If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest example of why both individuals and families should create their own specific, actionable plans to manage any emergency—well ahead of time.
Preparing for potential illness is similar to what emergency planners recommend for adverse weather events, like a flood, tornado or hurricane. In the pandemic, although we’re not experiencing the types of damage that severe weather causes, we do see many similar effects—illness, hospitalizations, shelter-at-home, and all the commercial and economic consequences. So, we follow similar guidelines to stay prepared.
Readiness is a Family Affair
A strong, successful plan is not a solo effort.
Even if you are single and living alone, planning should involve friends and extended family to help create the plan, then put it in motion and keep it in motion if needed.
In the family unit, planning is a group project, with all members of the family involved—kids, adults and the elderly. The group dynamic is of utmost importance: planning works best when everyone knows his or her role and precisely what to do in a crisis.
Develop a simple, concise plan and rehearse it together periodically, to help keep the family healthy, connected, and ready for a variety of challenges, including a house fire or other calamity that makes the home uninhabitable; a natural disaster that may disrupt travel and phone service; or other types of emergencies that require sheltering in place. These preparations will help you and your loved ones better manage any disruption—including a pandemic caused by a virus.
Managing an emergency means being prepared, beforehand. COVID-19 is a good reason for every individual and family to have an emergency plan. bit.ly/2ZEWPV9 via @MedStarWHC
During the pandemic, if any family members continue to leave the house for work, they are most likely coming in contact with others. Disinfecting to the best of your ability helps protect the rest of the family.
In my family, we’ve assigned the garage as my quarantine space. It’s where I leave my work clothes for 72 hours before they are handled again for laundering. Any area can serve this function. If you live in a small home where all the rooms have traffic, keep one area as off-limits as possible, and use it to bag and seal soiled clothing and other items before laundering.
Keep the home environment as clean as possible, wear a face cover when venturing out, maintain six feet of distance from others and be sure the entire family washes their hands frequently.
If Illness Strikes
Even with all the precautions—hand washing, masks, social distancing—it’s still possible that someone may contract the disease. Are you prepared, if you or someone you love is infected? The time to plan is before that happens.
Most often, those fighting the disease are advised to ride it out at home unless severe symptoms develop. So, it’s up to you and your family to prepare your home for a potentially difficult situation: the need to do everything possible for a sick loved one, while protecting the health of the rest of the family.
- Quarantine: Plan to isolate the ill family member to help protect everyone. Assign a suitable space, before you need it. If illness strikes, limit who may enter that room. Wear a face-covering when attending to the family member up close; be sure they wear one, too.
- Medical supplies: Consider what the family will need to weather the storm. For fever, acetaminophen products (Tylenol® or others), as appropriate; a thermometer to monitor fever, if available; an ample supply of prescription medications; gloves; and masks or face covers. N-95 masks are neither needed nor recommended in this situation—they are designed for healthcare providers and must be properly fitted. Cloth or paper masks are sufficient in the home and community. If it’s difficult to find them in stores, masks can be made from a simple bandana or T-shirt, even if you don’t sew.
- Food and water: Water is fine for hydration, but sports drinks, broth, Pedialyte or popsicles can make staying hydrated a little more pleasant. Consider stocking milder foods, like saltine crackers, soup or broth, in the event of upset stomach or intestinal symptoms. And consider how food will be served—for example, it can be left outside the door of the quarantine area, rather than carried into the room, to protect caregivers’ health.
- Support: Designate your In Case of Emergency (ICE) contacts. Know who to call if the patient takes a turn for the worse or begins to experience shortness of breath, disorientation or other signs their illness is becoming severe. Write down doctor or hospital phone numbers or instructions for a MedStar Health Video Visit. Every family member should know what to look for and how to call for help—you may not be there at a critical moment. At a minimum, children should have access to a phone and know how and when to call 911, especially if Mom or Dad is not available.
- Cleaning supplies: Cleaning and disinfecting take on new significance when managing a contagious disease. Be sure to have what you need to disinfect surfaces, launder linen and clothing, and keep the family’s hands clean. Establish rules for hand washing before and after entering the quarantine area.
If you do have a thermometer, be sure you have spare batteries if it’s digital. If you have no thermometer, estimate fever by placing the back of your hand on the ill person’s forehead. Pulse oximeters, used to monitor blood oxygen level to assess lung function, also get a bit of attention these days. If you have one, use it. But don’t scramble to find one; they can be costly.
Keeping careful watch over the sick family member is more valuable than any device. Be vigilant about the warning signs.
Preparing for a Hospital Visit
More than likely, any infected family member will recover in quarantine without leaving home. But in case hospitalization would ever be necessary, think about it before it happens, and have a plan to assemble and pack what’s needed for a hospital stay.
- Write it down, carry it around: For each member of the family, prepare a printed copy of their medical history and list of their medications and allergies. Although we live in an age of electronic records, don’t assume the hospital will have access to your record on demand. A paper copy is the fastest, most reliable way to get the information into the hands of the healthcare providers who need it. Prepare a copy for everyone in the family and be sure they know where the copies are kept—or carry a copy in your purse or wallet if it makes sense.
- Communication: The cell phone is particularly important, since most hospitals are restricting visitation during the pandemic. Be sure cell phones are working and charged. Prepare written and printed lists of family members’ names and contact numbers. That keeps communication flowing, regardless of which phone is being used and who is stored in its contacts library. Keep the charger near the phone, where it can be packed in a hurry.
- Advance directives: Although the risk is low, prepare in case your loved one requires extreme measures, such as use of a ventilator to assist breathing. The time is now to discuss family members’ wishes and preferences for such care. Healthcare professionals will do everything in their power to save a life—but none want to intervene beyond the patient’s wishes. It’s best to determine those wishes well in advance of illness or accident. This form can help guide these difficult but important decisions.
- Do’s and don’ts: Since it’s hard to predict how long a hospital stay may last, adding the iPad, game or reading materials to your hospital checklist is a good idea. But don’t bring favorite articles of clothing, jewelry and other valuables, or other items that the ill person won’t need at the hospital.
Always Have a Plan
Because the pandemic situation affects virtually everyone, it has moved emergency preparedness out of the “what-if” column and placed it firmly in the here and now.
Consider this a good opportunity to prepare your family. Seek input from all. Creating a readiness plan today is a valuable aid if there’s an emergency tomorrow. Thinking about, talking about, and planning for adverse events before they happen can help you manage a crisis with less stress, give you peace of mind—maybe even save a life.
You can find more tips and resources here.