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What you need to do to get ready for a possible COVID-19 outbreak in your community

Facemasks N95 to Wear Under COVID-19 OutbreakIt was helpful Tuesday when a federal official advised Americans to prepare for a possible coronavirus outbreak where they live.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen,” Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a New York Times article.

Messonnier said that cities and towns should plan for “social distancing measures,” such as dividing school classes into smaller groups of students or closing schools. Meetings and conferences may have to be canceled, she said. Businesses should arrange for employees to work from home.

What do you need to do to be prepared? One federal official said to get ready in your home like it was a snow storm or hurricane. Recommendations include:

  • Keep a 30-day supply of medication on hand.
  • Have essential household items on hand.
  • Have a support system in place for elderly family members.

I’d add, get some N95 face masks.

I set out Wednesday to do some preparation. I bought two weeks’ worth of canned and dried food. Interesting because I recently started on the FODMAP food plan to reduce bloating. I’m not supposed to eat wheat, so I bought about a dozen gluten-free items I haven’t tried before. One was macaroni and cheese, so it will be interesting to try that if I have to stay home for two weeks.

I also went to the medical supply store where I buy my N95 masks. I have to wear a mask, so I always have a mask handy when I travel in case I come across chemicals or other irritants. They didn’t have masks, and haven’t had any for weeks. I asked if they’d order some for me. They said, “No.” They didn’t expect to get any until the COIV-19 outbreak is over. I have two masks, so maybe that will be enough.

I really wonder why health officials aren’t advising people to have the N95 masks on hand. When a federal health official was testifying before Congress, he was asked how many masks the federal government had for health care workers. It’s far below what’s needed.

So I did some research about whether masks should be worn for this COVID-19 outbreak.

Harvard Medical School advises following public health recommendations where you live. It also said this:

Currently, face masks aren’t recommended for the general public in the United States. Your risk of catching the virus in the U.S. is likely to be low, since there is little evidence of community transmission at this time. At this writing, only one confirmed case in the U.S. is unrelated to travel to China or close contact with travelers from China. Even though there are some confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., you’re much more likely to catch and spread influenza. So far this season, there have been nearly 30 million cases of flu and 17,000 deaths.

Some health facilities require people to wear a mask under certain circumstances, such as if they have traveled from the city of Wuhan, China, or surrounding Hubei Province, or have been in contact with people who did or with people who have confirmed coronavirus.

If you have respiratory symptoms such as coughing or sneezing, experts recommend wearing a mask to protect others. This may help contain droplets containing any type of virus, including the flu, and protect close contacts – anyone within three to six feet of the infected person.

The CDC offers more information about masks. The WHO offers videos and illustrations on when and how to use a mask.

For someone who has a compromised immune system, Harvard Health recommends the following:

If you’re immunocompromised because of an illness or treatment, talk to your doctor about whether wearing a mask is helpful for you in some situations. We are currently in the middle of a flu epidemic in the U.S. By contrast, we have limited cases of COVID-19 and no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission in our communities. At this time, it wouldn’t make sense for someone who is immunocompromised to wear a mask when in public to decrease risk for catching COVID-19. However, if your healthcare provider advises you to wear a mask when in public areas because you have a particularly vulnerable immune system, follow that advice. But if masking hasn’t been recommended to you to protect against the flu and numerous other respiratory viruses, then it doesn’t make sense to me to advise wearing a mask to protect against COVID-19 at this time.

So, while it’s unknown where COVID-19 will strike in the U.S., or if it will, I think getting some N95 masks is a good idea, if you can find them. I wonder if buying them isn’t recommended at this time so there won’t be a run on them, making them unavailable for health care workers.

I got lucky when I went to the dentist Thursday. The dental hygienist gave me six masks, so that should be a good supply.

Right now, this is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend individuals and families to do to protect themselves against COVID-19:

  • Voluntary home isolation: Stay home when you're sick with respiratory disease symptoms. At the present time, these symptoms are more likely due to influenza or other respiratory viruses than to COVID-19-related virus.
  • Respiratory etiquette: Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash can.
  • Hand hygiene: Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60 percent-95 percent alcohol if soap and water aren’t readily available.
  • Environmental health action: Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces and objects.

The CDC has confirmed an infection of COVID-19 in California in a person who reportedly didn’t have relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient with it.

The CDC said it’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time it’s happened in the U.S.

For updates about COVID-19, visit www.cdc.gov/covid19.

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