The COVID-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) outbreak which began in Wuhan, China earlier this year has now spread across the globe, including two new cases that were confirmed in India on Monday. As of today, there have been more than 89,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, with more than 3,000 deaths. While there's no vaccine for COVID-19 right now, there are several ways you can prepare yourself if an outbreak occurs around your area. However, panicking and hoarding essential medical supplies is the last thing anyone wants you to do right now.
Should I buy a mask and start wearing it?
Well, no. Unless you work in health care, have someone in your home who is infected with the coronavirus, or you're Batman, there's absolutely no need for you to wear a mask. For starters, a mask cannot guarantee complete protection from COVID-19 causing novel coronavirus, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC claims face masks can only offer limited protection from respiratory illnesses like the coronavirus. Surgical masks won't protect you against COVID-19 illness, unless you're sick and are trying to prevent others from getting infected. A lot of people are buying and hoarding face masks around the world, leading to supply constraints for the people who may actually need them.
Hoarding essential medical supplies at this point in time, when the coronavirus outbreak is spreading all over, seems like a colossal waste of money and time. Healthcare officials and other government agencies working to monitor the situation might need those face masks and other supplies, the ones you may keep stored in a cupboard.
But what about those N95 respirator masks?
Buying an N95 respirator mask is getting popular, thanks to the growing fear of the coronavirus. A mask certified as N95 can filter out around 95 percent of airborne particles, which sounds good enough to filter out coronaviruses. But the N95 respirator mask will only offer complete protection if it's tightly sealed to your face. Still, a lot of experts feel these aren't completely foolproof. The US Surgeon General took to Twitter, saying, "Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!". He clarified that masks are "NOT effective" in preventing the general population from catching the coronavirus. Hoarding masks means healthcare providers aren't able to get face masks when they're the ones who need them while caring for patients.
On top of all this, if you do wear a mask, it should fit perfectly in order to offer any real protection.
Also, a lot of online listings claim to sell N95 face masks but not all of them may be truly N95 face masks. And there's absolutely no way you could be sure, except if the mask is being manufactured by a reputed brand such as 3M. But if you're in a high-risk zone or you're taking care of someone infected with COVID-19, you should buy and wear one.
How can I prepare for the inevitable coronavirus outbreak?
The first, and most important, thing is to remain calm. You may not need to buy anything special to brace for the novel coronavirus. The crucial thing right now, for everyone, is to just stay calm and stay updated with what's happening around you. Don't let emotions or fear drive you to shop for unnecessary things or do anything irrational.
WHO recommends washing your hands with soap and water. Almost everyone reading this probably has soap, and water supply at their house. If you don't, you know what to do now. Covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze is the next thing you should be doing. If you feel sick, don't go to work, and stay at home as much as possible.
The CDC also recommends that you do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. You should clean the objects and surfaces that you touch during the day. You can use a regular household disinfectant for that.
You don't need to wear surgical or exam gloves either since those will still get dirty and still end up passing an infection. If you wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds regularly, you'll be just fine. This doesn't just apply to the novel coronavirus, it's basic hygiene which should be followed regularly too.
What should I buy to brace for the coronavirus outbreak?
If you're still keen on buying something to stay content, you could still get yourself a normal supply of soap, household disinfectants, nasal decongestants, and anti-inflammatory drugs. While hand sanitizers are a hot-favorite amongst consumers, they won't offer complete protection from the novel coronavirus, not as much as regular soap-and-water hand washes.
In case you're living in an area with several confirmed cases of the COVID-19 illness, you could also go a step further and prepare an emergency kit or a first-aid box consisting of basic first-aid tools, flashlights, a decent blanket, a mobile power bank (best power banks), and an extra set of clothes. Here are some of the most popular items you can buy on Amazon for building an emergency kit: a first-aid storage box, an emergency flashlight, a blanket, and household disinfectant.
If it comes down to this, you should also prepare to stay indoors for a longer time, and ensure you've got enough supplies in the house. While staying prepared makes sense, always remember, staying calm doesn't cost anything and can still help you. The official WHO page on COVID-19 myth busters does a great job explaining a lot of things.