The number of coronavirus cases in the United States is ticking steadily upward, and with it are Americans’ collective anxiety levels. But stockpiling massive caches of toilet paper and bottled water for insular forts will only lead to more shortages and more stress. Instead, the best way for us all to prepare is by looking out for one another.
Here are some ways that you can help your community make it through the chaos—and the virus too, if it does hit closer to home.
Donate to your local food bank
As the virus spreads, food banks could face additional pressures. David May, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, said that the group currently distributes 1 million pounds of food per week. But May noted that it was also preparing for the possibility of increased demand in case of virus-driven school closings or an influx of workers struggling to get by on fewer hours than usual.
When donating to your local food bank, consider starting with your wallet instead of your pantry. Donating money not only gives food banks flexibility over which supplies—including fresh foods and paper products—to offer but also lets them decide when to refresh their stocks.
Offer assistance to at-risk neighbors
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the elderly and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease to be at higher risk from the coronavirus. If you’re in a lower-risk group, reach out to your higher-risk neighbors and community members and ask them how you can help, whether by picking up prescriptions and groceries or offering other assistance. Even if they’re already fully stocked, simply sharing your plans with one another can be helpful, particularly as people spend more time at home instead of out.
“It can be very isolating for individuals if they’re staying away from the places they normally go,” Herman Schaffer, the assistant commissioner for community outreach for the New York City Emergency Management Department, told me. “Some assistance is also just [providing] community, being able to talk to someone, and connect to information.”
Plan to stay in touch from afar
As COVID-19 spreads, we’ll continue to see more people asked to work remotely or from home, more school closings, more cancelled events, and other measures associated with social distancing. Start putting a plan in place now for how you’ll stay in touch with loved ones, friends, classmates, and co-workers, even when you’re not physically seeing them.
If the idea of a day of back-to-back Google hangouts and phone calls is adding to instead of relieving your anxieties, remember that there are a lot of ways beyond a call or a video chat to keep in contact. I like to challenge distant friends to virtual matches on a chess app and to share the occasional photo from my day via group text. Scheduling an hour to game online with a friend or swapping recipes in your group chat are small measures, but they let people know that you’re thinking about them, even when you don’t see them.
Stay up on your local news
Many cities (including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle) offer an emergency alert system, so start by checking with your municipality to find out how to sign up for text, email, or voice alerts. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to get even more local. Get in touch with your neighborhood groups and local community organizations to find out what efforts are already underway. If you or your kids attend school, check to see what kinds of plans are in place in case of closures and how best to stay informed of any changes. Sign up for neighborhood listservs and message boards so that you’ll be able to share your surpluses, pool your expertise, and call on your neighbors for help when you need it, too.
Stock up, then stop
It’s tempting to respond to footage of panicked shoppers sweeping shelves of toilet paper into their carts by mentally tabulating how many pallets you might be able to stuff into your own closets. But panic buying just contributes to shortages—and more panic. If you already have 30 days’ worth of prescriptions, food, and household supplies at home, stop shopping.