Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management
Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes they become stacked on top of each other — like dealing with flood or wildfire season during a pandemic. Skagit County Department of Emergency Management recommends that you take the time to revise your family emergency plans to consider how you will keep your family safe in the event of an emergency during a disease outbreak. These plans will be critical not only during COVID-19, but in the case of possible future outbreaks of other diseases.
The most important thing you can do in preparation for emergencies during a pandemic or disease outbreak is to learn about and practice effective infection control. Illnesses are usually spread through the air (when someone coughs or sneezes) or through contact (you touch something contaminated, then touch your face). The easiest and most effective way to limit disease spread is to frequently wash your hands, use good cough and sneeze hygiene, and avoid close contact with ill people.
So how can you work those preventions into your family emergency plans? (You do have a plan, don’t you?) Focus on being able to keep your hands and face clean, to clean surfaces if needed, and to maintain space.
Some examples of things you should consider:
- Keep a supply of face masks, hand sanitizer, and tissues in your go bag for every person in your house. Wear a face mask whenever you are around other people.
- Practice good cough and sneeze hygiene:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Throw away used tissues in a lined trash can.
- Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- For answers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to frequently asked questions about handwashing, just click here.
- Stock supplies to disinfect surfaces, whether in your home or at an evacuation location.
- Consider how social distancing will work if you have to evacuate — maintain enough space from others with only a small amount of time spent close to people outside of your household. Plan on having enough supplies so you don’t have to borrow from anyone you don’t live with, and maintain enough space between you and other households to limit contact. Be aware that you may need to travel farther away from home to find shelter; in order to maintain social distancing, local evacuation centers may not be able to serve as many people as normal.
- Be sure water sources are safe and surfaces are effectively cleaned during and after an event. Standing water and open sewage are places of contamination and disease spread.
- Know where to get verified information, not only for evacuations and weather, but also regarding disease information. The Washington State Department of Health and Skagit County Public Health are good sources of current, local information.
- Know the signs of any major illnesses in the area. For example, the CDC recently updated the range of COVID-19 symptoms, including:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficult breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
- Think through how you can keep others safe if you were to fall ill during an emergency. Plan ahead for a safe location where you can maintain appropriate distance from other people if you need to leave your home. Consider ways to limit other’s exposure to you, such as wearing a face mask and isolation.
Planning for emergencies is a never-ending process. If you don’t have a plan, talk with your household and come up with one. If you do, you can find ways to make your plan better. Adding a few things to your plan to keep you healthy during a disease outbreak — even if it’s not a pandemic — makes you and your family better prepared for anything that happens.