NATIONWIDE – With businesses reopening, Americans are getting haircuts, dining at restaurants, shopping in stores -- doing all the stuff that was missing in action during the initial throes of the COVID-19 pandemic this spring. That’s a troubling trend for preparedness experts, who say a lot of us are doing little to get ready for what public health officials predict could be an even worse outbreak this fall.
"Following disasters, people get tired of dealing with that disaster," said Jeff Edelstein, founder of SOS Survival Products in Van Nuys, an emergency supply store that sells everything from freeze-dried food to mylar sleeping bags to splints. In business since 1989, “We dealt with the L.A. riots in 1992, all the major earthquakes over the last 31 years throughout the world, but right now, we’re seeing a lot more complacency than preparing.”
It's COVID fatigue. But what, exactly, should you be doing this summer to prepare for another spike?
If the coronavirus reemerges with a vengeance this fall, it will coincide with flu season and could be coupled with natural disasters, such as hurricanes or wildfires. So getting prepared isn’t just a matter of stocking up on all the items you learned you didn’t have this past March to successfully shelter in place but for additional layers of an emergency occurring at the same time.
The good news is that “90% of the foundation for preparedness is the same regardless of the scenario,” said John Ramey, founder of the survival website, ThePrepared.com. “Prepping is a lot less about bunkers and bullets and a lot more about beans and Band-Aids.”
“Part of being a modern, sane prepper is understanding your likeliest risks,” he added. “Fascist alien zombies are not your likeliest risks. In this country, your finances and health are your two most significant risks.”
Put Your Finances In Order
About 40% of Americans would struggle to come up with $400 to pay for an unexpected expense without using a credit card, according to a 2018 Federal Reserve survey of household economics. Today, that statistic is likely worse, with the pandemic prompting unprecedented layoffs that have escalated the U.S. unemployment rate to 13.3%.
Financial problems increase a person’s risk of emergencies and reduce their ability to handle them because they have fewer options and resources, Ramey said. Individuals with shaky finances should not spend money to buy anything other than a two-week supply of food and water unless they also have a rainy day fund and are taking steps to reduce their debt.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, six in 10 American adults have a chronic disease, and four in 10 have two or more. The death rate for those who contract COVID-19 is higher for individuals with certain underlying health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes.
Being unhealthy makes a person less capable of handling the physical demands inherent in an emergency, Ramey said, such as walking or carrying a go bag. All too often, people who start prepping would rather buy gear than eat better or exercise, he added. But fitness reduces a person’s risk of health-related emergencies and increases their chance of survival.
Ramey said there’s no single way to get in shape. What’s most important is to find what works for you and get moving. He suggests changing one variable at a time, like eating less for a few weeks, then eating better or starting to walk, then doing some cardio.
Maintain a Two-Week Supply of Non-Perishable Food and Water
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends that people store at least a two-week supply of food and water for each family member. That means at least one gallon of water per person per day and food that is non-perishable and easy to store.
An easy way to build up that supply is gradually, so each time you go to the grocery store, pick up an extra can of tuna or box of pasta or gallon of water.
Make Sure You Have Enough Medicine and Personal Protective Equipment
FEMA also recommends periodically checking your regular prescription drugs to ensure you have a continuous supply. Make sure you also have enough over-the-counter medication, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, and fluids with electrolytes and vitamins.
The COVID-19 outbreak has already prompted people to buy masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. With additional outbreaks, people should maintain that supply.
Have a Plan and Practice It
Getting supplies is easy. Knowing what to do when disaster strikes is usually the hard part. Have a plan for what to do in a second wave of the coronavirus or some other emergency comes to pass because often, loved ones are not together when it happens.
FEMA recommends putting together a plan for contacting one another and reconnecting if separated. They say the plan should be tailored to your specific daily living needs and responsibilities, including children, pets, elderly relatives, and work.
Once you have a plan, practice it.
Consider Your Options
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the coronavirus, such as when a vaccine will be available, or the role weather may play in the infection rate.
“Nobody knows what the virus is going to do,” said Jeff Schlegelmilch, deputy director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness and author of the upcoming book, Rethinking Readiness: A Brief Guide to Twenty-First Century Megadisasters. “You have this uncertainty and decisions that have to be made with huge consequences based on what decision you make.”
Rather than committing to one plan of action, Schlegelmilch recommends creating a portfolio of options, much like many schools are doing right now to determine if students should continue remote learning, resume in-person classes, or do a combination of both. The same can be done for families if another stay-at-home order is ordered, to figure out possible routines for work and childcare.
Consider That You May Need to Evacuate
While COVID has required sheltering in place and going out as little as possible, a natural disaster layered on top of another outbreak could require a different strategy.
Hurricanes and earthquakes don’t usually come with a lot of advance notice. Often they strike suddenly, giving residents only seconds or minutes to leave their homes. In those scenarios, it’s wise to have a prepacked “go bag” for every household member. ThePrepared.com suggests a 20-pound backpack that includes first aid, water, ready-to-eat food, tools, clothing, important personal documents, and other materials that are prepacked and can be grabbed at a moment’s notice.
Get to Know Your Neighbors
“Our connectedness with community, neighbors helping neighbors, is at least as valuable as having resources for yourself,” Schlegelmilch said.
Numerous studies that looked at the Great Depression of the 1930s, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the tsunami-induced nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, have found that areas with strongly connected communities were more resilient.
Japan's earthquake response was the inspiration for the national Community Emergency Response Team courses that are now offered for free in all 50 states. The seven-week class has been teaching Americans small fire suppression techniques, basic first aid, evacuation, and search tactics since 1993.