It's wise to stock up on essentials ahead of emergencies, the Callaway County Health Department said. Most people, CCHD's Kent Wood said, only have two days of supplies to live on.
But don't just buy in a panic. It's important to stockpile in a way that's smart and kind to others in the community.
"Don't go out and get 70 cases of toilet paper," he said during an informational meeting Friday about COVID-19. "For one thing, this is a respiratory virus — and I'll leave it at that."
Wood recommended referring to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service's "Ready in 3" program (bit.ly/2ILP4D2), which gives instructions about how to prepare a kit with food and water supplies. He also recommended stocking up on enough food to last for 14 days.
Ready in 3 also warns against forgetting about prescribed medications, pet food and supplies (such as cat litter) and infant formula/food and diapers, if applicable.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends against stockpiling and using face masks, however — simple precautions such as keeping your distance from other people and frequent, thorough hand washing are more effective ways of avoiding the disease than wearing a mask. Masks can be useful for those who already have COVID-19, as they help contain coughs and sneezes. Additionally, according to the Associated Press, medical professionals — who need face masks to safely do their jobs — are facing shortages because of panicked buying by the public.
According to the CDC, the incubation period for the novel coronavirus is around two to 14 days; health officials currently recommend those who believe they have been exposed to the disease to stay home and self-quarantine for 14 days in order to avoid spreading it to others. COVID-19 appears to be spread primarily through the air via sneezing and coughing, though it may be able to linger on surfaces for "hours to days," according to the CDC.
COVID-19's symptoms include coughing, a fever and shortness of breath.
Wood said those who have a mild confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 are being instructed to stay home until they've been fever-free for 24 hours without the aid of medication. In Missouri, the Department of Health and Senior Services have taken charge of testing.
Anyone who suspects they may have COVID-19 should call 877-435-8411 for a DHSS screening; if the caller meets certain criteria (including exhibiting symptoms and recent travel to an area with significant numbers of COVID-19 cases), the DHSS will direct the caller to a medical facility for testing.
As of Saturday afternoon, no confirmed cases had been reported in Callaway County. Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency for Missouri on Friday, announcing the state's total had grown to four cases after the administration of 94 tests.
According to Fulton Medical Center CEO Donald Buchanan, the FMC recently submitted its first test kit for processing; it came back negative Saturday. The patient was put in isolation until results came back from the state lab.
"She was in good spirits, and it turned out she just had pneumonia," Buchanan said Saturday.
Will Medlock, manager at the Fulton Walmart, said toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wipes and bleach are flying off the shelves.
"I've never seen quite anything like this in my 10 years as far as management goes. I've seen a lot of busy times of the year, certain items going out of stock, but I've never seen anything like this," he said. "We're still getting shipments as scheduled, but demand's gone way up."
He said the buying behavior doesn't surprise him: "People want to do the best they can to keep family safe."
That said, Walmart has had to institute purchase limits on certain items due to the high demand.
"We're trying to make sure that as many people can get the products as possible — so one person can't come in and buy all the toilet paper," Medlock said.
Signs on the doors and shelves outline purchase limits, and sales associates will remind shoppers about them, he said. Each shopper is currently limited to two packs each of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, hand soap and disinfectant cleaning wipes.
C&R Market and Moser's Foods did not respond to requests for comment. As of Friday, neither had signage indicating any purchase limits. Staple foods at all three Fulton grocery stores were well-stocked Friday, but by Saturday, Walmart was running out of pasta and some canned foods. C&R Market, Moser's and Dollar General were either low on or completely out of toilet paper, bleach and wipes.
Wood warned against panicking. The virus has infected more than 150,000 people worldwide but has killed just over 5,700 as of Saturday afternoon, according to the AP.
"We're taking the same precautions we'd take with the common flu," Wood said.
For much more information about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, what to do if you're sick and how to handle the pandemic in specific work settings (including long-term care facilities and schools), visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.