With the caveat noted:
Below is the email I sent to my family earlier today. They aren’t as up on current events so there is some background that may be redundant for your readers.
There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty surrounding this entire situation. So take this with whatever sized grain of salt you deem appropriate.
So, the Wuhan coronavirus.
COVID-19, it’s now called. This particular virus originated with bats (although some argue that a bioweapons lab was involved), then combined with a prior dangerous human virus and crossed over to humans.
It’s spread by “airborne” transmission, meaning droplets small enough to float in the air for several hours. All airborne diseases are very contagious, and this is no exception. It’s spread exponentially in China and has shut down a substantial fraction of that country, with 400 million people in quarantine. Unfortunately, it has up to a 24 day incubation period, can be spread by people when they are completely asymptomatic, and once sick, patients are sick for about 2-3 weeks. So this quarantine will be in place for quite some time, months at least.
There are official data but no one believes them. There is a massive disparity between words and actions. The data they put out suggests that it is serious but not catastrophic, but they are acting like it’s the second coming of the Black Death. Very draconian measures have been put into place–like welding apartment complex doors shut. It has spread to many other countries including the US, but it’s not really taken hold anywhere else just yet – that we know of.
This virus is about 30x as dangerous as the standard flu, as far as we can tell. Of course, this all depends on data from the Chinese government, see paragraph above. They claim about 2-3% of the people that get it die, but I’d regard that as the low end estimate, given how crazy the Chinese have been about quarantine.
There is no established treatment nor vaccine for this virus. There are a host of ongoing clinical trials but so far the only thing that seems to make any difference is to transfuse serum from someone who survived, into sick folks. Avoidance is key.
Hospitals have special rooms, equipment, and protocols to help prevent transmission, all falling under the umbrella term “airborne precautions”. The rooms can’t be replicated at home, but some of the equipment and all of the protocols can be.
The equipment: masks, gloves at a minimum, as well as, gowns and face shields.
The protocols: See this link, and wash your hands all the time. If there is no soap or water around, alcohol hand sanitizer (see below) will do.
I will say that I have my doubts about the CDC recommendations. Every picture I have seen of the foreign medical personnel show them in full Tyvek suit, but the CDC recommends a lower level of protection.
This is similar to what happened during the Ebola scare, wherein everyone else used full pressurized “space suits” and the CDC recommended something obviously inadequate. So some grains of salt are required.
Specifics: A plain n95 or n100 mask will do, brand name not important. A Half-face mask with equivalent particulate filters will do. If you are made of money, a Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) is the best but wowza expensive.
Medical gowns are what is currently recommended by the CDC, and are helpful, but see the Tyvek suit comment above.
Almost anything that you usually use for cleaning will kill the Coronavirus. And clean you must, as the virus can live on surfaces for several hours. Lysol put up a nice page detailing (towards the bottom of the page) which of their products will kill the virus. Anything equivalent from any other company would do.
For handwashing, soap and water will do, alcohol based hand sanitizer with greater than 65% EtOH will also work. Of course if you need a skin burn then things like bleach will work as well.
Some practice in putting on and taking off the personal protective equipment is in order.
In terms of the overall impact, I lay out a couple of scenarios below. Others have done similar things.
– Best case scenario, for the USA: minimal if any medical impact, no panic, but a big recession in any fields that rely on Chinese imports or sales to China. China itself is already hurting, bigtime; that can’t help but impact the rest of the world.
– Most likely scenario, USA: moderate medical impact (meaning in some fashion the virus is contained, minimal mortality rate), at least some panic/unrest with a lot of people avoiding going outside. Probably a federally ordered semi-quarantine for at least a month or 2. This would cause the effects above, plus add a recession for anything that involves social interaction.
– Worst case: massive pandemic, virus uncontrolled. This would overwhelm the medical and social systems, and could kill as many as 3% of the population (around 9 million people). This would completely wreck the entire world economy and throw us into a prolonged full on Great Depression or worse.
So, assuming the utilities still work, preps for the most likely scenario above would include at least 2 months (24 day incubation plus 3 weeks sickness, rounded up) of the materials above, as well as whatever you use for 2 months. Food is high on the list, but 2 months worth of toilet paper, soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, diapers, etc.
The upside is that if you purchase any of the above, most will eventually get used over time. For example, I use the dust masks when cutting wood, and gloves for application of wood stain or glues. I have a set of safety goggles for woodworking too, so this isn’t too much of a jump. The medical isolation gowns are pretty much useless for anything other than, well, medical isolation.
Nothing here is a guarantee. There is so much uncertainty involved in this that it’s hard to make predictions, other than the Chinese economy tanking (since that’s already happening, that’s a gimme).
But having at least some protection and a plan is better than being caught flat-footed when there is a run on medical supplies and long-term food.