COVID-19: What You Might Need If You're Quarantined at Home
Despite what you might see others doing, there's no need to hoard supplies
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are staying at home as much as possible to try to limit the spread. And when people are sick or have been exposed to someone who is, health officials generally advise staying home completely—avoiding even periodic trips to the grocery store for at least 14 days after exposure or for several days after recovery.
“We ask for people’s patience and understanding, and most importantly their cooperation,” Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said during a press briefing last month. “Right now, individual actions can have an important impact on how this situation plays out. You may need to take a break from your normal daily routine.”
That sort of break isn't all bad, said Emily He, a writer who lives in Cambridge, Mass., but was in China visiting family for Chinese New Year and had been unable to travel far from her mother’s apartment for weeks. “Think about things you've been meaning to catch up on, and make a list,” He suggested.
But how exactly should you prepare for the possibility of a home quarantine? News reports show some Americans hoarding all manner of supplies, including mostly unnecessary ones like bottled water.
“This isn’t the apocalypse,” says Jason Kindrachuk, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba and an emerging virus specialist. “We need to be rational in our decisions, understanding that, for example, we need enough supplies to carry us through without making unnecessary trips to the store, but not so much that we’re potentially affecting other people’s ability to prepare as well.”
In that spirit, we set out to compile a list of what you may need—and what you don’t.
What You Need: The Basics
Before going shopping, you need an action plan. Start by talking through what everyone in your household—especially those at high risk because of medical conditions or age—will do and need in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in your community.
Put together an emergency contact list and learn about emergency procedures at your schools, childcare facilities, and places of work. And choose a room in your home where, if necessary, you’d be able to isolate a sick household member.
What You Might Want: The Extras
Robust WiFi: As the coronavirus outbreak spreads in the U.S., a growing number of people who can work from home are doing so. Many kids are also logging into school from home. Some will use the at-home time to catch up on binge-worthy TV. The result in many households could easily be a WiFi logjam if you don’t have a robust system in place. Consider taking steps to boost your signal or upgrading to a mesh router system, which will help spread the signal throughout even a sizable home. (See more tips in our story on optimizing your home WiFi network.)
Video conferencing services: If you're new to working from home, the transition may be smoother and more productive if you can communicate face-to-face, especially if your workplace isn't already set up for people to easily work from home. Talk to your manager about getting set up.
Entertainment: If you aren’t already a subscriber to a streaming video service, now may be a good time to explore. CR has also reported on the wide variety of options that let you stream videos for free.
Another source of free entertainment is your local library. Long before she was quarantined in Kunming, China, in January, Emily He had signed up to access free e-books from her local public library back in the U.S. She spent some of her quarantine time plowing through a half-dozen titles.
You can also consider finding or purchasing some low-tech entertainment options—for both adults and kids—such as board games, books, and cards.
Exercise guides or equipment: In quarantine, maintaining an exercise routine can be vital to both mental and physical health.
“Staying active has been enormously helpful so I don't feel like my muscles are deteriorating and I don't feel like a sloth,” says He, who has been using a fitness app to guide her workouts.
People in coronavirus lockdown in some areas of China and Italy have been allowed to go outside their homes (but discouraged from congregating), while others have not. So having a strategy for indoor exercise is a smart idea.
What You Don't Need
Medical masks: Healthcare workers, who care for highly infectious patients at close range, desperately need access to the limited supply of medical-grade masks, such as N95 respirators. The CDC now recommends that everyone else wear a fabric or cloth face covering when out in public, to help protect those around them. See the CDC's guide for the materials you might want to have on hand to make a face covering at home. Surgical masks, if available, may also be worn by someone in your household who is sick or by the person caring for them. (For more about masks, see our previous article.)
Bottled water: Because natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes often disrupt or contaminate municipal water supplies, water is often the first thing that people stock up on when a potential crisis looms. But there’s no reason to doubt the integrity of your water supply in the current context, says Barnett.
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on March 4. It was updated to include new guidance on masks.