How you can prepare for the coronavirus

Coronavirus

(CNN) — Health officials warn it’s probably only a matter of time before coronavirus starts spreading in the U.S. So how can you prevent getting sick?

Turns out, the steps you should take aren’t much different than what you may already be doing for cold and flu season.

American health officials say Americans’ everyday lives could be impacted, and they need to prepare for the worst.

“Disruption to everyday life may be severe,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Centers for Disease Control.

What exactly does that mean?

“That may include canceling mass-gatherings, sporting events, having people work from home as much as possible,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, NYU School of Medicine.

Experts say school closures could be possible, but they stress that all may occur only in certain areas where there could be some community spreading of the virus — not all across the country.

So what can the average American do to prepare or to fend off coronavirus? Experts say there are some very simple, but important steps:

“Those include items like washing your hands for 20 seconds. Most people do it less than five to 10 seconds. Including not touching your face, not touching your eyes, if you haven’t washed your hands recently,” said Chris Meekins, former assistant HHS secretary.

Fist or elbow-bumps, experts say, would be good alternatives to shaking hands while the outbreak is at its height. Use knuckles or elbows to touch elevator buttons and doorknobs, instead of your fingers. Also, stay home if you’re sick.

What about wearing masks, as we see people do so often in Asia? Experts say Americans don’t need to wear masks on a widespread basis. One reason: They don’t always work perfectly.

“(Wearing a mask) could actually sometimes be more harmful than not wearing a mask, because if it’s not fitted right, you’ll fumble with it. You’ll be touching your face, which is the No. 1 way you get disease — it’s unclean hands touching your face,” said Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary.

And there’s longer-term preparation Americans are being advised to make. Experts say think of it as an approaching hurricane.

“Having maybe two-weeks worth of food at home, in terms of dry goods, canned goods, frozen goods, in case for whatever reason there were to be some quarantine instituted. And most importantly, having a good supply of prescription medications on hand,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, NYU School of Medicine. 

What Americans should not do, experts say, is panic. The transmission and fatality rates from coronavirus are extremely low. In the U.S., most people who get it will survive.

As far as things we enjoy and do every day, like going to restaurants:

“People should continue to go out to eat. I’m continuing to eat out and I’m not worried. And my job in the government was to worry about the worst possible things that could happen,” said Chris Meekins, former assistant HHS secretary.

Experts also say you don’t need to stop riding on airplanes, trains or buses. Just try to put a bit more space between yourself and others, whenever possible.

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