close-up of man's soapy hands over sink with running water

What preparations should you take for the coronavirus? COVID-19 is spreading across the globe, and there are infections in at least 110 countries.

Although many cases have been quite mild and do not require hospitalization, others have led to fatalities, especially among the elderly or people with underlying health issues. In the U.S., even healthy people with mild cases are asked by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to self-isolate to decrease its spread.

Here is our guide to thinking sustainably about COVID-19 preparations.

Preparing Your Home

Experts recommend that we have a two-week supply of food, water, and necessary medications. Unfortunately, this could create a financial hardship for low-income families. It is important to consider what we really need; do not make wasteful purchases. Panic can lead to impulse shopping and stockpiling supplies is not the same as being prepared.

Before stocking up on supplies, plan ahead. Buying too much perishable food could lead to waste. Beware of hoarding critical materials which promote shortages for others in need.

If you are stocking up on non-perishable foods, consider how you can support local farms by purchasing canned, dried, or frozen goods. Also, consider that certain vegetables, such as potatoes, onions, and carrots, last longer than others.

Whenever possible, look for products that are safe and natural. Although hand sanitizers can be effective in stopping germs, some additives such as triclosan have not been proven safe. Although triclosan was one of 28 ingredients banned from hand sanitizers by the Food and Drug Administration in 2019, some products with concerning ingredients still remain in use. Avoid those products for your safety.

Preventing Spread of the Coronavirus

There are simple actions you can take to stay healthy. These tips are also applicable to staying healthy during the cold and flu season. And they’re especially important for seniors and people with preexisting health conditions because they have a greater risk of contracting a more severe case of the coronavirus.

One of the easiest and most effective actions is washing hands for at least 20 seconds in warm water. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good option for preventing the spread of disease, it is not recommended instead of washing hands.

The CDC suggests using alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60 to 95 percent alcohol. But beware that sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are dirty or greasy, so wash your hands first whenever possible.

It is also helpful to use cleaning supplies that stop germs. Studies show that hydrogen peroxide is highly disinfectant. In fact, the three-percent hydrogen peroxide that is widely available commercially is an effective disinfectant for a variety of pathogens. The EPA recently released a list of recommended commercial cleaning products that are effective against the coronavirus. The list does not include peroxide and vinegar, which are environmentally safe, but the EPA did not evaluate these household products.

Boosting the Immune System

Consider using herbal supplements that are effective in preventing or treating colds and flu.

Elderberry syrup is made from the juice of its berries and can prevent the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms. It helps strengthen the immune system against viruses and advocates recommend taking it as a preventative measure at the onset of the first symptoms. Even though it made from the juice of a berry, it is important to not take too much. Elderberry can have laxative effects in some people, so do not take more than the recommended dose on the package. When possible, purchase locally produced elderberry syrup and other natural remedies or even consider growing and making your own.

At the risk of sounding like your mother, proper sleep is really important for a strong immune system and fighting off viral infections. The optimum amount of sleep for most adults is seven to eight hours a night.

Staying hydrated and physically active is equally important.

Also, remember that sufficient zinc and vitamin D levels are linked to a strong immune system. Pumpkin seeds are an especially good source of zinc.

In winter, it is easier to become vitamin D deficient, especially in colder climates or for people with darker skin. This is because our skin produces vitamin D when it comes in contact with sunlight. Whenever possible, get 10 to 30 minutes of midday sun exposure, multiple times a week. If this isn’t possible, vitamin D supplements can be helpful.

Planning Ahead

Typically, viruses spread more in colder weather than hot, thus the flu peaks in the winter. Therefore, there might be a spike in coronavirus cases next winter. Although there is a lot of work going into producing a vaccine, the soonest it might be available is at least 12 to 18 months from now. Thus, the most effective way to respond is by taking steps to stop the spread of the virus and by boosting immune system health.

One bit of good news associated with the coronavirus is that the air quality in China has improved. The closure of factories and coal power plants as well are reduced emissions from cars, trucks, and planes have lowered the level of nitrogen dioxide by as much as 30 percent, according to NASA.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.