It’s not an unsafe practice to shake hands, and physical touch has its own value to consider as a gesture of respect. But I’ve been an advocate of alternative forms of greetings such as fist bumps or elbow bumps for years, and this outbreak doesn’t change that.
Touching your face
Avoiding touching your face is an excellent idea and can be very effective, but no one is going to stop touching their face 100% of the time.
This week the U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, urged Americans to stop buying face masks. This is a matter of short supply, should worst-case scenarios play out. In an ideal world, people who live with other people would have masks on hand when someone in the house gets sick, and they could help prevent close-quarters spread. But this is not an ideal world, and masks are needed for the people who are at the highest risk. When doctors, nurses, and first responders cannot work, new crises present themselves.
People who live in remote areas where the town’s one grocery store could close down should stock up. Closing the store would be preferable to having sick employees report to work. In these areas, it’s always advisable to have a short-term supply of food (for any natural disaster), and this would be fair to treat similarly. Elsewhere, supply chains could be threatened, requiring certain shippers or grocers to close temporarily and some foods to become scarce in certain areas, but none of this is cause for stockpiling.
Stockpiling prescription medications
Most U.S. prescription medications are made in China, whose own outbreak has raised concerns about medication supply chains. As of now, supplies have not been disrupted, and China is reporting declines in the spread of the virus. As with food, though, anyone who has a vital prescription and lives in a place where access would be affected by the single shutdown of a local pharmacy or a public-transit system, for example, should always have a small supply for emergencies. Health-care providers should help ensure this. Whenever you travel, carry Rx meds with you (don’t put in a checked bag) and, if you can, always have extras, just in case you are delayed. Also, carry a list of the meds you need and use generic/chemical names, so that you can fill them in foreign pharmacies if need be.