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Coronavirus Pandemic Preparedness from a Medical Perspective

Posted by Dr. Felice Carlton on March 9, 2020 at 9:04 AM

We live in a global economy, and it was only a matter of time before the coronavirus was going to arrive in the United States despite best efforts.

Recent reports from infectious disease experts highly anticipate the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community. The actual extent of the spread is unknown, but effects are already being seen in the economy, health care and in shortages of necessary supplies. The Federal Reserve initiated an emergency interest rate reduction (the largest one-time reduction since the economic depression in 2008), to stabilize the economy in the midst of coronavirus virus outbreak concerns.

The Center for Disease Control is expediting COVID-19 testing to identify infected individuals, quarantine them and attempt to determine the origin of their contamination. Increased testing will likely result in increased numbers of confirmed cases.

Given that a vast quantity of products that we use daily are imported from China and other countries it is important to consider ripple effects of supply shortages or unanticipated changes in demand. For example, some international flights to specific destinations have been grounded. Thus, decreasing the need for increased fuel supply which will inevitably affect the oil industry and cause billions in loss for the airline industry. From the health care perspective, the FDA has already announced the first drug shortage of a medication manufactured in China. As an organization or consumer, it’s important to consider what products, supplies, commodities or quality of life factors may be affected, and attempt to plan accordingly.

How the Coronavirus Spreads in Humans

COVID-19 typically spreads through respiratory droplets, such as when an infected person sneezes or coughs, and others breathe in those droplets (you typically need to be within six feet for this type of spread). Additionally, touching an infected surface and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes before washing your hands spreads the virus.

Recommendations to Prevent the Spread

At this time there is no vaccine to prevent the virus and treatment is focused on addressing the symptoms and complications, as there is not a cure for the actual virus. Standard precautions to help prevent the spread of other respiratory conditions such as the flu are also recommended to reduce your risk of contamination or spreading COVID-19.  These may include:

  • Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20-30 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol based. Soap and water are the gold standard for manually removing and rinsing away germs
  • Avoid touching your face, nose or mouth before washing your hands
  • Avoid being in close proximity with those who are sick
  • Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces that are commonly touched
  • Cough or sneeze in a tissue, immediately throw away the tissue and wash your hands
  • Stay away from others when you are sick

Pandemic Preparedness from a Medical Perspective

Given that the FDA has announced the first drug shortage as a result of the coronavirus, it is important to consider stocking up now on supplies and medications.

  • Request 90-day supplies of your medications. You can request your medical provider to change your current prescription to a 90-day supply to prevent you running out if there is any future shortage. This will give you a stock of 3 months of medications. Please keep in mind that co-pay prices may be affected due to your insurance company. However, some insurances actually prefer patients to obtain 90-day supplies. This does not apply to opioid medications due to safety reasons. 
  • Ensure you have adequate supplies of over-the-counter medications and supplements. This may include pain and fever relievers (Tylenol/Ibuprofen, etc.), medications for digestive and stomach issues, cough and cold medications, vitamins, etc.
  • Make sure you have printed copies of any medical conditions, allergies and current medications in your possession. This is especially important to consider in the elderly population. For example, if an elderly parent is suddenly taken to the emergency room, it is important for the staff to know their exact medication regimen, existing medical conditions and allergies. You can type up multiple copies to keep in your phone, wallet, vehicle or purse.
  • Adequate water and nonperishable food supplies. It is completely unknown if there will be any major impacts to food and water supply, but it is always a good idea to be prepared. How would you survive if the grocery stores and restaurants were closed?  Having two weeks’ worth of water and nonperishable food for all household members (including pets) is a good start if needed.
  • Consider gasoline and fuel needs.  If your home uses natural gas to provide heat or operate your stove, this may be a good time to make sure your supply is filled. Additionally, if you live in a place where you can safely store extra gasoline in approved canisters, this may be something to consider.
  • Make sure you have adequate medical supplies. For example, if you require oxygen to live or depend on medical devices such as catheters, home dialysis, etc., it is critically important that you have adequate supplies (including tubing) if the delivery company is not able to dispense your equipment. 
  • Have a plan in place if you have a chronic disease that needs regular monitoring or supplies.  For example, if you receive dialysis at a center, infusions, or any type of additional medical care; you may want to contact the medical team to see if there is a plan in place for your continued care.

Who’s Most at Risk for Complications?

Individuals that have weakened immune systems such as babies and the elderly population are most at risk for serious complications. Furthermore, additional high risk populations include those who may be taking medications to suppress their immune system, such as those receiving chemotherapy, those with autoimmune conditions (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, sarcoidosis, Sjogren’s, etc.), those with diabetes, those with pre-existing lung conditions, heart conditions, and other medical conditions.

Final Words

As you prepare for a potential pandemic, we all desire the best outcomes, but we should be prepared if situations began to cause shortages. Two important questions to consider: What products do I use in my daily life that may be directly or indirectly affected by a potential pandemic (such as those manufactured in China)?  What ways can I ensure that I am prepared if we have a shortage of supplies?