Hearing news about novel coronavirus causes many to feel panicked and helpless. While people are doing what they can to protect themselves and families — washing their hands, avoiding public gatherings and staying home when sick — some might want to do more.
What can people do if they’re worried about their grandparents? How can they help neighbors who are stressed because their children rely on school lunches and school is canceled?
“There is so much more people can do,” Monica Schoch-Spana, a senior scholar of medical anthropology at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told TODAY Parents. “You have to be a role model for others. If you look at the research about what prepares people, it is seeing all the other people around them behaving in the same way.”
That means she thinks people should act as examples when it comes to proper hand washing — for 20 seconds — and coughing into the elbow. But Schoch-Spana knows there are many ways other people can support their communities.
1. Buy gift cards to local restaurants
Local restaurants in cities with coronavirus cases have already been struggling. For example, Seattle chef Tom Douglas is closing 12 of his 13 restaurants for two months due to slumping sales since the first case of the virus in the city, according to the Seattle Times. Chinese restaurants across the country have noticed dwindling customers. As more people socially distance across the country more restaurants will experience the crunch.
But people can buy gift cards to their local restaurants to help, ideally online. That way, the business get much needed money now and when it is safe to engage in the social world again you've already got a meal waiting.
2. Make a meal or give to food banks
According to NBC News, more than 20 million students nationwide benefit from programs that provide free or reduced meals in schools. With many schools closing to slow the spread of coronavirus, some families wonder how they will find extra food. The USDA is considering waivers for some schools in the Seattle area to allow students to receive their meals at different locations, but other areas have not yet been included in those plan.
“Individuals and organizations can step in to provide meal options,” Schoch-Spana said.
That can mean making a few dinners for a neighbor or donating to a local food pantry or food bank.
“The existing social networks always need buttressing, strengthening, on an everyday basis but also during an emergency,” she said.
3. Talk to your neighbors
Worried about the elderly widower down the street? Try connecting on social media, giving them a call or even sending a letter. Many elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions will be staying home and might need help with supplies and company.
“There are ways we can help those individuals by bringing in groceries, supplies and bringing in moral support,” Schoch-Spana said.
People also can ask local faith-based organizations or social services agencies whether there is a need for volunteers to help vulnerable and isolated community members. Another idea is to arrange to have groceries and supplies delivered to older people who could use the help.
4. Help a health care worker
As demand increases at the hospitals, many employees there might work more shifts, which means they will struggle to provide meals or child care for their families. Schoch-Spana suggests that people volunteer some time or food to overworked health care employees.
“Neighbors, families, communities can offer child care and meal options,” she said.
5. Tip generously
Servers, taxi drivers, delivery people, bartenders and other hourly workers might not have paid time off and have to work. Tipping generously can help make their lives easier.
“For individuals that are paid by the hour or live off tips, if there is any way to strengthen their livelihood for them, that is an important thing to do — especially in a gig economy where there is ... no insurance,” Schoch-Spana said.
Also, providing child care can be a huge help for friends and family with gig or service jobs.
6. Offer support
“The mental health impacts of outbreaks are totally under-appreciated. People are suffering in silence with fear and anxiety,” Schoch-Spana said. “It has been on our minds for weeks and it will continue to be on our minds.”
Health care workers will face increased stress, families will worry what weeks of no school will be like, and isolation will take a toll on many. Offering a shoulder to cry on (perhaps only figuratively) and checking in with loved ones frequently can help. If people feel ill-equipped to help others, Schoch-Spana said Johns Hopkins and others offer free online training in psychological first aid that anyone can access to learn how to support people experiencing a disaster.
“People can be there for other people,” she said.
7. Use the proper name for the illness and be kind
The virus is called COVID-19 or the coronavirus. The World Health Organization urges people not to call this virus, or any virus, by a country or city name.
“Stigma can drive people away from seeking help by getting screened, tested and quarantined,” the WHO said in a Tweet.
This stigma also hurts Asian people.
“Asian American children and adults are being bullied and that hurts,” Schoch-Spana said. “With stigmatization, we can stop it when we see it.”