Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising and it's starting to feel like April all over again, so it's important to know what you need to prepare for the coming COVID surge. Organizing an emergency kit and a to-go bag that includes the essentials will keep you ready for anything. (In fact, federal authorities have been recommending this for years as preparation for natural disasters.) "People need to know that right now, they will be going to the hospital alone," says Io Dolka, MS, a patient advocate in Seattle. "In most places, no family member is allowed to escort them in ER or visit them during their hospitalization." Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
A Well-Stocked First Aid Kit
The last thing you want to have to do is head to the ER or an urgent care center because you cut your finger or have an allergy flare up. You're just risking your health and potentially the health of others.
With a well-stocked first aid kit, you can address small medical issues at home. If you have a family of four, the American Red Cross suggests your first aid kit include at least the following:
2 absorbent compress dressings that are 5 inches by 9 inches.
At least 25 adhesive bandages of various sizes.
Cloth tape that's at least 10 yards long by one inch wide.
5 one-gram antibiotic ointment packets.
5 antiseptic wipes.
1 instant cold compress.
2 pairs of non-latex gloves.
1 roller bandage.
At least 5 sterile gauze pads in assorted sizes.
1 breathing barrier.
1 emergency blanket.
Add anything to your first aid kit that's unique to your location, situation, or family. For example, if you live somewhere with tons of bugs, maybe add an ointment for itchy bug bites. If you have a child who's allergic to bee stings, have an allergy medication on hand in your first aid kit.
Bottles of Water
There's no drain on our water supply and we don't need to worry about our taps running dry any time soon. However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does recommend having some bottled water on hand during a pandemic just in case. When it's available, purchase about a one week water supply for you and your family.
While gallon jugs or bigger containers of water are more environmentally friendly, consider buying assorted sizes of water containers, including bottles of water. If you have symptoms and need to go get tested, you may be waiting in your car in a long line for hours. Having bottled water on hand can ensure you stay comfortable while waiting for your test.
Your Medical Records
Ensure you have access to your medical records electronically. If not, contact your doctors' offices and ask for permission to access your records. Gather any documents you have that relate to your medical conditions, medical history, and medications you're taking.
In the event of an emergency or if you need to seek medical treatment, you can provide the healthcare worker with quick access to these records. Information on your medical history and the medications you're currently taking is crucial for EMTs, nurses, and doctors when you seek treatment and you may not be able to verbally give them a rundown.
A Face Mask and Gloves
You likely don't leave the house anymore at all without a face mask, but it's important to have one in your emergency kit just in case, as well as some gloves, to protect you from the spread of COVID-19 droplets.
A Two-Month Supply of Fever Medicine
Even if you feel fine now, it's a good time to check in on your fever medication. Is it expired? Do you have a two-month supply? If you begin to feel ill, the last thing you need is to have to go to a pharmacy or grocery store to buy medication. You'll put yourself and others at risk for infection.
Your best bet is Tylenol or acetaminophen.
On your next grocery run, it wouldn't hurt to pick up a gallon of unscented bleach to have on hand. Bleach is known to kill bacteria on contact, so it's a simple way to eliminate the virus or germs.
If you feel your clothing, towels, or other items may be contaminated, use bleach to clean them if it's safe to do so. Only use bleach in a well-ventilated area and don't mix it with other cleaners or chemicals. If you do a thorough cleaning job, you can rest assured bacteria, germs, and viruses didn't survive an encounter with bleach.
Just don't drink it! Bleach is poisonous if ingested.
A Non-Mercury Thermometer
Keep a thermometer on hand for both your mental and physical health. With so much talk about the virus, it's easy to psych yourself into thinking that one cough could mean you're infected. If you can monitor your body temp with a thermometer, you can talk yourself down from the ledge and be more realistic about your symptoms.
A non-mercury thermometer is recommended because it's generally more accurate and easier to store. According to Ohio State University, non-mercury thermometers have "scale divisions equal to mercury thermometers." They're also "non-toxic and environmentally safe."
A One to Two Month Supply of Nonperishable Food
It's a good idea to have a one to two month supply of food for your family on hand in the event of an emergency. If you or a family member get sick, having the food you already need ensures you don't have to go in public to get more supplies and risk the health of others. If possible, stock up on non-perishable items like soups, canned beans, rice, or pasta.
Making sure your house and personal belongings are disinfected is one of the best ways to keep the coronavirus out of your household. Use a disinfectant cleaner to wipe down areas that are frequently touched, such as door knobs, faucets, and toilet handles.
When it's safe to do so, use a disinfectant cleaner to also clean your phone, sunglasses, or other surfaces that may have been out in public. Wipe down packages that are delivered and the packaging of items you bought from the grocery store before placing them in your home.
You have your supply of non-perishable foods so your family can eat for a while without leaving the house. But don't forget about snacks. Pre-packaged snacks have long shelf lives so they're good to buy and stock for a rainy day.
If you have a referral to get tested for the virus, be prepared for a long wait in your car with some pre-packaged snacks. Consider buying nuts, granola bars, pretzels, and other snacks that will tide you over as you wait for your test or satisfy your family's cravings without leaving the house.
Who would have thought that a common company giveaway like hand sanitizer would become the most-wanted item of 2020? If you can get your hands on hand sanitizer, hold on tight.
The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with anti-bacterial soap any time you go to the bathroom, handle food, eat, or are out in public. However, if you can't get to a sink or you're in between hand washing, hand sanitizer may do the trick. Only buy hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. This ensures it will be effective at killing bacteria and germs on contact.
Paper products are hard to come by right now, but if you find some tissues, it wouldn't hurt to have some on hand. Even if you stay safe from the virus, a common cold or allergies can still be a nuisance while you're hanging at home and social distancing. Having tissues on hand ensures you and your family members can take care of your allergies properly and comfortably.
Follow the CDC guidelines to throw away used tissues immediately and don't leave them on surfaces, such as a table or counter. Even if you don't have the virus, this ensures you're not spreading germs or contaminants to other surfaces in your home.
A Soap You Want to Use
You've heard it before: Wash your hands. It's the best way to prevent the spread of the virus. But it's not enough to touch the soap and quickly rinse it off. Lather up for at least 20 seconds before you thoroughly rinse the soap off and dry your hands. Teach all your family members how to properly wash and stock all the sinks in your home with a bottle of antibacterial soap.
A Two Month Supply of Prescription Medications
New regulations are enforced everyday so now is the time to ensure you're stocked on prescription medications you may need for the next two months. Call your doctor's office and ask for refills of your essential prescriptions while they're still treating patients. In most cases, your doctor can electronically send these refills to the pharmacy or your insurance company.
Try to refill these prescriptions by mail or through a pharmacy drive-through to reduce your contact with other people. Check in on your family members and make sure they also have at least two months of necessary prescriptions.
If you want your home to be a safe haven that's free from virus germs, check your supply of laundry detergent. It's not enough to wash your hands and take off your shoes after a grocery store run. Your clothing may also have been exposed to germs or droplets from other peoples' sneezes or coughs.
When you or a family member get home from a public place, throw all clothing into the washing machine. According to the CDC, any normal laundry detergent will do a good job of eliminating bacteria. Follow the care labels on your clothing and try to dry it at the highest recommended temperature.
A One-Month Supply of Pet Food
Don't forget to prepare your furry family members for social distancing as well. To avoid multiple trips to the store, add at least a one-month supply of pet food to your grocery list. By stocking up on pet food, you can limit your time in public and the number of trips you have to make hunting for items at local stores. You may even be able to order your supply of pet food online.
Diapers and Formula
If you have a child at home, a generous supply of diapers and formula is crucial. Having a one to two month supply of these items allows you to truly engage in social distancing and skip frequent trips to the store.
If you're planning to stock up on diapers and formula, keep in mind, the rest of the world is probably doing the same. You may need to be open to buying a different brand than you normally would to ensure you have the supplies you need for your child.
Take inventory of your essential toiletries before you have to step out. Pay attention to the household stock you have for important items such as contact solution, hearing aid batteries, or toothpaste.
If you're planning a trip to the store for groceries, pick up extra toiletries if you're running low. This can prevent you from needing something when stores are closed or making a special trip and risking your health for one item.
Feminine Care Products
Another essential item you should have one to two months supply of is feminine care products. On your next outing, pick up what you think your household will need for the next few months.
Having these items in stock at home allows you to skip a trip and stay home to effectively practice social distancing. Again, be patient with the grocery store stock on these items. You may need to be open to buying different brands or products than you usually would to ensure you have an adequate supply.
Books, Games, and Puzzles
Supplies for your mental health are just as important as supplies for your physical health. Keep you and your family entertained by stocking up on fun activities, such as puzzles and games.
Need a quiet moment? Have a few good books lined up to pass the time. Make it a game night with board games you and your household members can get together and play. You can also find virtual games to play with family or friends who aren't in the same house as you. By keeping your mind busy and engaged, your social distancing time will pass faster and won't feel so isolating.
"Advance directives should definitely be included as part of a patient's medical record," says New York City-based physician Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD. "The legal document stipulates a patient's health intervention wishes in the event that the patient is no longer able to communicate their wishes during hospitalization."
This is also known as a "living will," which specifies your wishes on end-of-life decisions, such as cardiac resuscitation and mechanical ventilation. For example: Would you want to receive CPR if your heart stops beating? Would you want to be intubated and placed on a ventilator if you're critically ill and unable to breathe on your own? Read on for resources that can help you create those documents.
Specified Power of Attorney
You should designate a Durable Power of Attorney (someone who can make financial decisions for you, if you become incapacitated) and a Healthcare Power of Attorney (or healthcare proxy—someone who can make healthcare decisions for you if you become too sick to make them yourself). You can consult an attorney, or Five Wishes has a document that is accepted by most states, says Gayle Byck, Ph.D., a board-certified patient advocate in Chicago. You can also use their forms to list your advance directives. Dolka also recommends The Conversation Project.
HIPAA Release Form
This gives permission for healthcare providers to release personal health information about you to whomever you list on the form, says Byck. You can look online to find one that is applicable in your state.
Keep a photocopied or spare insurance card in the bag for easy access, or write down your insurance company name, policy number and phone number.
It's a good idea to keep a duplicate photo ID or a copy in your go-bag as a backup, in case you head for the hospital without your wallet or purse.
List of Your Current Medications
"A comprehensive list of all medications a patient takes is another important piece of information for your doctors to know about," says Okeke-Igbokwe. List all medications or supplements you take—both prescribed and over-the-counter—along with the dosage, what you take them for, and how often you take them. Include your pharmacy's name and phone number.
Note any medications you're allergic to, so your healthcare providers can avoid administering them.
Note any conditions you're currently being treated for, past illnesses or surgeries (and when they happened), and any family history of medical conditions. It's also a good idea to include copies of recent and important test results, says Byck.
Important Phone Numbers
List your doctors, key friends and family, and clergy if you wish. "Include a list of emergency contacts in order of how you would like them to be called," says Joshua Mansour, MD, a triple board-certified physician in Los Angeles. "There are certain situations where the power of attorney or closest family member cannot be reached, therefore having a list of who the patient would like the healthcare team to call next is very beneficial. Many times the numbers are not updated in the hospital system or chart."
Pack a charger for your cellphone; hospital staff may not have as spare to lend you when you need it. Include chargers for your laptop and e-reader if you envision taking those with you.
Notebook or Paper and Pen
You or a loved one will want to take notes about your condition and treatment. You might also want to journal or write letters when you're feeling up to it.
Something Familiar From Home
"Pictures or personal items may make a prolonged stay away from home a little easier," says Mansour. "Many times, pictures of family, friends, and loved ones can help brighten up a patient's day. A favorite blanket or item can make the hospital stay a bit easier."
Things to Help You Stay Busy
Include a few books or magazines, an e-reader, or crosswords or puzzles to help you pass the time.
Patient Portal Login Information
"If you have not set up a patient portal, now is a great time to do that," says Byck. "In 'normal times,' it's an easy way to contact your doctors and keep track of your test results and upcoming appointments. Share the login information with your health care proxy and trusted family members in case they need more information to help advocate for your care. While you may think that the health care professionals taking care of you will have access to that information, it's entirely possible that you might not be taken to your usual hospital."
Because you're probably actively using these, write yourself a reminder to take them with you and affix it to the bag. They'll help you stay occupied and communicate with loved ones. "Especially given that many hospitals have restrictions on visitors given COVID-19, anything that will help patients keep in contact with family, friends, and loved ones will make the hospital stay more comforting," says Mansour. "Although there are restrictions and social distancing is enforced, we do not want patients to feel socially isolated."
Spare Pair of Glasses
If you wear eyeglasses, include a spare pair so you don't forget. "In the rush, patients will many times forget to grab their glasses," says Mansour. "Especially if a patient is taken by ambulance, it will be easier to have everything together in this go bag."
These can help you take phone calls or relax with music on your cellphone or laptop without disturbing others.
Although the hospital can provide these, you might want to include extras of your favorite personal care items, such as deodorant, soap and toothpaste and toothbrush.
Sometimes in the hospital, you might get hungry between mealtimes. You might want to include snacks like nutrition bars or single-serving packages of nuts, along with your favorite tea bags or instant coffee.
Spare Hearing Aid Batteries
If you wear hearing aids, pack some extra juice to ensure you get the best care. "I have had several patients in the past where their batteries have failed, and it makes it more difficult to communicate," says Mansour.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.