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What You Need to Prepare for the COVID Surge this Winter Season

By Kristen Rogers, CNN

Updated 7:47 AM ET, Tue October 27, 2020

(CNN) As the weather gets colder and we face the double threat of the flu and a surge in Covid-19 cases, now is a prime opportunity to stock up on food and supplies.

Covid-19 cases will likely increase in the winter months for three reasons: "First, the virus that causes Covid-19 is a coronavirus and other coronaviruses spread more in winter months," said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

"Second, in winter months, the air is less humid. Particles that carry the virus can linger in the air for longer. Also, our nasal membranes are drier and more vulnerable to infection."

Additionally, as the weather gets colder, people will spend more time indoors, where the virus has an easier ability to spread given the lack of adequate ventilation that would diffuse virus particles. "All of this is why we need to stay extra vigilant in the winter months," added Wen, who is an emergency physician and a visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

In addition to following safety guidance, part of that vigilance includes having the right kinds and amounts of foods and medical supplies stocked up to limit trips to stores.

"Any winter season can bring storms, power outages, delays in shipping of critical items to local or from online stores so knowing that you have all the provisions you need to manage these potential events is critical," said Susan L. Polan, the associate executive director of public affairs and advocacy at the American Public Health Association, via email.

"COVID-19 surges and the flu can make trying to buy supplies harder — or riskier, if you or your family members are sick. You are going to want to do everything to make sure you and your loved ones are safe."

Here's what you need to have on hand in your pantry, freezer, medicine cabinet and more to limit errands and in case of sickness, quarantine or disaster this season.

Household cleaning and protection

For regular hand hygiene and after receiving deliveries, checking your mail or shopping, you need soap and hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

If you have sick roommates or family members, wipes and disinfectant are necessary for frequently touched surfaces like kitchen counters and doorknobs. In that case, you'd also need latex gloves and to know how to remove them safely.

You'll need extra toilet paper for ... obvious reasons — but how much do you really need? In response to the pandemic, a student software developer and an artist based in London created to answer just that question.

Face masks are critical for the errands that you do need to run, for accepting deliveries and if you or a housemate is sick.

For your medicine cabinet

For sickness with Covid-19 or another illness, you would need cough drops and syrup for coughing symptoms, decongestants for congestion, acetaminophen and ibuprofen for pain and fevers, and antidiarrheals. Keep adhesive bandages stocked for wounds.

If you have a condition, "periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home," suggests Ready, a national US public service campaign for emergency preparedness. A seven- to 10-day supply stored in childproof containers should suffice.

In the case of an emergency, having on hand print or electronic health records could be helpful so "you are not scrambling as you are trying to leave your house," Polan said.

Fever is a symptom of both Covid-19 and flu, so have a thermometer on hand for checking your temperature if you're feeling warm. Denture and contact lens supplies, hearing aid batteries and feminine hygiene and baby supplies are necessary if applicable.

And "get your flu shot," Polan said. "It is the best way to avoid getting the flu and it is important to reduce the impact on an already overburdened health care system."

Long-lasting food and snacks

There is no need to empty the shelves at your local grocery store, but you can store a little extra to limit trips to the supermarket and have food on hand in case you have to quarantine. Store a two-week supply of water and foods that are nonperishable, easy to prepare and in accordance with any food allergies or limitations.

Canned beans, legumes and fish are filling, nutrient-rich sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Nut butters are full of healthy fats and pair well with many foods. Whole-grain and bean pastas, oats and grains are hearty staples.

Canned soups, high-fiber cereals and protein bars are quick meals and snacks. Stock up on canned and frozen vegetables and fruits, and jarred or canned sauces as well. And don't forget the snacks: Dried fruits are rich sources of iron, fiber and antioxidants; nuts can be good sources of calcium and vitamin E.

For hydration, store at least 1 gallon of water per person per day. If you enjoy dairy or plant-based milks or coffee, purchase shelf-stable milks and coffee grounds. Animal proteins, hard cheeses and breads can be frozen.

A disaster preparedness kit

Having an emergency preparedness stockpile is "always good to have... because you don't know when disaster is going to strike," said Lori Tremmel Freeman, the CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. In addition to the aforementioned items, that kit includes:

  • A flashlight and batteries

  • Battery-operated radio and batteries

  • Matches in a waterproof container

  • Utility knife

  • Paper and pencil

  • Cash, traveler's checks and coins

  • Disposable dishes and utensils

  • Pet food

  • Fire extinguisher

  • Needles and thread

  • Extra set of keys and IDs

  • Duct tape and scissors

  • Local maps

  • First aid manual

  • Antibacterial ointment

  • Tweezers

  • Garbage bags

  • Cellphone chargers and backup batteries

Last but not least: Entertainment

This winter you'll need options to help pass the time while you're stuck inside with people you've been glued to for months. You wouldn't want to catch a case of cabin fever.

Many people took up baking bread during the earlier months of the pandemic, but fall is prime time for baked goods. Make sure you have key ingredients and appliances for when you need to satisfy your taste buds or work through your feelings.

The pandemic hasn't changed that we're still living in the season of falling leaves, spookiness and comfort foods. See our list of 50 fun things to do this fall like baking pumpkin bread or creating a fall advent calendar — and jot down what you'd need to do them.

Puzzles and games aren't only entertaining; they're educationally and developmentally beneficial. Sales of the board game Monopoly have soared during the pandemic. Apples to Apples, Uno, Jenga and charades are always fun, too.

Following safety protocols will be even harder "as we get into winter and can't take walks outside or enjoy time with friends or family even masked up and at least 6 feet apart," Polan said. "Think about ways to stay physically distant but stay socially connected."

Creativity can boost your spirits and distract you from pandemic blues, so stocking up on any supplies necessary for your hobbies is a good idea, too.

"These are suggestions but everybody needs to think about what they need to live comfortably," Freeman said.

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