Family safety in a pandemic

Published 12:05 pm Thursday, April 2, 2020

Question: Hi Dr. Kim,
My family has been doing our self-imposed social “limiting” for a couple of weeks, now. We wear masks and gloves when going out and wash our hands often, and we stay home. Is there anything else we should do for safety during this pandemic? —Concerned Mom, Elizabethton
Answer: Dear Concerned Mom,
You are right to insist on caution during this time, because the flu and the coronavirus are airborne. The coronavirus can remain in the air for up to 3 hours. I keep telling people they can clean surfaces and sanitize the hands all they want, and this will probably prevent them from picking up a virus from a surface, but actually it spreads through the air from person to person. Close contact with people is the main transmission route of the virus, and that is why the government rightly insists on social distancing.
Contrary to popular perception, people of all ages are susceptible to this virus. The elderly and people with underlying diseases are more likely to become severe cases, but they are not the only people who will get it. If children catch it, they are also high-risk cases because their undeveloped immune systems may not fight it off.
The important thing to remember about this pandemic is that the virus is extremely contagious. People can have it and spread it without ever having symptoms, themselves, unknowingly infecting multiple people. Large gatherings have been prohibited, again, rightly so. The goal is to slow and prevent the spread to save lives.
It sounds like you are doing the right thing by staying home and using PPE (personal protective equipment). The everyday, all-the-time prevention steps remain the same as for the flu and cold: Wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, cover your coughs, and disinfect frequently used objects. Keep yourself and your loved ones home. Avoid crowds. You can still go outside, just keep the social distance (six feet) away from others.
To prepare your home, obtain the supplies you will need to limit your trips out. There is no reason to over-buy…just keep enough so that you will be comfortable at home for 2-3 weeks with no trips out. Refill your medications. Invest in a water filter (like Brita) to use less bottled water. You can do half bottled water and half filtered water to save money and buy fewer bottles. Get your tea, coffee, or whatever you drink each day. Make a list of snacks for each family member and get a small stock for each person. In other words,conserve your food and water rather than rationing it. Nonperishable pantry items like pasta, pickles, and cookies should be stocked more and used less. On trips out, you should mostly be refilling fresh items like fruits and vegetables.
Have a plan for when you go out. Use your PPE (mask and gloves) and hand sanitizer, and if you wish, wipes for surfaces such as the shopping cart handle. Have your list ready of what to buy to avoid making multiple trips down aisles. Do tasks online or over the phone whenever possible, and keep social distance if it must be done in person. Take care of the elders in your life by doing online tasks for them, and helping them limit their trips. Setting up time for regular FaceTime, Skype, and family calls is a good opportunity to connect.
Stress negatively impacts the immune system, so it is very important to plan for alleviating stress. As a family, make a list of what you can do. It is very calming and constructive to set up time for prayer and meditation. Play relaxing music in the house. Make a“could do” list of your ideas to stay entertained at home, and don’t feel bad about just doing nothing. Our lives have been so busy for so long, nobody should feel bad about deep, honest relaxation at this time. It is one of the best things we can do.
It recently came to my attention that some people in the media are saying for regular people not to buy masks or gloves, to save them for the healthcare professionals. But I have this to say to you. Healthcare professionals are protected by the medical industry and by the government. Who is protecting you? It is up to you to protect yourself and your family. If you catch something and become seriously ill, it is you who could potentially spread it to a healthcare worker. So it is better to avoid catching something, and avoid spreading it. We all have a part to play, and no matter who you are it starts with taking precautions.
Dr. Kimberly McMurtrey DNP, APRN, FNP-C is the Primary Provider at Tri Cities Health, located on West Elk Ave., Elizabethton. If you would like to submit a question for her to answer you can call 423-543-7000 or email your questions to
**Medical Disclaimer: The information contained in this column is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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