Seemingly overnight, everything has changed. We live in the brave new world of COVID-19 – a world of stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and disrupted routines. It can be disorienting to navigate, especially as safety guidelines and government recommendations continue to evolve.
To help you find your footing, we’ve put together a toolkit of practical resources that might assist you in this rapidly shifting landscape. In this article, we address COVID-19 testing, health and hygiene tips, insurance, food security, and other topics. We hope this guide helps keep you healthy and safe.
Where to Go For COVID-19 Testing:
If you suspect you may have symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor first. Your doctor will advise you on whether you should be tested (test kits are still limited in many locations, and you are not guaranteed a test without meeting certain criteria).
Not sure where to go for testing? You can find test sites near you here.1
Expanded RX Patient Assistance Programs (Updated May 1, 2020):
Many pharmaceutical companies are offering wider access to patient assistance programs to help lower the cost of prescription medications during the pandemic. Even if you have applied for assistance in the past and did not qualify, you may be eligible now. Below are just a few programs offering expanded access:
AbbVie HUMIRA Complete: 1-800-4-HUMIRA (1-800-448-6472); www.humira.com
Pfizer PAP Connect: www.PfizerPAPConnect.com
See our full list of patient assistance programs for a wide range of biologic medications, and other financial resources, here: https://spondylitis.org/resources-support/support-resources/assistance-programs/
Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home:
The first line of defense remains washing your hands with soap and water, for a least 20 seconds. Washing your hands properly31 will clear germs away from your skin and prevent you from spreading them to your face or other members of your household. If you cannot wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.2
But what about cleaning items in your home? The coronavirus can survive on hard surfaces, such as plastic and stainless steel, for up to 3 days, according to the National Institutes of Health.24 It is recommended that you sanitize goods you bring into your house (such as food and retail packages) in case someone who handled these items before you is infected. And if you share living space with others, disinfecting high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, faucets, and counters is strongly encouraged.2 Experts recommend leaving disinfectant spray on surfaces to dry rather than wiping it off.
If you’re not sure whether your usual household cleaner is strong enough, you can browse this list of approved cleaning and disinfecting agents that are effective against viruses such as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.3
How to Make Your Own Facemask, Or Disinfect an N95 Mask (Updated June 25, 2020):
The CDC recommends that everyone wear a cloth facemask in public.30 Facemasks are encouraged, and in many places mandated, as a means to stop the spread of COVID-19. Masks prevent the spread of respiratory droplets, projected when you talk, laugh, cough or sneeze, which are the primary way the infection spreads from person to person. Masks are most effective when they are fitted to your face and used properly, so make sure you know the do’s and don’ts of facemasks to keep you, and the people around you, safe.32
However, the sudden rise in demand for facemasks means we are now facing a shortage, which means healthcare workers who need them, and those who are already ill, have less access to critical protective gear. The CDC urges the public not to buy surgical masks or N95 respirator masks, to save them for healthcare professionals.30
But there are things you can do to make sure you and your family have masks, and to extend the lifespan of a mask you already own, to help ease the strain on the global supply.
First, you can make your own homemade cloth facemask. Fabric masks (in the style of surgical masks) are not guaranteed to shield you from infection, but that isn’t their main purpose. Cloth masks catch and contain respiratory droplets from your mouth or nose, which is the primary way COVID-19 is spread.11 This way, these masks reduce the chances of transmitting the virus to other people, if someone is infected but asymptomatic. They also keep you from touching your face in public.
You can make an inexpensive, DIY cloth mask from a reusable fabric grocery bag,12 a piece of cotton fabric and ribbon,13 or a light dishtowel.14 Other materials used in tutorials include scarves or bandanas.
N95 respirator masks, in contrast to fabric masks, are designed to fit tightly over your face and block 95% of small particles. These masks are the recommended standard for healthcare workers and patients who are infected with COVID-19. N95 masks are supposed to be discarded after use, but due to the current crisis and shortage, the CDC has urged healthcare professionals to store and reuse their masks.15
If you have an N95 mask and must reuse it, a Stanford Medicine report says you can disinfect your mask by heating it in an oven (not touching metal surfaces) at 167 degrees F (75 degrees C) for 30 minutes.16 (Note: This method may affect the way the mask fits.)
Maintaining the proper social distance of 6 feet is still the best way for members of the general public to protect themselves from respiratory droplets and safeguard against infection.2
Health Department Resources in Your State:
It can be hard to keep up with quickly-changing state health recommendations. For information about your state’s health department, including state COVID-19 responses and policies, testing information, and hotlines in states that are providing them, visit this link.9 You can also keep up with state of emergency declarations here.25
On March 18, a law was passed promising free COVID-19 testing to all Americans.4 Insurance companies have agreed to waive the cost of diagnostic tests, but the fine print may be more complicated. What your insurance will cover depends on what plan you have, and insurance laws vary widely by state. You may incur costs related to COVID-19 testing depending on where you are tested (emergency rooms, for example, may bill for additional fees).5
According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the type of policy you have will determine how much of the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment will be covered, and how much will be out-of-pocket. “If you have an individual or small group health insurance policy, testing and treatment for COVID-19 is covered. However, there may be some out-of-pocket costs, or ‘cost-sharing’ associated with testing or treatment,” the NAIC says.6
Increasingly, major insurance companies are pledging to waive cost-sharing for testing and treatment.7 Insurance companies are also announcing updated policies about covering telehealth services for patients self-isolating at home. Different insurance companies also have varying policies about allowing patients with chronic illnesses to refill prescription medications early, in order to have a longer-lasting supply on hand at home. For those on Medicare, requests for more than a 30-day supply of medication will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.8
Each state has its own insurance commissioner who sets statewide insurance regulations. The bottom line: You should check with your insurance provider to determine what is covered and whether any cost-sharing may be associated with testing or treatment for you.
The IRS has moved the federal income tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15, giving the public an extra 3 months to file their tax returns, with no interest or penalties.17 The IRS still urges taxpayers to file soon to get refunds they are owed.
Paid Leave Benefits:
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires many employers to offer paid sick leave and broaden family and medical leave for COVID-19 related reasons. Employees of businesses covered by the Act are eligible for 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular wages if the employee is quarantined and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a diagnosis.18 The Act also offers benefits for those caring for an individual who is quarantined or sick, and for those caring for a child whose school has closed. These provisions will apply through December 31, 2020.
Check the details of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to find out what you may qualify for.
If you have lost your job, or if you are facing reduced hours or a lapse in employment due to COVID-19, you may qualify for unemployment benefits. Your state may pay benefits if your workplace is closed due to the pandemic, for example, or if you leave your job due to risk of exposure or to care for a family member.22 23 You can browse Benefits.gov and CareerOneStop.org to read about COVID-19 resources that may be helpful to you, including unemployment insurance benefits by state, and the national benefit finder questionnaire.19 20 21
Food insecurity is already a reality many live with each day, and has been heightened by the COVID-19 crisis. For families who depend on food assistance programs – such as school lunch programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and food banks – there are resources to help.
You can browse COVID-19-related SNAP benefits and child nutrition programs in your state on the national Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) website.26 To see the full list of FNS COVID-19 responses, click here.28 You can also use 2-1-1 to get help finding a food distribution site or paying housing bills.27 Food banks are considered essential services, like grocery stores, and continue to operate during the pandemic, although many are facing shortages as public need surges. (If you are in a position to help, consider making a donation to your local food pantry to help others in your community access food during this time.)
Tips for grocery shopping on a budget include writing out your meal plan for the week in advance, making use of coupons and sales, buying in bulk when possible (but not taking more than you need, so others have access to the same items), and freezing food items to use at a later date.29 And if you are immunocompromised and concerned about COVID-19 exposure at the grocery store, check whether your local store has special hours set aside for vulnerable populations, or if it offers curb-side pickup or delivery.
Wishing you health, safety, and wellness!
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