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What To Do In A Pandemic

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

The World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic. The extent to which countries have been affected differs but the risk of the virus becoming widespread in every single country is very real. The severity of the illness or how many people will fall ill from COVID-19 is currently unknown.


With the threat of a pandemic, preparations need to be made on both state and local levels. In case of an outbreak that spreads within one’s community, what can you do to protect yourself and your family? Regarding the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, officials in many places  advise people to prepare for canceled events, closed schools and interrupted work, and for the potential of widespread illness.

According to the WHO, given that a pandemic of any severity will have consequences for the whole of society, it is essential that all organizations–both private and public–plan for the potential disruption that a pandemic will cause, including the impact of staff absenteeism. While many countries have made substantial efforts to prepare for the health consequences of pandemics, not all countries have yet given sufficient attention to preparing for the economic, humanitarian, and societal consequences.


In the absence of early and effective planning, countries may face wider social and economic disruption, significant threats to the continuity of essential services, lower production levels, distribution difficulties, and shortages of supplies. Individual organizations may suffer from the pandemic’s impact on business and services. For example, if the electricity and/or water sectors are not able to maintain services, this will have grave implications for the ability of the health sector to function and will result in severe humanitarian consequences for vulnerable populations. The failure of businesses to sustain operations would add to the economic consequences of a pandemic. Some business sectors will be especially vulnerable (e.g., those dependent on tourism and travel), and certain groups in society are likely to suffer more than others. Developing robust preparedness plans or updating current plans to adapt to the current pandemic is essential to ensure continuity of operations and significantly mitigate the economic and social impacts. 

For individuals, (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s emergencies and disaster prep site) suggests that people prepare to store a two-week supply of water and food. It is recommended to buy things that you would really eat rather than buying stuff just because it’s there. You just need to have the basics. Basic cleaning materials such as bleach are enough to disinfect surfaces.

The site also advises that people conduct periodic checks of any prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply and a refill of any nonprescription drugs like pain relievers, cough, and cold medicines. Additionally, the American Red Cross recommends keeping an at-home first aid kit to treat common injuries, including cuts, scrapes, swelling, sprains, strains, and more. This is because hospitals and healthcare providers will be over capacity and unable to deal with minor health issues.


Regarding masks, these are considered unnecessary if you’re not sick. The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear facemasks. Rather, the CDC recommends to only wear a mask if a health care professional recommends it. A facemask should be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms to protect others from the risk of getting infected. Overall, the use of facemasks remains crucial for health workers and people who are caring for someone infected with the virus in close settings, such as a healthcare facility or at home, according to the CDC.

In addition to domestic preparation, if there is evidence of a COVID-19 outbreak in your place of residence, there will likely be workforce implications and employers should plan to be able to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity and be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed. The CDC and its partners will continue to monitor national and international data on the severity of illness caused by COVID-19, will disseminate the results of these ongoing surveillance assessments, and will make additional recommendations as needed.

The CDC has even posted guidance on its website to help businesses and employers plan for possibly including telework or flexible sick leave policies into operations if there is significant spread of COVID-19 across the country. They provide plenty of useful information about how best to establish a successful remote workplace on their site.


All employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of operations. During a COVID-19 outbreak, all sick employees should stay home and away from the workplace, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene should be encouraged, and routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces should be performed regularly.


So, whether you have been personally impacted by coronavirus or not, it is well-advised to at least be prepared with the essentials.

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