As of March 18, one week after the World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified the coronavirus as a pandemic, The New York Times reported that more there were more than 7,000 confirmed coronavirus cases across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is updating its guidance as more information about the coronavirus emerges, but many people still have questions about how they can keep themselves healthy. If you are wondering how to prepare for the coronavirus if you live by yourself, public health experts tell Elite Daily that there are precautions you can take.
According to The New York Times, as of the afternoon of March 18, at least 7,048 people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus, and at least 116 people have died. On March 13, President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic, in order to access $50 billion in emergency funding. As both federal and state officials continue to take steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, there are steps that you can take if you live by yourself and are worried about getting sick.
One the CDC's main recommendations for people who live alone is to stay in touch with friends and family via phone or email. "If you live alone and become sick during a COVID-19 outbreak, you may need help," the CDC guidance states. "If you have a chronic medical condition and live alone, ask family, friends, and health care providers to check on you during an outbreak. Stay in touch with family and friends with chronic medical conditions." If you're feeling lonely at home, especially in cities and states that have imposed significant restrictions on movement, you can also participate in online discussions, host virtual hangouts on Skype, have a movie night with friends on Netflix Party, and take care of yourself in whatever ways are best for you.
According to Dr. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a preparedness fellow at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, people who live alone don't necessarily need to wear masks at home if they have coronavirus symptoms because they don't have roommates or family members who might become infected. However, Piltch-Loeb tells Elite Daily that people who live alone — even if they are generally healthy — should still take all the same precautions that the CDC recommends for everyone as the virus continues to spread. After all, Piltch-Loeb says, "the risk or the effect of coronavirus on a generally healthy young adult is pretty low, but the reality is that we come in contact [with] — and we can spread this virus really easily to — plenty of other people."
"So it’s not just that you want to take precautions for yourself," Piltch-Loeb says. "You also want to take precautions for all those people in your life that you care about, because you don’t want to spread the virus to them."
As the CDC makes clear in its guidance, these precautions include practicing basic hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, staying home if you are sick, avoiding touching your face, and cleaning regularly touched surfaces and household objects. If you expect to be spending most of your time at home for awhile — which many people likely do, thanks to the increasingly strict movement restrictions that cities and states have imposed — you can also stock up on some necessary supplies.
"People are encouraged to keep food and supplies in their home that they wouldn’t need to go out frequently in the event that you’re asked to isolate or quarantine," Piltch-Loeb adds.
But that doesn't mean you should rush to buy toilet paper, Piltch-Loeb says, because toilet paper won't protect you from contracting a virus. Instead, make sure you have your prescription medications, hand soap, basic cleaning supplies, a combination of fresh produce and nonperishable food items, pet food if you have a pet, and an emergency plan for you and your neighbors. Dr. Renata Schiavo, a senior lecturer at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health's Department of Sociomedical Sciences, tells Elite Daily that it's especially important if you live alone to communicate with your community and come up with a plan to help your most vulnerable neighbors out with actions like grocery or pharmacy runs.
"Call or reach out to friends, neighbors, and family frequently and listen for any signs of anxiety or distress to help people cope with them," says Schiavo, who is also the founder and president of the Health Equity Initiative's Board of Directors. "Offer to pick up grocery and medications for elderly people and people who are at higher risk of getting very sick from coronavirus (people living with diabetes, heart disease, and/or lung disease)." You can also plug into local community organizations, Schiavo adds, to address any problems that arise and work with your neighbors to find solutions.
If you live alone, it is likely that you will have to leave the house at some point to go to a market or grocery store, so that you can get the food and supplies you need. According to Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D, a microbiology and immunology professor at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, there are precautions you can take if you do need to leave home to obtain these essentials. "Go at hours where there are not a lot of people around in the supermarket, very early or very late," Racaniello tells Elite Daily. "If you see people coughing or sneezing, stay away."
Living alone means that you won't have to worry about your roommates getting infected and spreading the virus to you, but as Racaniello points out, items that you bring home from outside — such as packaged goods and food delivery containers — can also be sources of contamination. "Everything you touch is potentially contaminated," Racaniello says. "You have to pick it up, you have to put it in your car, you have to carry it home, but then wash your hands once you get home. ... Some people, I know, are going to the extreme of wiping it down, wiping all the containers down with bleach wipes that you can buy."
If you do find yourself stuck at home, it'll be easier to stay in, solo, than it otherwise might have been previously, given that a lot of the things that you might have wanted to leave the house to actually do are shutting down. In New York City, Broadway shows shuttered on the evening of March 12, as part of an effort to cancel gatherings of more than 500 people. At the same time, New York restaurants were ordered to move to take-out food only, while school campuses around the country closed their doors.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.
Dr. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Dr. Renata Schiavo, PhD, MA, CCL, senior lecturer at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health's Department of Sociomedical Sciences; founder and president of the Health Equity Initiative's Board of Directors
Vincent Racaniello, PhD, Higgins Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center