1. You don’t need that much toilet paper
Few things make you feel more vulnerable than running out of toilet paper. Maybe that's why TP, of all things, has been rolling off the shelves for weeks on end.
The problem is feeding off itself. Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia and the author of The Psychology of Pandemics, told CNN that people resort to extremes during a panic. Without clear direction from officials, people simply copy what others are doing — which is buying lots of toilet paper.
How much do you really need, though? The website HowMuchToiletPaper.com provides a simple calculator. A paltry 12-pack will last a family of four the entire length of a two-week quarantine. Buy two if you're worried, not 10.
2. Surgical and N95 masks aren't for you
You'll see plenty of people wearing homemade masks out on the street, and that's fine. But surgical masks and especially N95s are in short supply.
They must be reserved for front-line medical professionals who work in high-risk environments or in close contact with those hospitalized for COVID-19. Using them up on routine trips to the grocery store is a terrible waste.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended the use of homemade cloth masks, which everyone can wear outside. They may help slow the spread of the virus by keeping people from coughing or sneezing on others.
If you do have some N95s at home, consider donating them to your local hospital.
3. Latex gloves are missing the point
Like N95 masks, leave the gloves to the front-line workers.
If you’re in quarantine at home, there's little point to wearing gloves. If you leave the house to go grocery shopping, remember that gloves can pick up viruses just as easily as your bare hands.
The key is not your hands, but your face. Remember to wash up when you return home and carry hand sanitizer while on-the-go. Try not to touch your face, and don’t eat without washing your hands first.
4. Don't buy food you won't eat
If you’ve never bought canned chili or frozen dinners, why start now?
There's no compelling reason to hoard random nonperishables when the food you love is still being produced as normal. And while items in your pantry or freezer will last a long time, they become less and less appetizing with age if you don't eat them.
If you do want to stock up to avoid frequent trips to the grocery store, grab food you eat often and enjoy. Plan a meal schedule and a shopping list before you go out so you don't succumb to all the panic buying in the store.
5. Alcohol-free hand sanitizer may not work
The CDC warns that sanitizers that don’t contain at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropyl alcohol might not kill the coronavirus on surfaces.
It seems many people are ignoring the CDC’s advice or trying to make a quick buck. Alcohol-free hand sanitizers have been flying off store shelves and are listed by sellers on Amazon for outrageous prices.
Before you buy a bottle, read the label. If you see benzalkonium chloride — a popular alternative — instead of alcohol as the active ingredient, keep shopping.
While alcohol-free hand sanitizers might be better than nothing, the best option is washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water.
6. Don’t trust vitamins to fight disease
Some people are downing different kinds of vitamins and supplements, believing they will “boost” their immune systems. It's not that simple.
“Unfortunately, the reality is that those kinds of products aren't really offering you any benefit,” says Michael Starnbach, a professor of microbiology, on a Harvard Medical School site. “There's no evidence that they help in fighting disease.”
Vitamins can help immunity, Starnbach says, but only for people who are malnourished enough to need that boost. They don't make healthy people more healthy.
Save your money. Focus on hygiene and overall wellness, including a proper diet and exercise.
7. Don’t waste your vodka
Save your whiskey or vodka for cocktails. Don't waste it trying to make your own hand sanitizer, because liquor doesn't contain enough alcohol.
Emily Landon, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine, told ProPublica people shouldn't trust the “homemade Pinterest recipes” out there.
Ideally, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends hand sanitizer should be made with 96% ethanol or 99.8% isopropyl alcohol. That's a much higher concentration of alcohol than you'll find in a normal spirit.
Even if you do get your hands on 96% ethanol, the WHO’s online guide to making hand sanitizer is nine pages of text that'll appear familiar only to a chemist.
8. Don’t beg your doctor for antibiotics
The WHO is very clear: Antibiotics will not kill the coronavirus. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.
Doctors might be prescribing antibiotics to some COVID-19 patients — but only to treat secondary bacterial infections as a result of the virus weakening the patient’s immune system.
So why are antibiotics hard to come by right now?
The coronavirus outbreak is starting to hurt the supply of antibiotics because raw ingredients for common antibiotics, which come from largely from China and India, are no longer being exported. On March 3, the Indian government banned the export of 26 drugs and drug ingredients without express permission.
Just like N95 masks and gloves, you should allow public health authorities, hospitals and pharmacies to manage the supply of antibiotics to ensure they are available to the people who need them.
9. Don’t get fancy with household cleaners
You don’t need to purchase specialized household cleaners to battle the coronavirus. Keep it simple.
"One of the nice things about this virus, if there’s anything nice about it at all, is that soap actually kills it. It doesn’t just escort the virus off you and down the drain," says Dr. John Swartzberg, professor of infectious diseases at the University of California, Berkeley, on the school's website.
What matters is that you clean thoroughly and often.
Focus on commonly touched areas such as doorknobs, handrails and drawer handles. Sanitize your reusable grocery bags, wash your clothes with detergent and don’t forget to regularly disinfect your sink, with particular attention to the faucet and handle.
10. You don’t need a special gadget to disinfect your phone
Yes, your phone can harbor viruses and bacteria, but you don’t need a dedicated gadget or magic wipe advertised online to clean your phone effectively.
Both Apple and Samsung recommend simply wiping your phone with a common household disinfectant wipe. That said, even cheaper options exist.
Most new smartphones are water resistant. A cloth or paper towel damp with a diluted bleach solution or soap and water is all you need to clean your phone without damaging its electronics or harming the anti-smudge coating on your screen.
11. You don’t need an air purifier
First off, the coronavirus doesn't travel long distances in the air anyway. It's mainly spread by heavy droplets.
Second, air purifiers — even those with germicidal UV-C light filters — won’t capture and destroy coronavirus in your home.
“Your typical HEPA filter is not going to be able to remove coronavirus from the air," Dr. Erin Sorrell, an assistant professor of microbiology and member of Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, told Buzzfeed. “The filter itself is 0.3 microns and the virus itself is roughly 0.1 microns.”
Even if an air purifier did manage to catch the virus, it’s unclear exactly how long UV-C light takes to kill it. Some viruses take 15 minutes or more to die.
“Portable filters are not going to be helpful in capturing coronavirus and could give someone a false sense of security,” Dr. Sorrell said.
12. You don’t need a water purifier
Some water purifiers have been advertising that they can “filter out” or “kill” the coronavirus. These products are unnecessary.
The Environmental Protection Agency says it’s safe to drink tap water as usual. The EPA quotes the World Health Organization as saying the “presence of the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking-water supplies and based on current evidence the risk to water supplies is low.”
Municipalities already follow EPA’s drinking water regulations, which require treatment at public water systems to remove or kill pathogens, including viruses. These treatments include filtration and disinfectants such as chlorine that remove or kill the bad stuff before it reaches your tap.
If you’re already using a water purifier at home so your H2O tastes better, go for it.
13. You don’t need to stockpile bottled water
If you prefer to drink your water out of bottles — well, let’s hope you’re recycling the bottles. But if you don’t normally keep a big stock of bottled water on hand, there’s no reason to be hoarding it now because of coronavirus fears — though many people have been doing just that.
Customers have been leaving stores with their shopping carts stacked high with bottled water, and shortages have reported.
To repeat: The water supply is safe. You don’t need to be stockpiling bottled water.
The Department of Homeland Security did recommend that people store additional supplies of food and water for the pandemic — but the agency also says Americans “can continue to drink tap water as usual.” Officials never said you ought to fill your garage with cases of water.
14. You don’t need to stockpile prescription medicines
Purchasing no more than 30 days’ worth of prescription medicines is the socially responsible choice.
Similar to toilet paper panic buying, patients have been asking for early refills and quantities larger than necessary.
The prescription drug industry is seeing a drug shortage according to the FDA; however, “flattening the drug curve” will ensure that people get the medication they need.
By limiting your prescription medicine purchases to 30 days’ worth, you’ll be doing your part to ensure prescription drugs are always available to those who need them, when they need them.
Remember not to panic if your prescription is on shortage. Most major prescriptions have multiple alternatives, including generic brands through an assortment of drug companies.
15. Paper towels are a waste
Paper towels have become impossible to find in many parts of the U.S.
The versatile rolls are going missing from supermarkets and the other places that sell them because manufacturers split their production between paper towels for the home and paper towels for the commercial market, including workplaces.
With so many Americans now confined to their homes, the consumer brands are in short supply.
Paper towels make up a full 2% of the trash in America’s landfills, so why use them anyway? You can get most jobs done with a reusable cloth dish rag.
There’s a paper towel problem even in areas where they’re still available. People are using them in place of scarcer toilet paper — and are clogging sewer systems.
16. Don’t pack your pantry with baking supplies
Not even the Great British Bake Off has inspired as many amateur bakers as the coronavirus.
We’re all stuck at home with a lot of time on our hands. Parents are looking to entertain bored children. And some people are just looking for a hobby that reminds them of a simpler time.
All that new baking activity has scrubbed the shelves clean of the traditional supplies. Flour sales are up 154% over last year. Sales of baking mixes have doubled. Butter and eggs are close. And demand for yeast is rising — it’s up five to six times from a year ago.
Producers say they can’t get the products to market fast enough.
Baking essentials are being restocked regularly, so just check back every now and then.
17. You don't need produce wash for compromised cucumbers
You might have heard that scrubbing your fruits and vegetables with soap or a special “produce wash” is an effective way to disinfect them.
But there’s no evidence to suggest produce cleansers are any more effective than water, and using soap may do more harm than good.
Most soaps are not approved by the FDA for use on food. Ingesting them can cause vomiting and diarrhea, which might trick you into thinking you got an infection.
Hospitals are already over-burdened, and taking up space in the ER because you ate a soapy pear will only make matters worse.
The safest method to wash your produce is the old fashioned way: gently scrub it with your hand under some cool or lukewarm water. It’s that simple.
18. No, essential oils won’t ward off COVID-19
If somebody tries to tell you essential oils can protect you from COVID-19, it’s a scam.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently sent joint warning letters to seven companies making false claims.
The products cited in these warning letters are teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silver.
“There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. “What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims.”
Don’t spend a single cent on products that claim to cure, mitigate, treat or diagnose COVID-19 unless expressly endorsed by the FDA.
19. Leave hair dye and bleach on the shelf
As the pandemic drags on with no end in sight, everyone has become their own DIY hair stylist. Big-box retailers like Walmart are seeing an uptick in sales of hair dyes and bleach.
If you’re going to take a stab at covering your grays with box hair dye, keep in mind that drugstore dyes are less sophisticated than salon-quality stuff. Your hair might end up looking a little different than what’s on the box.
As for bleaching your hair at home, here's why that's a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.
Leaving bleach on your scalp for even five minutes too long can fry your hair and lead to uneven spots and breakage. At worst, you're looking at a nasty chemical burn.
Embrace your roots (or just wear a hat on your Zoom calls) and wait for the salons to reopen before taking matters into your own hands.
20. Don't hoard food for your pet
We get it, you want to keep Poncho and Kiki fed. Pet food sales have spiked across the board during this pandemic.
Just keep in mind there are approximately 85 million other pet owners throughout America trying to do the same, according to a pet ownership survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association.
Many animals are finicky or sensitive eaters — especially if they’re sick. If you overbuy for your pet, you could deprive others of key nutrition. And pet shelters across the country are still operating and need to feed displaced animals.
Pet stores like Pet Valu or Petco and delivery services like Chewy are still considered essential services, and therefore unlikely to close. Your local veterinarian office will have pet food on offer, too.