You are probably reading this from self-quarantine in your house. If so, good for you! You are helping to stop a global pandemic in its tracks.

Even if you don’t feel sick right now, it doesn’t mean you can ignore the pandemic. COVID-19 delays showing symptoms for up to two weeks. If you don’t feel sick and have been in complete quarantine for two weeks, then you don’t have COVID. Otherwise, you can’t really be sure. This advice assumes you aren’t sure.

Top Tips for Staying Safe

  1. Self-Isolation: You should be self-isolating as much as you can whether or not you have COVID. This is partly to make sure you don’t get it and partly to make sure you don’t pass it on. Basically, don’t leave the house unless you absolutely have to.

  2. Hand Hygiene: Wash your hands frequently and effectively. Don’t touch your face. Make sure to wash your hands before eating anything.

  3. Body Temperature: Take your temperature often. A fever is sometimes one of the earliest symptoms, so if you have one, then please delay errands even if you feel otherwise healthy. This not a very good test because most fevers are not COVID-19, but it does give you some information.

  4. Delivery/Outside Food: When you buy food from outside, wipe down packages and wash down vegetable skins. The same is true for deliveries – if you have some Lysol disinfectant or other spray that kills viruses, spray it down before bringing it inside.

  5. Social Distancing: If you have to go outside, stay six feet away from people and WEAR A MASK (or whatever face covering you can make, like a scarf). Don’t forget – coronavirus can even live in the air for up to a few hours.

FAQs

Try to leave as little as possible. Buy a lot of groceries all at once. Work from home if you can; if you can’t then don’t go anywhere you don’t have to. Always stay at least six feet from other people. Covid-19 can spread from farther than that, but six is the high-risk area. 

Be as paranoid as possible. When you come back from the grocery store, assume anything you touched is contaminated— rub it down with hand sanitizer or spray it with Lysol. Or just use soap and water. This includes doorknobs, your keys, the grocery bags, and the dog. Wash your hands and face right away and throw your outermost layer of clothes in the laundry. If you have disposable gloves, wear them when shopping.

If you can, order anything you need online. Amazon Prime is probably worth it right now. Check if food deliveries are available— we’ve had no luck finding a delivery time with Instacart, Amazon Fresh, or Whole Foods delivery, but maybe something is available where you live.

When you get packages, assume they’re contaminated. Spray them down with disinfectant, let it sit, then open it and spray the contents. Wait a few hours before going out the front door, because if the mailman had COVID you can give the particles in the air time to blow away. If the package isn’t time-sensitive, you can move it to an outdoor shed for a few days so the virus dies. (Wash your hands afterward.)

No matter how much risk you’re at, try to be safer than you are right now. Don’t think that because you can’t work from home and are out of the house every day, you “might as well” pick up groceries as often as normal. There are two reasons. First, that’s not actually how risk works. The grocery store is just as dangerous for you as for anyone else. Second, if you’re right that your day job is high-risk, then you being at the grocery store twice instead of once might make it more dangerous for everyone else. 

Surprisingly yes. COVID-19 doesn’t spread through food. This might be strange given that you know it was touched by at least one other person, but apparently coronaviruses just don’t spread this way.

Even in the worst case, if an infected person coughed or sneezed on your food, that’d be gross but wouldn’t spread COVID-19. The virus infects you in your respiratory tract, not your throat, so you’d have to choke and it would have to be on exactly the wrong particle. Of course, if someone coughed on your food they could still give you some other germ. Which is why normal food safety rules try to make sure that doesn’t happen. If restaurant workers are wearing face coverings—as the CDC now recommends everyone should—then even that risk is gone.

If you get food delivered, you should be careful like any other delivery. Pay in advance, tip in advance, and ask the driver to leave the food by the door. Pick it up when they’re at least six feet away. Assume the containers are contaminated and use your own dishes. Throw the original containers away and then wash your hands. Or, if it’s a pizza or something, you could toss it in the oven at low heat for half an hour. Viruses hate that.

Ordering restaurant food delivery is about as safe as any other part of what used to be normal life. It is not risk-free, but most of the risk comes from receiving the package not from eating the food.

While this might seem fine, you shouldn’t hang out.

First, you can’t necessarily know that they’re as quarantined as they say they are. If they’re part of two different groups like this, you’re sharing risk with twice as many people. Or maybe they’re completely honest but their roommate insists on having the neighbors over.

Second, even if you trust your friends completely, that’s still more exposure. That’s all of you going out to get groceries or going to work, instead of just you.

If you do this anyway, it’s much better than not keeping a closed circle. Be as safe as you can— sit on opposite sides of the room, spray down anything they touched afterward, and definitely don’t hug even if you normally would.

Yes. But don’t count on it keeping you completely safe.

If you have an N95-grade mask or better and you know how to use it, it can keep you from breathing in anything dangerous. Fitting it correctly is a skill people have to learn. If you do not know what you’re doing, it is probably still at least as good as wearing any other piece of cloth over your face. Consider donating it to the nearest hospital, since healthcare workers do use it correctly and no one has enough.

Also very important to remember: any kind of face covering will mean that if you are sick, you won’t breathe it out on everyone else. Regardless of what you’re wearing, you should feel a lot safer around other people if their face is covered. Do the same thing for them. (It also doubles as a convenient “please keep away” sign.)

If you are using a face mask, sanitize it immediately after each use. Respirators are not meant to be reused at all, but there is a shortage and everyone has to.  

When cleaning a mask, do not use alcohol or soapy water. This will kill the germs, but will also break down the filter and make the mask much less effective. Instead, use heat. Submerge it in boiling water for three minutes, or put it in an oven at 160F for 30. Do not submerge it in water if any part is paper. Some people warn that baking it might contaminate the oven, so make sure you clean the outside right away. (The inside will have just been at a virus-killing temperature.) The simplest option is to do nothing to the mask, just leave it in a bag with an airtight seal for a minimum of three days. Make sure to disinfect the outside of the bag. The drawback is you don’t have the mask for three days.

Yes. Probably. There are no good studies on this! No one is very sure and all recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt. But the CDC does recommend improvising a mask and it makes sense.

If you make a mask out of an old T-shirt and strap it across your face, it’ll block 60-80% of virus particles. That’s enough that it should be better than not doing it. Do that or wear a bandana or ski mask. Just keep your face covered. Children under two should not have cloth coverings. Neither should anyone with breathing problems or anyone who can’t take it off without help. (This is for choking reasons not COVID reasons.) If anyone in your household shouldn’t wear a face covering, have someone else run the errands.

If you are using a homemade mask, a bandana, or a scarf, you can sanitize it with any of the methods listed above or just throw it in the wash as soon as you get inside.

You probably don’t know if you have COVID or something else. Since most countries are very very bad at testing, there’s no good way to find out. You have to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Stay home. Most people with COVID recover without needing medical care. Call your doctor and describe your symptoms. They might have a better guess and might be able to get you a test. Get medical care if you think it is an emergency. The main warning sign of an emergency is trouble breathing.

You probably want to avoid physically being in a medical center. It’ll be crowded and overwhelmed. If you don’t have COVID, hospitals are pretty good places to get it (despite everyone’s best efforts). And if you do, they’re pretty good places to spread it to vulnerable people (despite your own best efforts). But if you have an emergency, they are the people equipped to try to keep you breathing.

Ideally, you would get to the hospital by private car. The CDC says to avoid public transit and Uber. They don’t seem to be considering that not everyone has a car. A subway, an Uber, or even an ambulance are all spaces that have recently been used by other humans. If you absolutely have to get there by Uber then just do your best. Make sure you are wearing masks and spraying Lysol on everything, both on your way in and out.

Most COVID cases will never have an emergency. If you are sick and staying home, try to isolate yourself from other family members. Stay in a room with a closed door. Wear a mask, unless it causes you trouble breathing. (They should, too.) Remember the virus can hover in the air for up to three hours. If you are living together, that’s more than long enough. 

Wash your hands frequently. Hand sanitizer is good, soap and water work better. Especially wash your hands after eating, preparing food, coughing or sneezing, or using the bathroom. (These are CDC recommendations. Given how this virus spreads, probably only the “coughing and sneezing” part is COVID-specific and the rest is just general good advice. You should follow it, especially since you don’t know what you have.) When you cough or sneeze, make sure you cover it and throw the tissue in a trash can with a liner. Any surfaces you touch often should be disinfected. Do not touch your face.

You can rule out COVID if your symptoms are getting better (coughing less, breathing better, whatever that means in your case) AND it has been at least a week since it started AND you have had no fever for at least three full days. This means without using medicine that fights fever. Do not share a thermometer with family members. If you really have to, sanitize it VERY thoroughly. If you can confirm all of those three things (no fever, improving other symptoms, and at least seven days since it started) then you’re clear.

If your doctor says something different, follow their advice. They have more information on your specific case.

Probably. It’s not certain.

There are some reports that people had COVID-19, recovered, tested negative, and then tested positive again. Most experts think that these people never recovered in the first place and the negative tests were wrong. Or it could be that fighting off the disease doesn’t make you immune. That would be very scary.

For most coronaviruses, having antibodies means you’re immune for a few months or years. So far there isn’t that much reason to think this is an exception. But there is some reason, so if you’ve recovered then don’t count on being immune. Hopefully we’ll know more soon.

Of course, most countries have done a very very bad job of testing for COVID-19. If you had it and recovered, chances are you don’t know that’s what you had. You’re stuck self-quarantining like the rest of us, because you have no way of guessing whether that flu you had in February was COVID.

Probably. It’s not certain.

There are some reports that people had COVID-19, recovered, tested negative, and then tested positive again. Most experts think that these people never recovered in the first place and the negative tests were wrong. Or it could be that fighting off the disease doesn’t make you immune.

For most coronaviruses, having antibodies means you’re immune for a few months or years. So far there isn’t that much reason to think this is an exception. But there is some reason, so if you’ve recovered then don’t count on being immune. Hopefully we’ll know more soon.

Of course, most countries have done a very very bad job of testing for COVID-19. If you had it and recovered, chances are you don’t know that’s what you had. You’re stuck self-quarantining like the rest of us, because you have no way of guessing whether that flu you had in February was COVID.

Cover doorknobs and faucet handles with copper tape.

This is really more about bacteria. But it works on viruses too, including this one. This virus lasts up to three hours in aerosols, days on plastic or steel, up to a day on cardboard, and the shortest is four hours on copper. The longest (if everything goes right for the virus, not the normal) is nine days on plastic.

Presumably, when washing your hands, you touch the faucet before your hands are clean. You might as well have it covered in something inhospitable to germs. Plus it looks cool. This is no game-changer, but it’s cheap and easy and helps a little.

Update: Don’t take it. It has been now proven not to work and might kill you.

Not yet. Hydroxychloroquine might work—it is a usually safe medication with a plausible reason why it could help on this kind of disease. Problem is, biology is complicated. Medications with plausible reasons why they could work don’t necessarily end up working.

Also, “usually safe” doesn’t mean actually safe. It’s being tested right now and some of the tests got canceled because of life-threatening side effects. Definitely don’t try it even if you’re thinking “what do you have to lose”—people have died that way.

Learn a skill or a language, play board games, talk with people remotely. We have some recommendations on handling stress here and on board game recommendations (including online) here.

More Information

This changes fast and it’s hard to keep up with the news.

Listen to the CDC and the WHO. They aren’t as credible as they should be—remember, for weeks they said it wasn’t worth it to wear masks—but you can assume you should do at minimum what they say. Right now that means self-quarantine and social distancing.

Vox’s Future Perfect project has a lot of pandemic coverage and is pretty trustworthy. They were some of the earliest media voices in favor of taking COVID-19 seriously (linked piece is from Feb. 6), and are open about how they could have done even better. 

Mentors

Isvari Maranwe
Isvari Maranwe
Attorney | Writer | Singer/Pianist
Janani Mohan
Janani Mohan
Writer | Researcher | Political Scientist
Nathaniel Maranwe
Nathaniel Maranwe
Constitutional Law and Veterans Rights Attorney

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