The CDC recommends that all people wear cloth face masks in public places where it’s difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from people without symptoms or people who do not know they have contracted the virus. Cloth face masks should be worn while continuing to practice physical distancing. Instructions for making masks at home can be found here.
Note: It’s critical to reserve surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers.

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First, it was hand sanitizer shortages, then toilet paper hoarding. Now the lines at the grocery store are lengthening, shelves are emptying, and you may be wondering: Should you really be stocking up right now? And what do you actually need to buy?

Depending on where you live, you may have some familiarity with preparing for a natural disaster, such as a tornado or an earthquake. But preparing for a pandemic is a lot different from either of those.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert, likens the difference to preparing for a long winter rather than a single weather event, such as a blizzard.

But that doesn’t mean you should buy up a month’s worth of supplies all at once. Read on for what to do as you get ready to stay home and practice social distancing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you self-quarantine if you’re returning from travel to a high-risk area.

Many countries are closing their borders, and some states and counties within the United States are enforcing curfews and closing businesses.

While there’s a lot of uncertainty, what is certain is that things are changing rapidly by the day and even hour. So it’s a smart move to have some essentials on hand. Here are some suggestions for what to stock up on:

  • Dried or canned goods. Foods like soup, canned vegetables, and canned fruit are nutritious and keep for a long time.
  • Frozen foods. Frozen meals, pizzas, vegetables, and fruits are an easy way to keep food around without worrying that it’ll go bad.
  • Dried or freeze-dried foods. Dried fruit makes a great snack. While dried beans are cheap and nutritious, they can also take some time and effort to cook. For an easy alternative, you may want to keep a few freeze-dried foods on hand, though they can be expensive.
  • Pasta and rice. Rice and pasta are easy to cook and gentle on the stomach. They also keep for a long time, and they’re relatively inexpensive, so you won’t spend a fortune stocking your cupboards.
  • Peanut butter and jelly. Easy and kid-friendly — enough said.
  • Bread and cereal. These keep for a long time.
  • Shelf-stable milk. Refrigerated milk is fine too, but if you’re worried about it going bad before you can get through it, try looking for milk or nondairy milk in aseptic packaging.

As you make your purchases, be mindful of what you can realistically go through in 2 weeks. Even in areas where travel is limited, people are still able to go out for essentials. Buying only what you need right now will help make sure there’s enough to go around.

If you get sick, you’ll need to stay home unless seeking medical care. Stock up ahead of time on anything you think you may want or need while sick. That could mean:

  • Pain and fever reducers. Both acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be used to relieve pain and bring down a fever. Depending on whether you have a cold, the flu, or COVID-19, your doctor may recommend one over the other. Talk to your doctor about which may be right for you, and be sure to have some on hand.
  • Cough medicines. These include cough suppressants and expectorants.
  • Tissues. Old-fashioned handkerchiefs also work and are reusable.
  • Bland food. Some people find that the BRAT diet is helpful when sick.
  • Tea, popsicles, broth, and sports drinks. These can help you stay hydrated.

As with food, it’s a good idea to keep some home essentials on hand. Again, the idea here is to make sure you have what you need if you’re sick and unable to leave your home.

According to the CDC, the virus hasn’t been found in drinking water. And it’s unlikely that water or power is going to be shut off as a result of the virus. That means that unlike with natural disaster preparedness, you don’t need to stock up on things like bottled water or flashlights.

Instead, focus on items related to your health, such as:

  • Soap. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Hand sanitizer. Washing with soap and water is the best way to clean your hands. If you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cleaning supplies. Use diluted bleach, alcohol, or a product that meets the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.

If you take prescription medications of any kind, see if you can get a refill now so that you have extra on hand if you’re unable to leave your home. If you can’t, then it may be a good idea to get a mail-order prescription.

This is especially important if you’re part of an at-risk group. This includes people with:

  • heart disease
  • lung disease
  • diabetes

It also includes older adults.

If you have kids in your home, you’ll want to make sure you have any kid- or baby-specific supplies on hand, too. If you regularly use diapers, wipes, or formula, make sure you have a 2-week supply.

You may also want to purchase children’s cold medicines and toys, games, or puzzles to keep kids busy.

These are uncertain times, and with the news changing daily, it’s understandable to feel anxious. While it’s important to take the virus seriously, don’t panic buy. Purchase only what you need, and leave items like masks for healthcare workers.