but go for a good washing whenever you can. Don’t touch your face. You should even do this if you’re respecting social distancing, since the incubation period is 2-14 days and you might be carrying the virus.
Since children may not show symptoms, it’s important to reinforce solid hygiene. Give them a refresher course on hand washing, make a family game out of trying to not touch your face, and remind them to keep fingers out of their mouths, etc.
5. Know the Symptoms
Know the main Covid-19 symptoms: fever and cough. In children, it’s less clear cut. They may have mild symptoms and a slight fever or no fever at all.
If you feel under the weather, stay home. Try not to expose others in your family. Definitely don’t go out. Don’t soldier through a day of work or show up at church. New research out of Germany found that individuals who were just beginning to show symptoms were already highly infectious. Early, mild Covid-19 cases can mimic other illnesses, so we need to be especially conscientious of how we act when we are sick.
6. Get Ready for the Long Haul
Mentally prepare yourself that Covid-19 may be with us for a while. Perhaps it fades away in the summer, but perhaps not. Viruses don’t come with a playbook. Depending on how the outbreak unfolds, society will look different for a while. Don’t let that scare you.
7. Plan for Emergencies
Think about your family’s particular risk portfolio and make a rough plan. Does grandma live with you? Or do you have someone with a compromised immune system or other underlying condition? If so, how will you protect him if another member of the family falls ill? You’d want to be able to keep the sick person away from the rest of the family, as much as possible.
One of my friend’s four children has a congenital heart condition and will need a heart transplant fairly soon, so her plan is to send that child to her parents’ house. If you’re sick, do you have the things you would want (soup, cough drops, etc.) on hand so you don’t have to run to the store?
If your area is not already locked down, take care of any routine medical or dental care right now. If an outbreak hits your area, your ophthalmologist or dentist may only be handling emergencies for a while. If you need glasses or have a nagging issue you’ve been waiting to address, now (frankly, last week) is the time.
Follow up with the vulnerable people you know to ensure they are also addressing chronic medical conditions, so they do not have to seek medical care (or forgo it) in the middle of an outbreak.
8. Think Ahead on Supply Chains
Consider the critical items you or any businesses you own might need that are dependent on complicated international supply chains. My dentist recently stocked up on the various filling compounds, anesthetics, and other items that are imported or have complex supply chains. We stocked up on ibuprofen and prescription medicines. For most of us, this list is short or nonexistent, but it’s worth considering.
9. Build Resiliency Locally
Finally, one of the best things we can do is cultivate relationships and use our talents to build resiliency on the community level. Find ways to connect with at-risk populations in your community and support them however you can. Perhaps you create buddy systems for connecting those at high risk for infection with those at lower risk.
In our neighborhood, we want to find the neighbors who feel vulnerable and team them up with others who can help them get groceries and supplies and generally provide practical and moral support (from a safe distance). We want to know if someone in our community is struggling or sick and find ways to safely care for them.
If an outbreak hits our area hard, older neighbors may see their friends pass away. It wouldn’t hurt if they already had a few extra relationships in their lives. And if Covid-19 fizzles out, then we will have strengthened our local communities, which seems like a pretty good outcome.
We live in a society with incredibly talented, entrepreneurial individuals known for solving problems and improving lives. If this pandemic hits hard, consider how you might use your talents to help solve a problem.
If you develop apps, maybe help public health officers work more efficiently or find a way to give clinicians real-time data on disease spread. If you’re a teacher, what are the best ways to engage with students from afar?
From app developers and financial advisors to teachers and counselors, there will be numerous opportunities to innovate and offer solutions to improve lives. Let’s be the solutions that our communities need. Let’s build communities where neighbors can know each other and create the type of resiliency that will help us weather any storm.