Coronavirus in the Pacific Northwest :: How Are Families Preparing?

Editor's Note: This post was written prior to school closures, event cancellations, and business restrictions. Current recommendations go far beyond the preparatory remarks in this post; please practice social distancing by staying home, limiting yourself to only essential tasks, and by keeping your family and others in our community safe and healthy.
This past week, I have received messages from friends all around the country wondering how we’re handling the outbreak of coronavirus in the Pacific Northwest. Outbreak? Handling it? First off, much of this appears to be very much out of our hands. However, at the suggestion of one non-Portland mom, it seemed a good idea to get a “mom perspective” from those of us on the frontline, as coronavirus is likely to hit other communities across the country in the near future. 
 
While the majority of the initial diagnoses have been clustered around Seattle, we now have a handful of cases in Oregon and California. What is happening in our corner of the country appears to be the start of a national wave, and one that clearly has people on edge.
 
As moms, we are always thinking about the all different pieces: family, schools, work, health… how do we prepare when there is still so much uncertainty about what could happen?
 
When it comes to coronavirus, I am neither frantically hoarding supplies nor assuming it’s all media hype. I think I fall somewhere solidly in the middle, and I hope my approach is seen as rational. Below are three ways I look at the addressing the potential spread of coronavirus in our community, with a few details about how my family is preparing.
 

I’d love to hear what your family is doing; please share your perspective in the comments!

 
Coronavirus - Handwashing
 

As a Mother

Most of us know by now that, mercifully, coronavirus does not affect healthy children as severely as it does older adults. That said, many families have children with compromised immune systems or medical conditions, and we all need to be sensitive to their concerns. I have seen so many unintentionally hurtful statements that say something to the tune of, “It only affects the elderly or those who are already sick!” —  brushing aside entire populations and the valid fears of many. Let’s be respectful of those feeling stressed or anxious in this time of uncertainty.
 
Talking to My Kids About Coronavirus
 
My older children are aware of the news, so I thought it best to sit down with them to address the arrival of coronavirus in the Pacific Northwest. I reassured them that although it is likely they will not get very sick, they most certainly know people who are feeling nervous right now. We talked about the importance of being kind and respectful when discussing the virus, as many people are navigating these unknown waters with a lot of fear and trepidation. I reminded them that you never know what anyone’s health concerns may be until they choose to share that information with you.
 
My 12-year-old soccer player asked, “How are we going to do the handshakes at the end of the game?” after his club announced that players should no longer high-five. We discussed alternatives (elbow bumps?) and how to maintain an open conversation with his team and coach about what is appropriate.
 
My 8-year-old asked about the photos of everyone wearing masks. We talked about the importance of leaving high-demand, N95 masks to the health care workers. Masks are in short supply, and we need our health care workers to be able to tend to the sick. I stressed to him that we can do our part as young, healthy people by leaving a limited resource available to those who need it most.
 
We also discussed the game plan should their schools close, as we saw was the case this week in Lake Oswego and now in multiple Washington schools. We are fortunate in that my husband can telecommute, if needed, and I already work quite a bit from home. Recognizing that many other families do not have that luxury, I reassured some friends that I can take their kids in the event of a school closure. 
 
Community Information
 
Yesterday, I received no less than a dozen emails from different organizations, businesses, groups, or schools on how they plan to address the potential spread of coronavirus. Every single one mentioned our current best defense: hand-washing. As silly as it seems, we reviewed the basics with all four of our kids and stressed the importance of making hand hygiene a priority habit. This should always be the case during flu season, in general, but an added reminder doesn’t hurt.
 
Household Preparation
 
At our house, we are already all stocked up on emergency food/supplies due to our earthquake preparedness efforts. If “The Big One” has been on your mind for awhile (months? years?) and you haven’t stepped up your preparedness game, look at coronavirus as an additional incentive to get your goods in order. Contrary to earthquake preparedness, water will likely not be disrupted in the event of an outbreak, but it might be worth picking up some extra fever reducers in case anyone in your household gets ill.
 

As a Daughter

My parents live in Portland, and having family nearby has been the most amazing blessing for over a decade. However, they are both in their 70’s, with their own health concerns, and I suddenly find myself wishing they lived high up in the mountains — just for this stretch. I reached out to them the other day and asked about how they are preparing, if at all. With some non-negotiable medications in their lives, I wanted to be sure that they had thought ahead about having extra on-hand.
 
Coronavirus Preparation - Photo of Pills/Medecine
 
The importance of community in this case cannot be understated; if my parents were to need supplies and there were to be a large outbreak, I’d prefer procuring the items for them. Am I on their list as someone who can pick up medications? Can I contact their healthcare provider on their behalf? Having this conversation now can be helpful in the future, and not just when it comes to coronavirus. Do you know people in your life who would benefit from these conversations? It can get a little awkward, but long term peace of mind is worth the temporary discomfort.
 
Again, this is a good opportunity to look around your life and see where you can help others outside of your immediate family, as is the case when preparing for ANY disaster. Do you have a neighbor who may need you to shop for them? A friend who works at a hospital who might need emergency or extended childcare? While thinking about what to do to protect your own family, consider those around you and see where you can step in to help your community.
 

As a Business Owner

So far, this is the trickiest part, for me, and for a lot of small business owners I know.
 
I own two small businesses: one is Portland Moms Blog (hiiiii!) and the other is Make + Take Studio, where I teach workshops and host birthday parties, baby showers, and other celebrations. Both businesses involve in-person events and gatherings, and I am already fielding questions about possible cancellations should an outbreak occur.
 
My current approach is to continue life as usual — until that is no longer a possibility.  If anyone feels unsafe or uncomfortable moving forward with an event, I am more than willing to reschedule or open the conversation up to alternatives. Nobody can predict the future, and we also can’t bring our lives to a halt until we know more. Additionally, we need to remember that everybody’s situation is different, and that just because you are not worried, doesn’t mean that someone else’s fears are invalid.
 
Ultimately, I am bracing for the virus – no matter how severe the outbreak – to have a profoundly negative impact on both of my businesses. This is already apparent less than one week in, and with only a few reported cases in Oregon. I expect it will only get worse as the virus spreads. My situation is likely mild in comparison to many local businesses who are already very much hurting, and I feel for them.
 
Here is how you can help: for now, if you are comfortable frequenting public places, please continue to support local businesses as much as you are able. If things get dicey, let’s all listen to experts such as the Oregon Health Authority and the CDC as to what the recommendations may be. And, when we are comfortably out of the weeds, please consider the hundreds of restaurants, services, and spaces that may have been negatively impacted by coronavirus in both visible and invisible ways. Give them some grace and your support, as we’re all in this together.
 

How are you feeling about the spread of coronavirus in the Pacific Northwest? What conversations have you had with your kids, if any? How is your family preparing?

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