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To prepare for a possible coronavirus outbreak, public health officials are encouraging Canadians to keep a supply of essentials, but to avoid stockpiling.

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s website advises that people “gradually build up their household stores” by buying a few extra items each time they shop, instead of making large purchases. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends having a two-week supply of water and food ahead of a pandemic – enough to tide people over for the 14-day quarantine period for COVID-19. But officials have provided little guidance on the specific quantities of items people will need.

What can I do to stay safe from COVID-19?

The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread through airborne droplets by coughing or sneezing, through touching a surface those droplets have touched, or through personal contact with infected people.

Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly

The World Health Organization recommends regular hand-washing and physical distancing – that is, keeping at least two metres from someone with a cough. If you have to cough or sneeze, do it into your sleeve or a tissue, not your hands. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose if you can.

The CDC says to frequently clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them.

  • If you show symptoms of COVID-19, seek medical attention and do what your health-care provider recommends. That may include staying home from work or school and getting lots of rest until the symptoms go away.

COVID-19 is much more serious for older adults. As a precaution, older adults should continue frequent and thorough hand-washing, and avoid exposure to people with respiratory symptoms.

Check the WHO’s information page for more details on the virus, and The Globe and Mail’s guide of what health officials say is helpful for the public to do or not do about it.

Need more answers? Email audience@globeandmail.com

So what – and how much – do you need to ensure you’re not caught off-guard in a pandemic? Here’s advice from emergency and survival experts:

Food

Unlike in a natural disaster scenario, you won’t need to worry about losing electricity, running water and other basic services during an outbreak, says Zenia Platten of Total Prepare Canada, Inc., which sells emergency supplies. Having enough food and sanitation supplies is typically the main concern, she says.

Platten recommends keeping at least a couple weeks’ worth of food, including canned foods, non-perishable foods and freeze-dried foods, which have shelf lives of at least 25 years. (Owing to a surge in demand amid fears of the coronavirus, her company has run out its supplies of freeze-dried foods.)

Ideally, you should have enough for an average of 1,600 to 2,000 calories a person each day, she says. But this amount will depend on the age of family members, their gender, size and activity levels.

It’s also important to include a source of protein and to have a variety of foods “so you’re not eating Clif bars for two weeks straight,” Platten says.

In her own pantry, she keeps about a week’s worth of food items that she and her partner consume day to day, and an additional supply of 60 servings of freeze-dried, premade meals, such as stroganoff and chili, that would last them another week.

At his home in rural Manitoba, Dave MacDonald, president and lead survival instructor with the International Canadian School of Survival, has enough food stored to feed his family of four adults, four dogs and two cats throughout the winter.

Each fall, he fills his deep freezer with around 300 to 400 pounds of wild meat, some of which he slices thinly and preserves by drying. He keeps about 50 pounds of white rice and another 50 pounds of wild rice in grain bags, which he stores in high, dry areas around his house safe from pests. He also keeps onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables covered in dry sand inside plastic tote containers.

“I just do the same thing as my grandparents did,” MacDonald says. “They grew up in those times where you couldn’t just go to the store and get whatever you wanted.”

First aid supplies and medication

Health Canada advises keeping fever-reducing medications on hand, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, including products for children.

MacDonald also recommends keeping a general first aid kit that includes tourniquets, bandages, gloves, CPR masks, EpiPens, anti-septics and extra prescription medications, if possible.

Sanitation and comfort items

Think of everything you’d need to keep clean and comfortable for two weeks if couldn’t go to the stores or if you became ill, Platten says.

This includes hand sanitizer, toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoos, soaps – “things that you will be annoyed if you run out of,” she says. Most of the things you’d need you will already have in your home, she says.

She suggests having a supply of disinfectant wipes or sprays to keep surfaces clean and help protect those you live with from your germs. And if you share a bathroom, you may want to have extra garbage bags for “a back-up option, either for vomiting or if things come out the other side.”

Although Platten notes COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, characterized by coughing and fever, it’s a good idea to have garbage bags handy for the flu and other illnesses in general.

If you’re desperate, MacDonald says rags can be used in place of toilet paper and can be washed the same way as cloth diapers. “I’ve used snow, I’ve used leaves, grass. There’s lots of methods out there."

Entertainment

All that time stuck at home can give you cabin fever. To keep your mind occupied, MacDonald suggests reading a book or tackling the projects around the house you’ve put off.

Most people will have their phones and digital devices as well, Platten says. “Make sure your Netflix subscription is up to date,” she says.

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