Some of us are obsessed with reading every detail about the coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it is now known, and there are others who want to read nothing. Regardless of where you are on this spectrum, it’s important to be prepared but not panicked. Here is everything you need to know right now—from who to call if you don’t have a doctor to local products to use in your quest for cleanliness.
Note: This article was updated on Tuesday, March 17.
When will this thing be over?
Two months from now? July, August? 18 months from now?
The predictions vary, from the grim London report that we will need to maintain this social distancing and full shutdown model for 18 months while we wait for a vaccine, to a more optimistic two-month projection.
A very useful tool, if you want to really immerse yourself in case counts and timeline projections, is the John Hopkins Center for Heatlth Security Covid-19 newsletter. You can view past issues here, like the March 17 edition which reported that the first human trial of a vaccine in Seattle is underway.
Their map of Covid-19 cases and deaths worldwide provides a sobering look at where we stand each day.
Prepare for things to get worse
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 is the day that many of us began to take the coronavirus seriously. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and event cancellations began rolling in. New York City called off the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, the NBA canceled its season and player Rudy Gobert became the league’s first player to test positive for the virus after mocking its infectiousness by rubbing his hands all over the mics at a press conference.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned us that “We have got to assume it is going to get worse and worse and worse.” And then as if on cue, the first celebrities came down with it: Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson, who were in Australia where it’s easy and free to get tested.
In Trump’s Oval Office address on Wednesday, it also became abundently clear that he is ill-equipped to lead the country out of this health crisis.
So follow the advice of leaders you trust. Angela Merkel’s sobering announcement that up to 70% of Germans could become infected could very well apply to us.
The good news is, for the majority of those who get COVID-19, the effects are mild.
The risk to New Yorkers
The NYC Health Department page has been routinely updating its recommendations as coronavirus news snowballs. On Friday, March 6, it stated that “The risk to New Yorkers of contracting this novel coronavirus is still low.”
By Sunday, March 8, that statement was absent from its coronavirus page. It advised New Yorkers to “go about your daily life, but take the same precautions that you would during cold and flu season.”
On Monday, March 9, that language was removed and replaced with recommendations to take more precautions, such as staggering working hours or telecommuting.
Then on Sunday, March 16, Gov. Cuomo banned gatherings of 50 or more for 8 weeks, Mayor de Blasio shut down NYC schools for two weeks and on Monday, closed restaurants and bars (to help the industry, a fund has been set up for donations). Trump recommended gatherings no larger than 10.
In this terrific Atlantic article, “Cancel Everything,” reporter Yascha Mounk notes that “anyone in a position of power or authority, instead of downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus, should ask people to stay away from public places, cancel big gatherings, and restrict most forms of nonessential travel.”
We are adhering to this advice in our weekly event listings, where we are recommending things you can safely do in New York right now, whether that means watching Contagion at home or visiting parks and places where social distancing is possible.
Be safe and sanitary
Remember that your health and hygiene is no longer personal. How you care for yourself during this time will impact other people, some with immune systems more frail than yours. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue (and then throw the tissue away), wash and/or sanitize your hands regularly, avoid touching your face with your unwashed or unsanitized hands, and stay at home as much as possible.
What should you do? Vox has a great explainer to the virus, including ways to prepare yourself and what to do about international travel plans and The New York Times has an email you can sign up for to stay on top of coronavirus news.
Make handwashing fun
The best thing you can do to keep safe is to wash your hands multiple times a day for 20 seconds, getting into all those crevices. Vietnam made a very catchy PSA song, which then started a dance craze on TikTok. If you’re going to wash your hands a lot, you might as well make a handwashing dance. Or use any of these 20-second song refrains to make sure you are washing long enough.
You’re supposed to wash your hands for 20 sec, which is the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. But I’m tired of singing Happy Birthday and you probably are too, so I’ve done the very important public service of compiling other songs with roughly 20 sec choruses to sing:
— Jen Monnier (@JenMonnier) March 2, 2020
Ride the subway with care
Avoid the subway if you can. And if you do, just avoid touching your face until you wash or sanitize your hands after you get off the train. These are some other ways to lower the rate of transmission in the subway, which was estimated to be 4% in a 2011 study of a potential flu outbreak.
Know your symptoms
Fever and a dry cough. These are the two hallmark symptoms of the coronavirus.
There are other signs, as this New York Times symptoms checklist explains, but the best, fastest response to the virus begins with an informed public who knows what to look for.
This Vox interview with a WHO expert who visited China to learn about their response is a fascinating account of what China did right. It emphasizes that “No. 1, if you want to get speed of response, your population has to know this disease,” meaning knowing the presenting signs of the virus. “Your population is your surveillance system…Everybody has got a smartphone, everybody can get a thermometer. That is your surveillance system. Don’t rely on this hitting your health system, because then it’s going to infect it.” (Oops, too late!)
Call before you go to your doctor
If you think you have Covid-19 or were in contact with someone who has it, call your doctor before going in, so that they can prepare for your visit and help assess if your symptoms warrant a test. If you don’t call ahead, you risk infecting the health care system, as happened when a Queens cabbie with coronavirus walked into the ER and led 40 hospital staff to self-quarantine.
If you do not have a doctor/insurance, you can call a local clinic using findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov to find one near you.
If you still have questions regarding the coronavirus or coming into contact with someone with it, call the New York State coronavirus hotline: 888-364-3065. (Someone will actually answer!)
These are the CDC guidelines for self isolating.
After calling a doctor and confirming you should go in for a visit, wear a mask and avoid public transportation, cabs and ride sharing. If you can’t find a mask, DIY one with a shirt or tea towel instead.
Skip the face masks (unless you are sick)
There is little evidence that wearing a face mask will help. They are way too porous to prevent anything airborne from getting through.
Even the Surgeon General is pleading with people to stop buying them so that health care workers have access to them.
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) February 29, 2020
They are recommended though, if you believe you are sick with the virus and you plan to visit a doctor’s office or hospital. Of course, now that masks are impossible to find, the only option left for many is a DIY mask made from a t-shirt or tea towel.
Stop touching your face
It turns out all we do all day long is touch our faces. This new website www.donottouchyourface.com will use your computer cam to alert you when you touch your face and send you an alert. Be prepared to be shocked at the number of times you’re doing it. The New York Times has other suggestions to keep your hands away from your face, like squeezing a stress ball instead.
Are we all going to die? No.
At this point, studies indicate that most coronavirus cases are mild and individually may not be a bigger threat to the immune system than the flu. (This article in Bloomberg spells out how it progresses from a mild to severe case.) People at higher risk are those over 60, or who have a compromised immune system or pre-existing condition like diabetes or heart disease.
How do you prep for a pandemic in NYC?
How can New Yorkers prep for disaster? Most Brooklyn residents live in apartments that aren’t set up to follow CDC protocols for self quarantine. The affected should use separate bathrooms—what a luxury! U.S. Homeland Security suggests buying up to two weeks of food and water before a pandemic. People buying up all those facemasks, six months of food and truckloads of bottled water probably don’t live in NYC where we don’t have enough space for our clothes, nevermind a bunker of canned goods.
You do have room, though, for the recommended 30 days worth of medicine, prescribed and over the counter and as many household items as you can store like toilet paper.
The idea of “social distancing” is ridiculous in an urban area, but New York Mag has a great article on how the city will deal with a level 5 pandemic. It may make you feel safe to know that plans are in place and at least there is first-rate medical care in the city. We have many hospitals, beds and healthcare workers in comparison to a small rural town that may more easily get overwhelmed. Plus, we are a city of innovators—if we all become quarantined to our apartments, chances are it will only be days before drone delivery becomes available.
Disinfectants and soaps for sensitive skin
You don’t need to rely only on Purell alone. Jao (357 Atlantic Avenue) is selling their hand sanitizer, Jao Refresher, which has more than the 60% ethyl alcohol the CDC recommends, along with essential oils and comes in a spray as well. Due to high demand, they are limiting orders to 4 bottles per person.
Making your own sanitizer isn’t recommended, and now it’s hard to find the DIY ingrediets anyway.
If you are looking for some new soap to tide you through this time, look no further than Soapply, which is made for sensitive skin so it will help with all the washing, plus it does the world good by arriving in recycled glass instead of plastic and donates its proceeds to countries that need soap to provide basic, life-saving hygiene.
Will we be affected? Most likely, some more than others.
The rate of spread could become disruptive with possible school closures, work closures, public transportation closures that could affect your life whether or not you actually have the coronavirus or not. Those with jobs that they can easily do from home will be less financially affected than those who can’t. People with enough money in the bank to take extended time off to take care of sick loved ones will fare better than those who don’t. From the NY Times Interpreter newsletter: “It’s not that the ultrawealthy will all retreat to their underground bunkers in New Zealand; things appear unlikely to get anywhere near that bad. Rather, it’s that people with middle-class incomes, or with guaranteed sick leave, will be better able to take off a couple of weeks to recuperate or to help out their sick family members. But part-time workers or people with lower salaries will find themselves more vulnerable. A restaurant server or an Uber driver will feel more consequences from any societal turbulence. Those individuals will also feel greater pressure to keep showing up at work, even if they have a pre-existing health condition that makes Covid-19 more dangerous.”
If communities are quarantined, they won’t be shopping. Airlines are already projecting multi-billion-dollar losses. A Coronovirus recession is possible. If schools close, childcare costs will escalate affecting the poor disproportionately. Also, women will bear the brunt of the caretaking, making a pandemic hardest for them. These are systemic issues rather than individual ones.
Thankfully, kids and the coronavirus don’t mix
One cool thing: Kids don’t seem to be getting the coronavirus (and if they do, just very mild cases.) Maybe their immune systems already have versions of Covid-19 circulating that makes them immune. No one knows. But if your kids are worried about it, here is a great cartoon that helps explain the pandemic in a way kids can understand.