Coronavirus is global. It’s a pandemic, meaning it’ll affect every person in every country on the planet, be it directly via contracting the disease or indirectly through changes in work policy, travel restrictions, containment measures, or loved ones being affected.
You, however, are not global. You’re a single human being. Yet, the sum of how billions of individuals will act during this time is going to determine how fast, how well, and how strong we will emerge from this crisis as a species.
Therefore, this cheat sheet is about you. How you can stay healthy, how you can contribute, how you can survive this dilemma and help us all do the same.
Looking at you as an individual, here is what matters:
- Getting a handle on your emotions and not panicking
- Staying healthy or recovering quickly if you catch the disease
- Not infecting others, especially those weaker and more fragile than you
- Taking precautions for isolation without getting paranoid
- Finding a new, comfortable, productive daily rhythm
- Managing your mental health to stay happy and motivated
- Relying on verified information from the right sources
Also looking at you as an individual, here is what matters not:
- How many cases appear in which country from one day to the next
- Measures taken in other cities that don’t affect you or those you know
- Opinions of public figures that dramatize or downplay the situation
- Which way the stock market went and what’ll happen to the economy
- Conspiracy theories from less than trustworthy sources
Right now, it is your duty to separate the former from the latter and do your best to live up to the one without getting lost in the other.
This is a time to put aside pettiness. Stop looking left and right so you can clean your own doorstep. If we all do it, the streets will soon be clean.
I’m not a healthcare professional, nor do I have a Ph.D. I’ve been writing for five years, and I do my homework when it comes to research. This cheat sheet should give you the most important information, backed by credible sources.
Table of contents
This is a step-by-step guide, but depending on your situation, some sections will be more relevant than others. Click the links below to jump around.
1. How to stay calm 2. How to stay healthy 3. How to not infect others 4. How to recover quickly if you’re sick 5. How to prepare for staying at home a lot 6. How to be productive when working from home 7. How to stay sane, busy, happy, and entertained 8. Where to get the facts
How to stay calm
Calmness is the first of my life’s values because if I’m not calm, I can’t act rationally, compassionately, lovingly, or even in a disciplined manner. Right now, many people make a lot of money by stealing your calm. Don’t let them.
Get yourself together, then tackle this uncomfortable situation. Here’s how.
With a 24-hour live stream of breaking news, it’s easy to spend your entire day in fight-or-flight mode. Heightened blood pressure, elevated heart rate, stress, cortisol, adrenaline. That’s not a state in which we make good decisions.
Instead of speeding up, your heart slows down, and your blood pressure stays normal. Instead of hyperventilating like a madman, you take a deep breath. Instead of tensing muscles to prime them for action, your body relaxes a little.
A deep breath. That’s it. Whenever you see the latest virus update, take one. Never forget it. Then, you can reflect and decide what to do next.
Pause, then plan
The point of breathing, pausing, and putting some time between getting new information and reacting to it is to form a better response with a better outcome for yourself and others.
Once you know what you control, you can assemble your resources, craft a plan, and see it through. That’s how you successfully navigate a crisis.
How to stay healthy
The chief objective for you as an individual is to not get sick. This will allow you to a.) survive and b.) help others. Here are the most important steps.
Wash your hands
When? After coming home, before eating, during cooking, when you cough or sneeze into them, and, of course, after touching animals or going to the toilet. Basically, whenever you’ve used them in a way that could leave them dirty or exposed to infectious particles. Don’t settle into a relaxing phase of the day without washing your hands first.
How? Wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry. Use soap, spread it generously, and scrub for at least 20 seconds, whether it takes two rounds of “Happy Birthday” or your favorite pop song chorus. Reserve hand sanitizer for being on the go.
Wear a mask or make one yourself
So far, the general advice has been, “Wear a mask when you’re sick but not otherwise.” This tide is now turning, as “6 out of 7 studies showed that face masks (surgical and N95) offered significant protection against SARS,” per Adrien Burch, Ph.D.. Wearing masks in public reduced SARS risk by 70%, and even fabric masks helped to an extent. These findings aren’t definitive, but give an idea of how useful masks could be in fighting Covid-19.
Sadly, the ideal world in which we all wear masks doesn’t exist. We don’t even have enough masks for all our medical staff, which need them first and foremost because for each health worker we lose, we might lose dozens more in patients. So please, whether you buy a mask or make your own (Burch shares multiple suggestions), don’t hoard them.
When wearing a mask, make sure you clean your hands before, leave no gaps, and remove it from behind when you’re done using it. Make sure you don’t touch your face even more often to adjust the mask. This might actually increase your chances of getting sick. Your hands are still the biggest problem.
Disinfect exposed, commonly used items
The number one candidate here is your phone. Others are your wallet, keys, laptop, handbag or laptop, and accessories. Avoid paying cash if you can, cards don’t need to exchange hands to work. Clean your kitchen surfaces right after cooking, and don’t let trash, dust, or dirt accumulate for long.
Make an effort to touch your face less
On average, we touch our face 300+ times a day. Washing your hands frequently reduces the risk of said touches getting the virus into your system, but the more you can avoid them altogether, the better. It’s hard, since it’s an incredibly strong, subconscious human behavior, but you can at least try.
Don’t leave your house if you don’t have to
This is an extreme measure for an extreme situation, but it’s dead serious. Every little cheat compromises the integrity of this global effort. Take a walk when you feel you’re going crazy, maybe combine it with getting groceries, but no parties, play dates, large gatherings, or hanging around in crowded places without good reason. This is not supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to keep you healthy. More on getting the fun back in other ways later.
When you’re outside, maintain a 3–6 foot distance
Unless you have sick family members, how much physical separation you practice at home is your call. Whenever you’re outside, however, especially around people you don’t know, keep your distance. WHO suggests three feet, the CDC up to six. Also, if you haven’t already, stop shaking people’s hands. It’s been a disease catalyst for centuries, and we need that now less than ever. I hope we can return to bro hugs when this is over, but for now, avoid high fives, hugs, and cheek kisses.
How to not infect others
On top of protecting yourself, washing your hands, wearing a mask, and social distancing also serve not infecting others. Here’s what else you can do.
Don’t visit friends and family over 50
The mortality rate for coronavirus jumps 3x when moving from the 40s to the 50s age bracket, and it only goes up from there. The simplest way to protect those over 50 is to not hang out with them. I know, it’s tough. Call your grandparents, skype with your parents, use your spare time to write letters — whatever you do, don’t visit. Right now, you’re doing them a service.
Let friends and family know you’re worried about them
Even if you don’t visit the older people in your life, they might still be inclined to go out on their own, thinking “it’s not so bad.” It’s normal for our thinking to become more rigid as we get older, but in this case, it could literally kill us.
When talking to older friends and family, express your concerns with kindness, use questions, and focus on your worry, not what they should do. If all else fails, hit them with the hard facts: It takes 11+ days to see symptoms while we’re already infectious, the virus can live up to 72 hours on surfaces, and cases are growing exponentially with not just the old falling gravely ill.
Be extra considerate in keeping your distance from the elderly
If an old man is ahead of you in line at the grocery store, take two steps back. If you must sneeze in aisle three, sneeze into your elbow, not the fruit section. When you’re waiting to pick up your food after an elderly couple, stand outside. Don’t get me wrong: Talk to people. Just do so from a distance. This is about a lack of infection, not connection.
How to recover quickly if you’re sick
Plan A is to not get sick. Plan B is to recover fast while protecting others. Below are some action steps for Plan B.
Know when you might be sick
According to WHO, the most common symptoms of coronavirus are fever, tiredness, and dry coughing. Runny nose, muscle pain, nasal congestion, sore throat, and diarrhea occur in fewer cases. The CDC offers a self-checker, and Robert Roy Britt created a great symptom chart to tell the difference between coronavirus and the common cold or flu:
If you develop a high fever or severe difficulties in breathing, get medical assistance immediately. Generally, if you’re over 50, err on the side of caution and call your doctor right away when you have symptoms.
Get tested if you can
Different countries have different methods, but whichever testing procedure you have access to, if you have symptoms, enter the queue. Better the devil you know than the one that you don’t. Knowing whether you have the virus or something else will help both you and your doctor treat your illness properly.
Plus, even if it takes a while until you can get tested, you’ll provide valuable data for global crisis management. You may even be eligible for financial benefits depending on how your employer and country handle the situation after the fact. Avoid the ER if possible, but get tested if you can.
Get medical assistance
Every instance of every illness plays out slightly differently in every human being. Per our genetic code, no two of us are the exact same. This complicates the fact that corona symptoms are similar to the common flu to begin with. Finally, the global death rate among confirmed cases so far is at over 4% — even if the overall mortality rate is closer to 1%, this illness is not a joke.
That’s three good arguments to consult your doctor or go to a hospital when you feel sick. They’ll adjust to your unique context and tweak treatment recommendations for maximum recovery speed. Don’t take this lightly.
This is a personal note, but whenever I get sick, I try to quit all activities immediately — kind of like what countries are doing now — and it works. If I close my laptop, sleep 12+ hours a day, eat well, and drink a lot, I’ll shake even a proper infection within days. If I keep working through the sickness and don’t look after myself, I might run at 80% capacity for weeks after “recovering.” Do yourself a favor and shut down so you can reboot faster.
Wait for three days without fever and seven without symptoms
This is the CDC-recommended self-assessment for when you can consider yourself “recovered.” If you’re not sure, can’t get tested, and don’t have a negative result to show for, give all symptoms at least a week to pass.
How to prepare for staying at home a lot
Sick or not, for your own safety and that of others, you’ll now likely spend a lot more time at home than you usually do. This will require some behavior changes but also some practical preparations. Let’s start with the latter.
Stock up on food for 2–4 weeks
Most countries’ national response measures are initially set for 2–4 weeks. Even if access to groceries was limited, which, in most countries, it isn’t, a month is a good food planning horizon. If measures are extended, there should be an opportunity to re-stock in between.
What should you buy? Some staples, like rice, potatoes, and noodles, perishables, non-perishables, nuts, frozen goods, oils, and spices. Annie Siebert also suggests canned fish, alliums (onions/garlic), and citrus fruits.
If you usually shop weekly, buying twice the amount should be a good rule of thumb. Don’t clean out the canned goods aisle just yet.
Refill hygiene products and basic medication
If you don’t have one at home yet, now’s a great time to buy a first aid kit. Jessica Migala further proposes stocking up on any medication you take regularly and basic OTC meds, especially fever-reducing ones. The jury on the effects of ibuprofen vs paracetamol isn’t out, but David Kroll, a pharmacology professor says: “There’s no direct evidence suggesting that ibuprofen, acetaminophen, any of these will enhance the lethality of Covid-19.” WHO confirmed this for ibuprofen, so it pays to have both. Throw in a thermometer for good measure, as fever is a common symptom.
With respect to hygiene products, grab some extra tissues, shampoo, hair wax, shaving cream, contraceptives, tampons, and whatever else won’t go out of stock but will save you a trip down the line. The omni-desired hand sanitizer isn’t as efficient as soap and water, and you probably can’t get any anyway. If you don’t travel, that shouldn’t be a problem. If you do, try ordering online.
Toilet paper you might have to grab 2–3 packs when you can, as the crazy run on it has created some necessity to stock up on it, even if there was never a supply problem to begin with. You can even calculate how long your inventory will last — you’ll see you don’t need to buy a whole pallet.
If you scoop up all the soap, other people in your community can’t wash their hands — and are thus more likely to infect you and others. Damaging others’ access to toilet paper is even worse. If you build up a 12-month food supply, others will have to shop more often, thus spreading more virus cells. It’s a needless, self-reinforcing, vicious cycle. Buy what you need, but don’t hoard.
How to be productive when working from home
Some of us are already used to and comfortable with working from home. Most of us aren’t, but since we can expect social distancing measures to last anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more, it is critical to master the transition if you’re lucky enough to have a job that affords it. Here’s how.
Decide on a routine
Humans are creatures of habit. You may not have consciously designed it, but, when going into the office, you had a work routine. Now’s the time to make your own. What routine you choose doesn’t matter as much as that you do. Keeping track of how you adjust your behavior will help you figure out what works and what doesn’t faster.
My friend Franz Sauerstein suggests pretending to go into work where possible. Get up, get dressed, make coffee, have breakfast, brush your teeth, etc. Use an alarm, start work around the same time, plan breaks, and try to commit to the end of your workday too. Franz schedules all his emails to go out at 5 PM, then he’s done. Whatever routine you pick, set a starting point!
Adapt your home to your routine
The two big components of habit change are self-awareness and environment design. Once settling on a daily routine, make a one-time effort to adapt your home in ways that support it. If you can write better in broad daylight, move your desk to the window. Keep your phone charger where you have to get up to turn off your alarm. Stock up on coffee so you can prepare it the night before. Each next version of your routine should come with some home arrangements to support it. Tweak your house as you tweak your habits.
Continue to experiment and adjust
Everyone has a different way of being productive, and your circumstances are unique to you. Don’t let any particular set of tips not working discourage you. Darius Foroux says the most important thing is to continue to experiment.
If you have kids, like Michael Thompson, you might want to set weekly goals instead of daily ones and shoot for a few focused blocks between the madness. If you don’t, you might finally get to indulge in the fact that you’re most productive at night. Your system might be detailed and complex, like Danny Forest’s time tracking with a spreadsheet or more relaxed and unstructured, like Darius’s “work first” mindset.
As long as it works for you, it doesn’t matter which system (or lack thereof) you use. Continue to experiment until you find that set of rules and habits.
How to stay sane, busy, happy, and entertained
Besides your work schedule changing drastically, your spare time will also go through the roof. Not just because you may work less, but also because everything is closed, travel isn’t allowed, and you’re not supposed to go out. How can you spend it so you won’t get cabin fever? Here are some ideas.
Most countries allow walks, running, biking, and other forms of solo outdoor exercise, but even if yours doesn’t, you can still work out at home. I do ten minutes of bodyweight exercises every day — sit ups, push ups, dips, squats, and jumping jacks. Most forms of exercise have indoor variations that stress the same muscles. Swimming, for example, can be simulated with stretch cords. If you’ve been eyeing a cross trainer or stationary bike, now’s the time. Consider supporting local gyms by taking their online classes. As for the duration of workouts, fitness expert Christie Aschwanden suggests keeping your daily exercise to 60 or not more than 90 minutes tops, as intense athletics make your immune system more vulnerable, not less.
Learn to enjoy solitude
Humans are afraid of being alone. It’s in our nature. Still, we can learn to not just tolerate but even enjoy solitude and quiet. To do so, you can meditate, focus on personal growth, or even just do things you enjoy by yourself. Roz Savage further suggests getting into philosophy, treating it like an experiment, being silly, and indulging in your daydreams. Master your mind, stay calm.
Find new ways to have fun (and remember old ones)
If you’re a movie lover, now’s the time to get your watch list to zero. If you like video games, have at it. Beyond enjoying your hobbies more and resurrecting old ones, you can also find entirely new ways to enjoy life.
With or without kids, you can virtually go to the zoo, a botanical garden, or even a glorious national park, Nicole Akers suggests. Jake Daghe shares a list of 12 art museums in which you can do the same. Terrie Schweitzer from Better Humans compiled a pandemic resource guide that covers both mentally calming and physically engaging pastime activities. Quarantine may feel like a punishment, but it’s really just a prompt to reinvent yourself.
Where to get the facts
As this pandemic unfolds, news appear by the second, and you’ll likely have to adapt to some of it down the line. While there’s no point in staying glued to the screen and worrying around the clock, it’s important to have a few go-to sources you can rely on to provide verified, credible information. In Iran, hundreds of people died after drinking toxic methanol, which was falsely advertised as a cure to the virus. Information matters. Here’s where to get it.
Official sources — stick to these in “When in doubt” scenarios
Medium — the latest science, health advice, and personal accounts
Elemental, Medium’s health publication, consistently puts out great advice on all things corona, starting with multiple FAQs, as from Robert Roy Britt in February and March and this one from researcher Dave Troy. They also share in-depth reporting on the latest science, like Dana G Smith’s piece on how your immune system reacts to the virus and whether vitamin D, zinc, gargling, and UV light actually do anything (they don’t).
Wikipedia — aggregated information and lists
The world’s largest, crowd-sourced database isn’t the most scientific source, but especially for aggregated information, it’s great. It lists all travel restrictions by country, national measures taken, and keeps track of the most common misinformation. Their coronavirus portal is a good hub to start from.
Curated sources from trustworthy people
Knowledge kneecaps fear. The news might make you anxious, but actually understanding the virus and its implications can — up to a certain point — bring peace of mind. I’m no expert, and I encourage you to further look for your own, trusted advisors, but I found the following resources helpful:
- Kurzgesagt’s 8-minute video explanation
- Harry Stevens’s “Flatten the curve” piece
- Tomas Pueyo’s massive primer
After surviving the holocaust, Viktor Frankl became a psychologist, promoting one message above all: Believe. Optimism is what drives humanity forward. Together, we can get through this. Do your part, have faith, and don’t give up.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.