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Coronavirus: How to Prepare to Stay At Home

Here are some essentials you might want to have on hand

By Julio Ojeda-Zapata

As the coronavirus spreads in this country, my wife and I have adopted a “don’t panic, but prepare” frame of mind.

Man seated in a rocking chair near the window of his home.
Credit: Adobe

About 80 people in this country were known to be infected by the scary virus in 13 states as I wrote this, with 14 known deaths. The numbers will almost certainly be higher by the time you read this.

This has triggered significant changes in how my wife and I live. After all, the virus’ mortality rate appears to steadily ramp up with age — and we’re in our late 50s. So I’ve been super cautious.

I’ve been working from home in recent days because I have some sort of mild, but persistent bug. It’s likely not COVID-19, but I have told my boss at the St. Paul Pioneer Press that I needed to play it safe.

Meanwhile, we are busily taking steps to ensure we can be self-sufficient for weeks at a time, if it comes to that.

I am staying away from malls and other crowded places. I am no longer checking books out of the public library because I’m uneasy about such volumes having passed through so many other hands. I’ve begged off all social engagements — again, because of that unidentified bug, and also because some friends are also ill. (Most in my social circle are introverts who treasure solitude, so cancelled plans are a good thing.)

But my wife and I haven’t aborted an upcoming trip to visit family in Florida, even though the coronavirus has cropped up in that state. However, we are paying close attention to travel advisories. It is currently deemed safe to take domestic flights — but that could change, the government says. (Editor's note: Since this piece was first posted on Next Avenue, the author has cancelled his travel plans.)

Meanwhile, we are busily taking steps to ensure we can be self-sufficient at home for weeks at a time, if it comes to that.

Here is some of what we’ve done, organized by category:


Experts advise stocking up on enough non-perishable food to last about two weeks. With our stockpile, we can hold out for up to a month.

Much of our food is shelf-stable, requiring no refrigeration. This includes canned veggies, bags of beans and pasta, boxes of cereal, jars of sauce and so on. My wife has also loaded up our freezer with meat, vegetables and ready-to-eat meals on the assumption that the coronavirus crisis will not trigger power outages (fingers crossed).


This is a concern. Experts advise stocking up on prescription meds, but this might not always be easy. My insurance covers a 90-day supply of my Wellbutrin antidepressant, but not every insurer has such flexible policies, and there have been calls for prescription-refill rules to be relaxed during the coronavirus outbreak.

We have a decent supply of cold and flu meds, which should be helpful for treating coronavirus symptoms if we are unlucky enough to get infected.


We’re stocked up on hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper and so on. We don’t have as much hand sanitizer as we’d like, and this is hard to find as I write this, but hand washing with soap is the best way to sanitize. You can make your own hand sanitizer using rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel, although those items are getting hard to find.

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Here’s an example of what not to buy. There has been a run on a special kind of a medical mask with an N95 rating meant to block at least 95% of small particles. When the coronavirus arrived, my wife bought a half-dozen 3M N95 respirator 10-packs. But when authorities told the public to not rely on such masks since they are said to be ineffective as general coronavirus protection, we returned most of ours.



I am fortunate to have the kind of computer-based job that can be done anywhere, so I’ll be OK professionally speaking if the coronavirus strands me at home. And I have taken pains to make my home office a pleasant and comfortable place to work.

My most important piece of equipment, aside from my computer, is my standing desk. The contraption lets me switch from a sitting to standing position based on how my body feels. Such position changes invigorate me and raise my mood.

I have tested a bunch of standing desks as a tech writer. Vari’s Electric Standing Desk and Standing Work Station are full stand-and-sit desks that replace a regular, non-adjustable desk. One has a motor for raising and lowering; the other has a mechanical lever to adjust the height in a jiffy. There are also desk converters available (Ergotron has several sizes and price ranges) which sit atop a desk to add sit-stand adjustability.


I am an avid athlete, focused mostly on long-distance bicycling. I dread having to curtail my riding because of the coronavirus, but I might have no choice. The alternative is indoor, stationary bicycling, but this can be expensive. Fancy Peloton exercise bicycles cost thousands.

You can press your existing bike into service for a relative pittance. Get a “trainer” contraption, as I have, that elevates your bicycle rear and places your back tire on a metal roller for friction to simulate how a road or trail feels. Get on, and start pedaling!

Some trainers cost $1,000 or more, but you can get a basic model for $50 to $150. This BikeTrainerWorld post has a good rundown of the latest options. For something fancier, look at Kinetic trainers.


Although I'm not checking out library books anymore, there is an alternative — e-book loans.

Instead of walking out of a public library branch with physical volumes, you borrow the digital equivalent using your phone, tablet or computer from the comfort and safety of your couch. The e-book files expire at the end of loan periods, so there is nothing to return.

Audiobook loans from public libraries work the same way. Libraries work with such companies as Overdrive and Bibliotheca that, in turn, broker deals with publishers to make their books available for lending in audio and text form.

Install Overdrive’s Libby app or Bibliotheca’s CloudLibrary app on your phone or tablet (or access the e-book catalogs on your computer from the home page of your library). Enter your library card number, and you are ready to check out books with a few taps or clicks.

Uncharted Territory

This article might make it seem like my wife and I have everything figured out, but this is far from the case. We find ourselves in uncharted territory, which is scary. New problems and challenges are sure to crop up.  At least we have each other, and that always makes me feel better.

Julio Ojeda-Zapata is a St. Paul-based journalist focused largely on tech coverage. He is on staff at the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper, and he contributes regularly to the TidBITS, a tech-news site. Keep up with him at Read More
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