The Grumpy Owl Guide to Prepping for a Pandemic

There’s plenty of good guides to help you prepare for a pandemic. (NPR has a good one here and Scientific American has one here.) And there’s probably some pretty terrible guides too. This guide should be somewhere in the middle. It’s not meant to be definitive but, since I’m in Korea and this city is currently under a sort of informal, self-imposed quarantine with quite a few shutdowns, a few people have asked me how to get ready. I’m no expert and I really suggest you listen to the experts. Keeping that in mind, my experience might be of some small value. So I’ll just offer it up. (At the very least, it might save me typing it again.) Maybe you can learn from my mistakes. I’ve had to. And, good lord, I hate having to learn anything. Especially from my mistakes.

Our resident prep expert (me) forgot to get a few things.

The Basics

A pandemic and lock-down is an exceptional situation. What makes exceptional situations difficult to prepare for is that you think they require exceptional supplies. If you’re a reasonable person, you may be thinking a lot about masks, sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, and all of that sort of thing. If you’re an American, you may also be fantasizing about a zombie rapture and thinking about how to shoot a virus when society totally collapses. But in an exceptional situation, you need to be concerned with unexceptional things. You’re not so much preparing for a pandemic as you are preparing for a long stay at home.

So think about the unexceptional. Non-perishable food is pretty obvious. (Just keep in mind that you probably eat more than you think you do and, when you’re bored around the house, into day three of a Netflix binge, you might eat even more than that.) Less obvious is the rest of the stuff. The stuff you need but don’t really ever think about needing.

Do you have enough toilet paper? (I do but only because there was a really good two for one sale on massive packages of it a few weeks back and I went a little bonkers.) How about laundry detergent? Dog and cat food? Toothpaste and toiletries? Puppy pads? Cat litter? Our lives are full of objects that we basically take for granted and don’t often restock.

These objects are a priority.

The good news is — this stuff is only sort of an extra expense. Most of it, you’d probably have to buy eventually anyway. You’re banking items. And that’s exactly what I told my wife about all that toilet paper when I bought it. I’m totally standing by that idea.

A list of these everyday items might be of some help but it’s hard to come up with a one size fits all solution. (That’s my fancy way of saying ‘bitch, I don’t know your life.’) It’s probably better for you to think about what you need. But how do you even think about this?

It’s actually pretty hard to depend on memory. It’s difficult to perform this sort of thinking in your head. So think with your hands instead. Walk yourself through your morning routine. Notice what you use and what you need. Notice what you need more of – what you’re low on. Take some notes. Make a list. You want a few weeks worth of whatever crap it is you actually use. The goal is to be able to keep yourself indoors and out of crowds. It’s hard to do that when you’ve run out of toilet paper.

The Boredoms

Games can help boredom.

The next big thing you run into is boredom.

There’s not really a lot of data on this, so I’m kind of talking out of my ass, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the greatest risks to our health at time like this is just boredom. It’s easy to just sit on the couch and eat. There’s a basic lack of activity. Boredom can also get depressing and it can make people do strange things. Some of those strange things may not be safe. Others may be hilarious. It’s hard to tell until someone loses an eye.

There’s not an easy solution for this one. And you may think that the variety of entertainment options we have solves boredom and, maybe, for you, that’s true. But if you’re with people or even just one other person, you might notice that you actually want to do something with them — not just watch something with them or talk with them. You might even feel this way even if they keep bringing up their foresight in buying all that toilet paper a month ago.

Now, I know that togetherness is gross and family togetherness is the grossest sort of togetherness there is. We must endure it anyway. These are hard times.

I suggest grabbing some board games. (Not Scattergories – that shit is just an argument in a box and, during a lock-down, probably a murder waiting to happen and I’m not just saying that because I never win even though THAT IS TOTALLY A REAL WORD.) You probably want a deck of cards. Something like that. You know, that sort of old fashioned nonsense. Because you know the thing about old-timey times? They were pretty boring. So, old-timey people had a lot of pretty good solutions to boredom. True, some of them involved axe-murder and others caused axe-murder, but some of those solutions really did work.

Experiment! Find the entertainment that doesn’t create a bloodbath!

You might even try writing a guide about prepping for a pandemic for your blog!

If you have some exercise equipment hanging around the house, you might find that it suddenly stops collecting dust and starts getting used. If you don’t, it might not be a bad idea to invest in a couple of dumb-bells or something. Or you can use bodyweight.

Structuring your time a bit might help. My wife, who has worked with kids for years, thinks having a sort of daily schedule is probably a good idea for parents. It’s probably a good idea for anyone. Just like toilet paper. Good thing someone bought a lot of it!

The Bonus Round

Is this a safe location to pick up a mask?

Now for the glamorous shit that everyone likes to hear about. Masks and sanitizer and all that. What is best? How to wear one? So on and so forth. Blah blah blah.

Honestly, I have no idea how well masks work or don’t work. Thing is, I’m in Korea. Here, we’ve been told to wear masks and going outside without a mask these days makes a person look like a simpleton, an anti-social, or a maniac. So, benefits or not, I’m going to wear a mask. Your situation may differ. I wouldn’t get too carried away about masks.

Same with sanitizer. It has its uses but when it comes to around the house, just plain old regular soap and water is the best stuff going. Bleach is also good. I’m a big lover of bleach. It’s just about my favorite smell. You’re mileage may vary. You want to get yourself in the habit of not touching your face and washing your hands and all that shit. Hygiene is good!

And information hygiene is also good! It’s important that you follow instructions and, for fuck’s sake, be responsible about the instructions, advice, and information you share. Like before you hit “share” on ANYTHING, please just give it five minutes and think about it. Especially, if it seems like an emergency, especially if it seems like it should be shared right now. Everything can wait five minutes. That five minutes is hand-washing for your brain.

We have a solid emergency alert system here –one that keeps us well informed, tells us what to do, and tells us where confirmed cases have been. I imagine and hope that you have something like that wherever you are. You need to find that system and pay attention to that shit. More than twitter, that’s the sort of system you need. Having said that . . .

The Bosses

Okay, these people.

There’s some bullshit that you need to be aware of and you need to resist. Any sort of racism, blaming of outsiders, organizing into ‘us and them’, or any of that nonsense is dangerous. You’re going to see some of it around. Some of it might even seem reasonable. It’s not reasonable and it’s never practical. It is insidious. And, God help us, some of this nonsense is going to come from the bosses. You have to be able to tell the difference between the authorities and the bosses. You’re going to need to trust someone –this all requires a lot of trust– so maybe start thinking about who to trust before the fear appears.

The World Health Organization, the CDC, these are who you should probably go with.

Xenophobia and scapegoating are dangerous at the best of times. These are not the best of times. I’ve seen blame shift here about three times already. It’s yet to do any good for anyone. That type of thinking might feel pretty good and there may even be kernels of truth in its arguments but it is disastrous. Scapegoating is to be avoided and resisted. It doesn’t work and it just leads to more scapegoating and more scapegoating until everyone finally notices that it doesn’t work and then what? You’re going to say “whoops”? Like, stay decent. You don’t need to be a hero. You do need to remain a decent human being.

When all this is all done, tomorrow, you’re going to have to face the people you’re pointing a finger at today. Before that happens, you might even need their help. Try not to embarrass yourself. I’d hate to see a shame-over added to your worries.

And look, if I can’t make you understand the moral case for that, here’s the practical one: A virus isn’t going to discriminate. A pandemic means that it’s coming from all of us. But you know what discrimination does? What blame does? It makes people less likely to self-report. It fucks up the legitimacy of the authorities and, right now, they need legitimacy. Disease is bad enough. You don’t need people to also be afraid of the reaction to it. Fear doesn’t help.

Chest-thumping, finger-pointing, and vampire hunts do not help.

You know what helps? Healthcare, sick-days, decent pay, equality, and economic security. These are all important parts of creating a better and safer world. If you can advocate for these things, I suggest you do. If you’re against them, well, you might be about to learn a few facts of life the hard way. The only problem is we all have to learn them with you.

We’ve got to work together, help each other out, and create a situation that is open and kind because that’s how we get through difficulty. Openness makes us strong. Kindness is how we survive. We share vulnerability and we need to understand that. Act like you know.

The Summary

Do you have enough toilet paper?

People love some drama and preppers are some of the biggest drama queens there are. If I can only get one thing across to you with this guide, I hope it’s this: Some extra soap and a deck of cards are far more valuable and useful than a collection of automatic rifles and gas-masks. You are not prepping for a PANDEMIC you are prepping for some time at home.

As a wise man once said, “Don’t panic and bring a towel.”

Pay attention to the basics and get some stuff to deal with the boredom. Take care of yourself and each other. Don’t stress the glamorous emergency measures so much, and resist the bullshit because there will be bullshit. There is always bullshit.

Basically, it’s the same as normal, just more so and indoors.

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