Don’t freak out: The coronavirus is not the apocalypse. That said, some people (whether they have flu-like symptoms, are immunocompromised, or are just a little on edge) are choosing to stay home as much as possible—and experts say that’s not a bad idea. Kristine Arthur, M.D., an internist at MemorialCare Medical Group in Laguna Woods, CA, says avoidance is one of your best options amid the coronavirus pandemic, regardless of whether or not you’re sick. In other words, self-quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic might be the best course of action, especially if the virus has been confirmed in your area.
“If you have the option of working from home, take it,” says Dr. Arthur. “If you can work in an area that is less crowded or has less contact with people, do it.”
Staying home and avoiding social interactions is a big ask for everyone, but it’s worth it. Limiting social interactions—a measure also recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), particularly in areas where the spread of the coronavirus has been confirmed—can make a big difference in stopping COVID-19 transmission, says Daniel Zimmerman, Ph.D., senior vice president of research of cellular immunology at biotechnology company CEL-SCI Corporation.
So, if you find yourself quarantined at home amid the coronavirus outbreak for one reason or another, here’s how to stay healthy, clean, and calm while you wait it out.
Keeping Yourself Healthy
Stock Up On Important Meds
Get your necessary supplies ready—particularly prescription meds. This is important not just because of the possibility of long-term quarantine, but also in the event of a potential manufacturing shortage for medications made in China and/or other areas grappling with the fallout from this coronavirus, says Ramzi Yacoub, Pharm.D., chief pharmacy officer at SingleCare. “Don’t wait until the last minute to fill your prescriptions; make sure you’re requesting a refill about seven days before medications run out,” says Yacoub. “And you may also be able to fill 90 days’ worth of medication at a time if your insurance plan allows it and your doctor writes you a 90-day prescription instead of a 30-day one.”
It’s also a good idea to stock up on OTC meds such as painkillers or other symptom-relief medicine ASAP. “Stock up on ibuprofen and acetaminophen for aches and pains, and Delsym or Robitussin for suppressing a cough,” he says.
Don’t Forget About Your Mental Health
Yes, being quarantined can sound scary and like some kind of demented punishment (even just the word “quarantine” has a spooky sound to it). But shifting your mindset can help turn the experience of being “stuck at home” into more of a welcome break from your usual routine, says Lori Whatley, L.M.F.T., a clinical psychologist and author of Connected & Engaged. “That’s a healthy mindset that will allow you to maintain productivity and creativity,” explains Whatley. “Perspective is everything. Think of this as a gift and you will find the positive.”
Try to make the most of this time, echoes Kevin Gilliland, Psy.D., executive director of Innovation360. “There are endless apps and videos for everything from mindfulness to exercise, yoga, and education,” says Gilliland. (These therapy and mental health apps are worth checking out.)
Side note: Gilliland says it’s important to avoid binging on any of these things out of boredom or because of this abrupt change in routine—exercise, TV, screen time, as well as food. That goes for coronavirus news consumption too, adds Whatley. Because, yes, you should absolutely stay informed about COVID-19, but you don’t want to go down any rabbit holes in the process. “Don’t opt into the frenzy on social media. Get the facts and take control of your own health.”
Keeping Your Home Healthy
Clean and Disinfect
For starters, there’s a difference between cleaning and disinfecting, says Natasha Bhuyan, M.D., regional medical director at One Medical. “Cleaning is the removal of germs or dirt from the surface,” says Dr. Bhuyan. “This doesn’t kill pathogens, it often just wipes them away—but it still lowers the spread of infection.”
Disinfection, on the other hand, is the act of using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces, says Dr. Bhuyan. Here’s a look at what qualifies for each:
Cleaning: Vacuuming carpets, mopping floors, wiping countertops, dusting, etc.
Disinfecting: “Use CDC-approved disinfectants to target surfaces that have an increased amount of contact such as doorknobs, handles, light switches, remotes, toilets, desks, chairs, sinks, and countertops,” says Dr. Bhuyan.
CDC-Approved Cleaning Products for Coronavirus
“The coronavirus is effectively destroyed by almost any household cleaner or simple soap and water,” notes Zimmerman. But there are certain disinfectants the government is recommending specifically for the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, the EPA released a list of recommended disinfectants to use against the novel coronavirus. However, “pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions on how long the product should remain on the surface,” says Dr. Bhuyan.
Dr. Bhuyan also suggests looking at the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Center for Biocide Chemistries’ (CBC) list of cleaning supplies to fight the coronavirus, in addition to the CDC’s home cleaning guide.
While there are several product options to choose from in the above lists, some essentials to include in your coronavirus cleaning list include Clorox bleach; Lysol sprays and toilet bowl cleaners, and Purell disinfectant wipes.
Other Ways to Keep Germs Out of Your Home
Consider the below tips—along with your list of CDC approved disinfectants and the hygiene recommendations about handwashing—as your antiviral plan of attack.
- Leave “dirty” items at the door. “Minimize the entrance of pathogens into your home by taking off your shoes and keeping them at the doorway or garage,” suggests Dr. Bhuyan (though she also notes that COVID-19 transmission through footwear isn’t common). “Be aware that purses, backpacks, or other items from work or school may have been on the floor or another contaminated area,” adds Dr. Arthur. “Don’t set them on your kitchen counter, dining table, or food prep area.”
- Change your clothes. If you’ve gone out, or if you have kids who have been at daycare or school, change into a clean outfit upon returning home.
- Have hand sanitizer by the door. “Doing this for guests is another easy way to minimize the spread of germs,” says Dr. Bhuyan. Ensure your sanitizer is at least 60-percent alcohol, she adds. (Wait, can hand sanitizer actually kill the coronavirus?)
- Wipe down your work station. Even when working from home, it’s a good idea to clean your own computer keys and mouse frequently, especially if you eat at your desk, says Dr. Arthur.
- Utilize “sanitizing cycles” on your laundry washer/dryer and dishwasher. Many newer models have this option, which uses hotter-than-usual water or temperatures to reduce bacteria.
If You Live In An Apartment Building or Shared Space
In your individual spaces, opt for the same antiviral strategies listed above, says Dr. Bhuyan. Then, ask your landlord and/or building manager what steps they’re taking to ensure communal and high-traffic areas are as clean as possible.
You may also want to avoid communal spaces, such as a shared laundry room, during busy times, suggests Dr. Bhuyan. Plus, you’ll want to “use a paper towel or tissue to open doors or push elevator buttons,” she adds.
Should I avoid using air conditioning or heat in a shared space? Probably not, says Dr. Bhuyan. “There are conflicting perspectives, but no real studies show that coronavirus would be transmitted through heat or AC systems since it’s mostly spread via droplet transmission,” she explains. Still, it certainly doesn’t hurt to wipe your vents down with the same CDC-approved cleaning products for coronavirus, says Dr. Bhuyan.
Should I keep windows open or closed? Dr. Arthur suggests opening the windows, if it’s not too cold, to bring in some fresh air. UV radiation from the sun, combined with any bleach products you’re already using to disinfect your home, may help bolster your decontamination efforts, adds Michael Hall, M.D., a board-certified physician and CDC vaccine provider based in Miami.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it’s possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.