Tune out all the conflicting coronavirus information and key in on this selection of advice from credible medical experts.
7 min read
To slow the spread of COVID-19, doctors and pandemic experts have been clear about what needs to be done: Stay inside if you can, wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, keep a distance of at least six feet from people when you’re out of your home and avoid large groups and unnecessary travel.
It sounds simple, but panicked people are doing everything from bulk buying enough food to feed their family for months on end, to buying dangerous supplements claiming to “protect” them from the virus, to spreading text and Facebook messages with fake advice on how to prevent themselves from getting infected.
Instead of buying into the hype, read on for eight reasonable tips from credible medical experts on what you actually should — and shouldn’t — be doing right now.
Don’t rely on supplements or cleanses.
Registered dieticians have been inundated with messages from patients asking what supplements they should take to protect themselves from the coronavirus, according to reporting by the New York Times: “Dietary supplement sales have surged nationwide as panicked consumers stock up on vitamins, herbs, extracts and cold-and-flu remedies. None of these products have been shown to lower the likelihood of contracting the coronavirus or shortening its course, and taking large doses of them can potentially do harm. But experts say that the jump in sales suggests many people are desperate to strengthen their body’s immune defenses and ease their heightened anxiety levels.”
And if you’re considering using your quarantine time to do a juice cleanse or try fasting? Don’t even think about it: “Someone asked me if they should do a detox juice cleanse, and I told them absolutely not,” Ashley Koff, CEO of The Better Nutrition Program, told the Times. “Someone else asked me if they should be doing a fast. I told them anything that’s depleting your body of resources right now is going to increase the risk of you getting sick.”
Read the fine print about over-the-counter pain relievers.
Reports have spread that people shouldn’t take ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories because they can reduce the body’s ability to fight infection. That is true, Sanjay Gupta reports on his Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction podcast for CNN. But “for healthy people, it’s not enough of a decrease — it will hardly make a dent,” he says. “But if you have a weakened immune system or an underlying condition, it’s better to take Tylenol.”
Eat your vegetables.
In an article for the Wall Street Journal, dieticians warned people against snacking all day, especially on empty carbohydrates and sugar. People are stocking up on pantry staples like beans, pasta and rice, but don’t forget your vegetables.
“I think people are afraid of buying fresh fruits and vegetables, but some are much less perishable,” says Elisabetta Politi, nutrition director at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center. She recommends bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, bananas, apples and citrus fruit.
Reach out to others
Vivek H. Murthy, the former surgeon general of the United States, has spent the past two years researching his soon-to-be-published book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. The upcoming release, out in April, is suddenly more relevant than ever. In an interview with the New York Times, he urges people to reach out to others as a way to combat the feelings of loneliness and self-isolation that can be more damaging to longevity than smoking or obesity.
“Helping another person can be an incredibly powerful experience that not only forms a connection between people, but also reaffirms to ourselves that we’re bringing value to the world,” he says in the interview. “Reach out to your neighbors and ask how they’re doing, how you can assist in a big or small way. Many people will be struggling during this crisis. They won’t have the help they need, the income or emotional support to get through it.”
Cancel those medical appointments.
Any medical appointments that can be postponed right now should be, according to experts from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine interviewed in the Baltimore Sun. “If you don’t need to go now, don’t go. If you do go, and you’re healthy, a mask won’t help you. The masks are for those who are sick. And if you are sick, call ahead to let the office know so they can get you directly to an isolated room so you don’t infect others.”
Keep medications on hand if you’re high-risk.
Harvard Medical School’s Coronavirus Resource Center breaks down the basic steps all people should be taking right now, as well as some extra precautions for at-risk groups. Experts from Harvard advise that if you belong to the latter, stay home as much as possible, but also make sure that you have a few weeks’ worth of your usual prescriptions and other medications on hand. If there’s an outbreak in your area, or if you do get sick, you’ll want to be able to have what you need by your side.
Limit your “quarantinis.”
One joke making the rounds is that all this time at home means people are turning to drinks they dub “quarantinis” or virtual happy hours to feel socially connected. But there’s a more serious underlying issue here: Those who struggled with alcoholism or substance abuse are even more susceptible to relapse during these stressful times.
Paul Shasha Nestadt, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Anxiety Clinic, told Global Health NOW that chronic drinkers — and their loved ones — should pay careful attention to the amount they’re consuming, especially during layoffs or lost jobs. “There are risk factors with isolation, the lack of a schedule and if alcohol is just there in the house with you,” Nestadt says. “People with depression, anxiety and substance abuse are also at higher risk when stressed.”
Beyond that, a 2015 article published in the journal Alcohol Research presents compelling evidence that alcohol abuse could have more far reaching effects on the immune system. “Clinicians have long observed an association between excessive alcohol consumption and adverse immune-related effects, such as susceptibility to pneumonia,” the article reports. “Alcohol disrupts immune pathways in complex and seemingly paradoxical ways.”
Hug your pets.
Despite initial reports to the contrary, there’s no evidence that people can spread the disease to their pets. “We don’t have to worry about pets — this virus now likes humans, but data shows it’s not spreading among pets or farm animals,” William Schaffner, a professor of preventative medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told CNN.
Studies have shown that pets have a positive psychological impact on their owners, so if you’re feeling alone, feel free to cuddle your pup. “This is the time to hug your pet but not your human loved one,” Schaffner encourages. “So let’s keep the social distancing focused on human beings, and if you need to hug something, hug your dog or your cat or ferret or whatever.”