Preparing for a Pandemic (Respiratory)

A global respiratory pandemic is one of the few events that grabs the attention of all eight billion people on the planet. The threat of a fast-spreading virus that infects much of the population is, as we’ve learned in 2020, not confined to fictional thrillers. It is a very real scenario that can take human lives and undermine the economy.

To help ensure your family doesn’t just survive, but remains comfortable, read on to learn more about how to prepare for a pandemic.

How to Prepare for a Pandemic:

  1. Stock up and get two weeks’ worth of food, water, and necessities.
  2. Make a family plan in the event someone gets sick, including where they will go and who will care for them.
  3. Avoid exposure during a pandemic, mainly by avoiding contact with infected people and washing your hands frequently.

1. Stock Two Weeks’ Worth of Supplies & Necessities

When there is news of an emerging respiratory illness locally or globally (or additional waves of a current pandemic), stock up on food and necessities before the illness becomes widespread and disrupts everyday life. Having enough food and daily necessities for your household for two weeks (like nutritious food, cleaning supplies, soap, medication, and so on) will help tide the household over in the case that stores are inaccessible. The important part of this step is to be realistic about the quantities your household needs. Buy enough for everyone but don’t overstock. This prevents stores from being picked over before everyone in the community gets what they need.

In thinking about how to prepare for a pandemic, you and your family are more likely to feel secure and remain confident and calm by following these pandemic preparedness steps:

  • Stock up on essentials: Have enough food, bottled water, toilet paper, soap, cleaning supplies, and toiletries to get you and your family through two weeks. We are all in it together, so overcome the urge to overstock on popular items to ensure there is enough to go around.
  • Top up prescriptions: Fulfill all prescriptions in case pharmacies become overburdened. Sign up for prescription auto-renewal and home delivery whenever possible.
  • Check your first aid kit: Have bandages, thermometers, non-prescription drugs, and other first aid essentials on-hand. These supplies may be in short supply during the pandemic.
  • Get copies of medical records: Keep copies of your family’s medical records in an accessible, but secure place.
  • Rely on fact-based information from experts: Make the best choices for your family by following recommendations from healthcare providers and infectious disease experts. Check information from your local health department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or the World Health Organization (WHO). This information is best obtained by listening to the news (key into cited sources) and an internet search for protocol in your county. Remain skeptical of advice from non-experts, including online rumors, well-meaning friends, and media commentators.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Make a list of the supplies your family needs for two weeks, including foods, medicines, and cleaning supplies. Be realistic about quantities to avoid over-buying.

2. Make a Family Plan if Someone Gets Sick

Despite your best efforts to avoid exposure, some family members may become infected.
An important part of preparing for a pandemic is to make a family plan for your household if someone were to get sick. Decide who will take care of the sick person, where they will go, and if they will be in isolation. Also, determine what will happen to family members who need special care, like children and pets, especially if their primary caretaker falls ill.

3. Avoid Exposure

A pandemic involving a respiratory pathogen will be highly contagious. Safety protocols are put into place during a respiratory pandemic to address spread through direct and/or indirect contact.

What’s the difference between a direct and indirect infection?

  • Direct Infection
    When an infected person coughs or sneezes, contaminated droplets enter the air and can directly infect a nearby person who inhales the particles. Direct infection can also occur if the contaminated droplets land on another person and enter their eyes, mouth, or nose.
  • In the case of an airborne infection, the virus can live inside extremely small particles exhaled by an infected person. The particles can circulate in the air for a period of time, potentially for hours, which can be inhaled by another person, causing infection.
  • Indirect Infection
    With indirect contact, virus droplets are transferred to surfaces like door handles or tabletops. Another person touches the contaminated surface with their hands, and then touches their face, introducing the virus to their upper respiratory system.

While respiratory infections garner considerable attention because they are highly communicable, pandemics can be transmitted in other ways. The AIDS pandemic, for example, spread around the world through bodily fluids besides saliva and mucus, namely blood and semen.

Stay pandemic-smart by following these general guidelines:

  • Avoid contact with infected people: Stay at least 6 feet away from infected people, or potentially infected people. The idea is to remain beyond the distance infection can be spread through coughing or sneezing. In some situations, you may need to assume that everyone is infected.
  • Wash your hands often: Using soap and water, rub your hands and wrists into a lather for at least 20 seconds. Soap dissolves the external fatty membrane that surrounds a virus. The physical act of scrubbing also breaks-up viruses and bacteria hiding in the tiny crevices of your hands.  
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or elbow: Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze reduces transmission of the virus from your hands to other surfaces. In certain situations, such as when you may be sick or are going to a public place, consider wearing a mask to prevent spreading illness to others through coughing or sneezing.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Wipe down door handles, light switches, tabletops, counters, and other areas that are frequently touched. This will minimize indirect infections of the disease.
  • Avoid touching your face: Reduce the risk of infection from indirect contact by not touching your face. This way any pathogen on your hands is not introduced to your upper respiratory tract.
  • Learn the symptoms: Know the signs of the disease and contact your medical care provider if you or a loved one show symptoms.
  • Keep your immune system strong: Consistently practice good wellness habits to keep your immune system functioning at its best. Drink plenty of fluids, eat nutrient-rich foods, get enough sleep and rest, stay physically active, and positively manage stress. This includes keeping in touch with loved ones while you are separated or under quarantine.
  • Follow public safety restrictions. Public safety restrictions may be put in place against travel and social gatherings to limit disease transmission. By complying with restrictions, we make ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities considerably safer.

These general guidelines on preparing for a pandemic will help you keep safe but be sure to stay up to date on expert guidelines that may be released specific to the pandemic at hand.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Pick a favorite jingle or famous quote that takes at least 20 seconds to sing or recite. Say it to yourself when washing your hands. It’s a fun way to time your hand washing.

By taking these pandemic preparedness tips and tools into account, you and your household will be prepared for the next pandemic or wave or illness.

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