Tag Archives: COVID-19

Supporting Teens and Young Adults

Being quarantined with teenagers may not be as much a hands-on job as managing toddlers, but that doesn’t mean that the mental strain or engagement is any less. You’re probably seeing a lot more of each other than either of you are used to. These tips for parenting teenagers and young adults suddenly home from college can help smooth some of the edges and help you to enjoy your time together. 

Reiterate the importance of social distancing. Now that parts of the country are starting to open up, your already restless teen may be tempted to take a chance and hang with their friends. Teens lack the ability to understand the long term consequences of their actions. Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, also notes that teens tend to see themselves as invincible and they may think that COVID-19 isn’t problematic for their age range as it is for older people. “They want to see their friends, and don’t see why the social distancing should apply to them. Our answer is that exposure to this virus is an exponential thing, and that it’s not really about them. It’s not really about the fact that they feel fine. It’s the fact that they could be asymptomatic carriers and they could kill others, including their grandparents.” He suggests you remind your teens that, “You just can’t know that your friends are well. And while you may be comfortable taking that risk, you’re also bringing that back in your house.”

Encourage healthy habits. It may be easier to explain string theory to a toddler than get your teen to maintain healthy sleep habits, but it’s worth the try. Just like the rest of us, being well-rested coupled with healthy eating habits and regular exercise goes a long way to boosting mental as well as physical health. Model the behavior you want to see – if you’re on the sofa, powering through a family size bag of Cheetos at 2 am, don’t expect your teen to take you too seriously. 

Don’t over-parent. If you’re living with a college student that’s just moved home, remember you’re dealing with a young adult who has experienced life outside your home, out from under your authority, and has had autonomy over their own lift and decisions for some time. If you treat them the same way you’re treating your younger children, they’re likely to chafe against your rules. Be mindful of the fact that while you are still their parent, you’re speaking to an adult, not a child. Speaking to them respectfully while maintaining authority goes a lot further than making demands or doling out punishment.

Give them – and yourself a break. It’s all about balance. Yes, good sleep habits, a healthy diet, and exercise are important, but if sometimes they a second cookie, an extra episode of Adventure Time, or sleeping till noon translates to self-care, don’t sweat it. When the days seem endless and it sometimes feels like time no longer exists, be kind to them and indulge. 

Validate their feelings. Think back to when you were a teenager and how much you relied on peers over parents for everything from advice to emotional support. When things are getting heated or you’re getting push back on the boundaries you’ve set, acknowledge that their feelings of frustration and isolation are valid. Studies have shown that teens still prefer face to face connections over social media, so it’s no wonder they’re struggling. If you’ve set boundaries on screen time or social media, this is a good time to sit down and have a conversation about the possibility of shifting those boundaries and finding creative ways for them to connect while still social distancing. 

Look to the future. Don’t forget, many teens are missing out on milestones you enjoyed or may have taken for granted. Senior prom, graduation, bar mitzvahs, their quinceañera – these are once in a lifetime events. There’ll be other birthdays, other chances at a first-date, but be aware your child may be grieving the loss of what was supposed to be. Give them the grace they need and work together to find ways to make up or re-schedule the event if possible. By including them, you make them feel less helpless and take away some of the sting of the disappointment.  

Help them practice mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques are powerful tools that will carry them through the challenges they face inside and outside quarantine.  Mindfulness teaches us to stop, identify the feeling you’re experiencing, and free yourself of judgment. 

Dr. Joanna Stern, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute calls it “radical acceptance.”

“You tell yourself it’s okay to feel anxious right now. It’s okay to feel scared. It’s okay to feel angry. You’re accepting the feelings you have and validating them because we’re all having those feelings. It’s really important that you accept them as they are rather than fighting them. We say to ourselves: ‘This sucks, and I’m going to be sad about it, and I’m going to be angry about it, and I’m going to feel anxious about it,’ or whatever it is. This then allows us to move on and say, ‘Okay, so now what needs to be done?’”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Protect Your Pets From COVID-19

By Tracey Dowdy

Since the COVID-19 pandemic is thought to have originated at a live animal market in China, many people have wondered if they need to worry about their pets carrying or transmitting the virus to them.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, any risk to humans from our pets is very low. “There have really only been a handful of known domestic animal infections in the entire world,” said Dr. John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “There are reports of a few cats in China, and two dogs tested positive there, too.” A number of cats have been diagnosed with the virus here in the United States, and pug tested positive, though it was asymptomatic. “It’s doubtful the dog — was even ill. Pugs have upper respiratory problems anyway. It’s very easy for the test to pick up the presence of the virus in a dog’s mouth, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the dog was infected. The dog could have licked up the virus from any of the people in the household,” Howe explained. One family member admitted that Winston, the pug, was allowed to lick from the family’s plates. According to news reports, a study at Duke University showed that three family members and Winston tested positive, but “A daughter, another dog and a cat didn’t test positive,” Howe said. 

While public health officials acknowledge they are still learning about SARS-CoV-2, there is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus here in the United States. “Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals, including pets, could be affected,” says the CDC.

The CDC recommends the following measures to protect you and your pet from the novel Coronavirus: 

  • Don’t let pets interact with people or other animals outside your household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.
  • Don’t allow people outside your household to touch your pet when you are in out in public. 

If you or another member of your household show COVID-19 symptoms (either suspected or confirmed by a test), limit contact with your pets and other animals, as you would around people.

  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, licking, and sharing food or bedding.
  • If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

It’s important to note that animal testing does not reduce the availability of tests for humans. 

For more information on animals and COVID-19, see: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html

For more information about testing in animals, see: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/one_health/downloads/faq-public-on-companion-animal-testing.pdf

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Facebook Cracking Down on Fake COVID-19 News

By Tracey Dowdy

It’s nothing new for Facebook to be under scrutiny for fake news and hate speech. It’s been an issue for years and was never more evident than in the wake of the 2016 presidential electionThey’ve made concerted efforts to rein in misinformation, but it’s an ongoing battle. 

Facebook has been open about the challenges both human reviewers and AI have in identifying and removing offensive content. While things have improved, the number of users posting makes it challenging to curate information accurately.

One area where their efforts are glaringly deficient is the amount of COVID-19 related misinformation in languages other than English.  Avaaz, a crowd-funded research group, analyzed more than 100 pieces of Facebook coronavirus misinformation on the website’s English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Italian and French versions. 

They found that:

  • It can take Facebook up to 22 days to issue warning labels for coronavirus misinformation, with delays even when Facebook partners have flagged the harmful content for the platform.
  • 29% of malicious content in the sample was not labeled at all on the English language version of the website.
  • It is worse in some other languages, with 68% of Italian-language content, 70% of Spanish-language content, and 50% of Portuguese-language content not labeled as false.
  • Facebook’s Arabic language efforts are more successful, with only 22% of the sample of misleading posts remaining unlabelled. 
  • Over 40 percent of the coronavirus-related misinformation on the platform — which had already been debunked by fact-checking organizations working alongside Facebook — was not removed despite being told by these organizations that the content was based on misinformation. 

Avaaz’s research led Facebook to begin alerting users if they’d been exposed to false information. So, according to a Facebook blog post and a report from BuzzFeed News, both Facebook and YouTube are cracking down yet again and using AI to weed out the volumes of misleading content. 

Facebook has been forced to rely more heavily on AI as the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced its number of full-time employees. They still rely on contractors, many of whom, like the rest of us, are working from home. The content review team prioritizes posts that have the greatest potential for harm, including coronavirus misinformation, child safety, suicide, and anything related to self-harm.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “Our effectiveness has certainly been impacted by having less human review during COVID-19. We do unfortunately expect to make more mistakes until we’re able to ramp everything back up.”  

Currently, if a fact-checker flags a post as false, Facebook will drop it lower on a user’s News Feed and include a warning notice about the veracity of the content. The challenge in removing misinformation is that it’s much like dandelions on your lawn – you can remove them from one spot, but there’s already countless more popping up somewhere else.  

Facebook uses a tool called SimSearchNet to identify the reposts and copies by matching them against its database of images that contain misinformation. The problems stem from users being quick to hit the “Share” button before checking to see if the source is a reputable organization.

Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer admits  AI will never be able to replace human curators. “These problems are fundamentally human problems about life and communication. So we want humans in control and making the final decisions, especially when the problems are nuanced.” 

So before you hit “Share” or are tempted to gargle with vinegar or Lysol, head to UCF Libraries Fake News and Fact Checking page, Snopes, the CDC website, and do a little homework.

As Abraham Lincoln warned Americans during the Civil War, “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Stay Safe as We Re-Open After Quarantine

By Tracey Dowdy

While even the most introverted among us are ready to start socializing again, we’re also apprehensive about what life will look like as the country starts to re-open. As it’s been from the beginning of the pandemic, foremost in our minds is how to stay safe, flatten the curve, and protect those around us who are most vulnerable. 

It’s important to stay vigilant and not think that this is over. The threat of a second wave remains, but as restrictions lift and we begin to venture out, these precautions can protect you, those you love, and the strangers you’re near in the frozen food section stay safe and healthy. 

Keep wearing your masks – even homemade ones. In a blog post, the American Lung Association addressed the issue of whether or not homemade face coverings were effective. “These types of masks are not intended to protect the wearer, but to protect against the unintended transmission — in case you are an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus.” 

Don’t stand so close to me. Growing up, I remember a nun at a school dance rebuking us and telling us to “leave room for the Holy Spirit” if couples danced too closely. That’s not a bad idea in this season. Stay six feet apart while you’re shopping, walking the dog, waiting in line for carry-out, etc. If you have food delivery, pay and tip when you order, then when they drop off thank them through the door and wait for them to walk away before you open the door and take your food. Open the packaging, throw it away, wash your hands thoroughly, and then eat. 

Move it along. Yes, we’re all desperate to be somewhere other than our sofa, but limited exposure to one another is still a key element of flattening the curve. If you need to be in a store, use a list to help you shop quickly and efficiently. 

Go hands-free when you can. Instead of tapping out your pin with your fingers, use your knuckles. Flip switches with your elbow, use the automatic open accessibility option for those with mobility issues, pull doors open with a foot or the crook of your arm – get creative. You’re more likely to touch your face with a finger than your foot or your elbow – it’s a little change that goes a long way. 

Do your best to touch only what you intend to purchase. Items like canned goods or boxes of cereal can easily be wiped down, but not so with items like fresh produce. Instead, wear gloves or use the plastic bags available in the produce selection to avoid cross-contamination. 

Speaking of washing your hands, wash your hands. It’s recommended to wash for at least 20 seconds both before you go out to protect others and when you get home to protect yourself. If you’re unsure of how long 20 seconds lasts or bored with counting “One Mississippi, two Mississippis” every time, #washyourlyrics takes your favorite song and generates a handwashing infographic complete with lyrics and proper handwashing techniques. 

Money money money money. Cash is notoriously bacteria-ridden, and at times like this, a potential carrier for COVID-19. Use your debit card (punch in that pin with a knuckle), PayPal, Apple Pay, Venmo, Google Pay, Samsung Pay – you can even send or receive money through  Facebook Messenger. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Supporting Your Child’s Mental Health 

By Tracey Dowdy

Parents trying to work from home, teach their children, referee disputes, and keep everyone fed aren’t the only ones stressed out during this quarantined season. 

Common Sense Media and Survey Monkey polled over 800 U.S. teens, trying to get a sense of how they’re coping with the multitude of ways the coronavirus has impacted their lives, and how they’re staying connected. The results aren’t surprising – tweens and teens are stressed out and relying heavily on social media and texting to try to fill the gap that social distancing is having on us all. 

According to their poll: 

  • Ninety-five percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have had their classes canceled, 41% have had no school at all, and more than a quarter say it’s hard to find a place to study at home.
  • Teens not only fear that a loved one will become infected, but they also worry about the family’s finances, particularly Black and Latinx teens.
  • Roughly 40% feel “more lonely than usual” and bout the same number say they feel “about as lonely as usual” during this season. Parents may be surprised to hear these same teens say that social media and texting can’t replace close association and face to face interaction with friends.
  • One significant shift is that when compared to pre-pandemic times, more teens are going directly to news organizations for information rather than getting it second hand through family and friends. 
  • Unsurprisingly, tweens also report feeling stressed about school, family and friend’s wellbeing, and understanding what’s happening. 
  • Individuals who struggle with mental health report that their negative feelings are particularly heightened right now. 

So what’s a weary parent to do? Don’t despair – there are ways that you can support your child’s mental health that will provide them with the tools they need today, and that will equip them for challenges they face as they mature and become independent. 

  • One benefit that’s come from being quarantined is that teens report feeling more connected to family than ever. Read the hints they drop and invite them to watch a movie together, play a game, or play in the backyard. It doesn’t need to be structured or planned – look for spontaneous moments to connect. 
  • Right now, texting and social media are hyper-important to teens who’ve grown up with devices in the palm of their hands. If the need for discipline arises and reduced screen time was your go-to pre-quarantine, consider choosing another way to address the issue. With the level of isolation, your teen is already feeling, cutting off what social connection they have may exacerbate the problem.  
  • Because many of the teens report that social media and texting are a large part of their coping mechanism, consider allowing them to use your phone, tablet, or computer if the family is used to sharing. There are simple, secure, and effective ways to set parental controls, so you don’t need to worry about them changing settings or accessing private information. 
  • Create new routines to find your new normal. It’s unlikely that we’ll be back to normal soon, so build some structure into your days and nights. It can be as simple as setting up mealtimes, “packing” snacks for the day, scheduling FaceTime chats with grandparents, or determining “from nine to noon we do school work.” 
  • MyFridgeFood lets you plan a menu based on the foods you have on hand, so let your kids take over dinner one or two nights a week. If they’re little, allow them to look through the pantry and fridge for what’s available and help them search for a recipe. If they’re older, go one step further and have them cook. This isn’t just busy work – these are life skills that will take them far.
  • Anyone else celebrate a milestone during this quarantine? I had a birthday and my friend Leah had a baby. Students are missing their graduation, prom, recitals, and a myriad of other events. Reassure them you’ll celebrate once we get the all-clear – put a date on the calendar if that helps. Remind them this will end – countries who were impacted first are transitioning out of quarantine and someday soon-ish, we will too. 
  • Remind them of all the good that’s happening. Many people are recovering, charities are still being supported, and researchers around the world are working on a vaccine. Some of their favorite celebrities are doing what they can to encourage us. Some are reading bedtime stories on Instagram (@savewithstories), releasing new music, or just sending some positive vibes out there – check out Some Good News by John Krasinski, complete with a logo and background that was drawn by his daughters.

 The most important thing is to keep those lines of communication open. You know your child better than anyone and recognize when a meltdown is coming. Validate their feelings of unease and frustration – we all feel that way sometimes. Be open, be compassionate, and let them vent. You don’t have to solve the problem – you need to ride out the storm alongside them and reassure them you’ll be there, supporting them in any way you can.   

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Tips for Video Conferencing from Home

By Tracey Dowdy

With most of us working from home thanks to COVID-19 protocols, chances are that at some point you too will be called into an online meeting.  And by now, we’ve all heard horror – or hilarious depending on your perspective – stories of individuals participating in a video conference with coworkers. Whether it’s the boss who accidentally turned on the potato filter and couldn’t figure out how to remove it or the woman who forgot her camera was on and took her laptop to the bathroom with her (#PoorJennifer), video conferencing is fraught with more peril than a game of Jumanji.  

Don’t despair my friend. Following these tips will ensure that your online meetings run as seamlessly as those in-person. 

GET UP AND SET UP

  • Make sure that you have a dedicated space with everything you need – files, documents, chargers, coffee – within reach. 
  • Set your camera up at eye level so it appears you’re looking at whoever is speaking. Make sure your face is well lit, and your whole face is visible. 
  • Let your family, roommates, whoever else may be at home with you know you’re in a meeting and unavailable unless it’s an emergency, just like when you were in your office to avoid a repeat of everyone’s favorite meeting crasher.  
  • Tidy up around you and make sure there’s nothing personal – photos, clothing, art, etc. in the background you don’t want on camera with you. Sit down, open your camera, and look at your background BEFORE the call starts. 
  • Pro tip: If you don’t have time to clean, consider a virtual background
  • Pro tip 2: If you’re going to be sharing your screen or sending screenshots, make sure you check what browser tabs are visible to avoid any potentially sensitive or private information being shared. 

CHECK YOURSELF 

  • Sweats and yoga pants are de rigueur these days, but if your office usually calls for something more – unless you’re told differently – get dressed for work, at least from the waist up. 
  • Don’t worry about makeup if you don’t usually wear it, but make sure whatever the dress code, your appearance reflects that you’re at work, not that you just rolled out of bed and are headed back as soon as the call ends. 
  • Pro-tip – try to avoid stripes as they can “dance” on camera, and black or white shirts may cause your iris to auto-adjust and make it hard to see your face.

HERE WE GO

  • Get to the meeting a few minutes early to check your internet connection and that the link to the meeting is working for you. 
  • Watch your audio, not only to make sure you can be heard but that they can’t hear everything that’s happening on your end. Mute your mic when you’re not speaking as any background noise can be distracting for others on the call. 
  • Remember, you are more visible in a virtual meeting than in-person because other participants will be staring at your face throughout the call. Try to look into the camera when you’re speaking, not at a particular person. 
  • If you need to step away for any reason, or if you need to look up something in another window, communicate that clearly so participants understand what’s happening and don’t think you’ve left the meeting. 
  • Knowing when to speak during a video conference can be tricky as some participants may have slight delays in their audio. Most meeting platforms have a “raise hand” feature, but if yours doesn’t, agree as a team what the cue will be. 
  • Speak clearly, no need to shout, and take notes if you miss your opportunity to respond so you can add your input an appropriate time. 
  • Pro tip – Stay off your phone and don’t eat – remember – everyone sees what you’re doing and they definitely don’t want to watch you chow down on that massive sandwich or cram a too-big forkful of salad in your mouth. You don’t want to be the next viral video. 
  • Pro tip 2 – If one of your coworkers does make an embarrassing faux pas, don’t post it without their consent. It’s unlikely #PoorJennifer agreed to have her mistake posted online. Put yourself in your co-worker’s position – if it’s not funny for everyone, it’s not funny and doesn’t need to be shared. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Fun Indoor Activities for Kids During the COVID-19 Quarantine

By Tracey Dowdy

How upside-down is your world right now? Is that the dumbest question you’ve been asked in a long time? If it’s only the latest in a string of ridiculous questions, you’re probably quarantined with kids. 

Regular quarantine updates with quotes from my niece, “If you were a dog, what kind of dog would you be?” or my friends, “One of my kids is crying because the other one flushed the toilet before they got to ‘see,'”or “SOS! My kids caught me eating their Easter candy I bought early and now they’re asking questions I don’t want to answer,” make me giggle and remind me to find the funny in a very un-funny situation. 

If you’re looking for ways to inject a little happy into your day, these activities can break up the boredom, redirect those Easter candy questions, and help you shift gears faster than the TP is disappearing off shelves. 

  • Take the Meet Your Neighbors Challenge created by Rachel Rock:  At a time when so many are feeling disconnected and a little lost, reaching out – while social distancing – is a great idea. Rock suggests “Write a note to the people who live beside you, in your apartment building, or up the road. Introduce yourself and give them something to write back about by asking about their favorite books, movie, food, or the most beautiful view they have ever seen. If you’re able, let them know how they can help – maybe you pray a lot. Maybe you can go to the grocery store. Maybe you can walk dogs. Maybe you have a hobby you can teach or things you can lend to help pass the time. Deliver those notes and see what happens!”
  • Create an Art Crawl. If your home has a driveway, help your kiddos create chalk art with encouraging messages. No driveway? No problem – use your windows as gallery space and post your children’s art, pictures of your pet, or more of those encouraging messages. Encourage your neighbors to do the same so even though you may not be able to leave the shelter of your home, you can still be encouraged by art. 
  • Have a virtual family dinner. Miles away from friends and family? Use any of the myriad of streaming services – Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Jitsi, FaceTime, Skype – to have dinner together. Plop that normally forbidden device in the middle of the dinner table, and catch up with each other’s day. 
  • Host a movie party. Netflix has created an app that enables people to chat via text through a separate window on their computer while streaming content via Netflix Party. Once you’ve downloaded the app, open a video within Netflix, click the NP icon, then click start the party.  You’ll be given a custom URL that you can share that URL with friends and others and then can chat about whatever your group is watching in real-time.
  • Set up an online playdate. Your kids don’t have to play a video game, though of course there’s plenty of options out there. Sites like Pogo have a myriad of games kids can play together, including Monopoly – perhaps not the best choice in these stressful times. You can play old school favorites like Yahtzee Party and Scrabble. Hop over to Tabletopia to play Chess or one of the other 800+ game they offer, or head to PlayingCards for a family-friendly version of Cards Against Humanity, GoFish, Crazy Eights, or CheckersFamily favorite Uno even has its own site. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Avoid COVID-19 Scams

By Tracey Dowdy

Seasons like the one we’re currently living in bring out the best in some and the worst in others. 

It’s nothing new for scammers to get creative during a national emergency – we’ve seen it happen time and again – and a global pandemic like COVID-19 is no exception. 

A recent release from the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency offers great advice on how to avoid being scammed. 

Phishing. 

Any time an unsolicited email prompting you to click on an attachment hits your inbox it should raise a red flag. CISA recommends disabling automatic downloads for attachments. The problem is that not all email clients offer this, and each is different from another. Scammers know that in times like these, by pulling on your heartstrings or using language that increases your anxiety, you’re more likely to share sensitive or personal information, so they recommended taking the time to read Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks. Most importantly, never ever reveal personal or financial information in an email or respond to requests for it via email or text. It’s also smart to ensure any charity or cause you choose to donate to is legitimate. Sites like Charity Navigator, guidestar.org, and give.org can help you vet the charity before handing over and money 

Mobile Malware.

If you’re tracking COVID-19 news and information through an app, be aware that there are malware traps out there. Recently, a malicious Android app called CovidLock that purported to help users chart the spread of the virus instead locked and held many Android phones for ransom by hackers. DomainTools researcher Tarik Saleh states, “This Android ransomware application, previously unseen in the wild, has been titled ‘CovidLock’ because of the malware’s capabilities and its background story. CovidLock uses techniques to deny the victim access to their phone by forcing a change in the password used to unlock the phone. This is also known as a screen-lock attack and has been seen before on Android ransomware.”

Hackers have been using coronavirus-tracking map sites to inject malware into browsers and Market Watch reported that coronavirus-related website name registrations are 50% more likely to be from malicious actors. The best way to avoid this is by setting a password that can help protect you from a lock-out attack. And when it comes to choosing an app, shop the Google Play store so you’re less likely to download a malware-laced app. 

Beware Facebook Charity Groups 

It goes without saying, but there’s volumes of misinformation, fake cures, pseudo-science, and conspiracy theories being shared on social media, doing far more harm than good. Trust what the CDC says, not a theory posted by a guy you knew in high school who heard it from a friend of a friend who knows someone that talked to a guy working behind the scenes who can’t reveal his source.   By clicking the “about” section of a Facebook group, you can see whether that group has changed its name multiple times to reflect new national crises — a sure sign that the group is trawling for an audience rather than promoting reliable news. 

Here’s how to sift through the trash to find the treasure: 

  •  Trust only official sources on Twitter and Facebook including the accounts of trusted news sites and their reporters.  Avoid talking heads or people presenting opinion and theory as opposed to facts. 
  •  Before you click on a website that purports to be an official government site, check the URL to see if it ends in .gov. 

CISA’s has an official tip sheet to help you avoid being scammed during this challenging season.  

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Tips for Working From Home

Did getting to work from home seem like a dream come true but now that you’re a week in, with or without children at home with you, it feels more like a social experiment gone wrong? 

Take heart because you’re not alone. Well, technically you should be alone, but we’re all with you in spirit. Freelancers like myself, consultants, and entrepreneurs have worked from home and learned the do’s and don’t’s that can not only help you make it through the Coronavirus quarantine in the days and weeks ahead, ensuring that you get your work done in a timely manner and your return to the office is as seamless as possible. 

Get up and get dressed. As someone who has worked from home for years, trust me when I say you need to get out of your pajamas if you’re going to be successful long term. It may work for a day or two, but if you’re in pj’s, you are subconsciously telling your brain this is a day off and you’ll have a hard time flipping the switch into work mode. You don’t have to put on a power suit or a pair of heels but at the very least, get up, wash up and change into day wear. 

Set boundaries. One of the biggest temptations will be to get sidetracked by something around the house. There’s laundry to fold, dishes in the sink, or a floor that needs to be vacuumed. Set work hours just as you would have in the office, and try to stick to them. Take a lunch break just as you do at work – pack your lunch in the morning if that helps –  and then get back to work. Maintaining a routine helps you stay on task and makes you more efficient. 

Create an organized workspace. Not everyone has the luxury of a home office, but wherever you choose to set up shop, treat it like your desk at work, even if you’re sitting on the sofa. Get whatever supplies you need – laptop, power cord, phone, pens, paper, your water bottle or coffee cup – and get busy. Every time you have to get up to get something you’ve forgotten, your productivity drops a little and you’re going to be tempted to stop and quickly fold that laundry or hang up those jackets, rinse those dishes, pull the chicken out of the freezer for dinner…

Be social. That may seem counter to what I said under setting boundaries, but if you’re accustomed to working in a communal space, the isolation of working from home may itself be a distraction. Use a time manager like Strict Workflow, an extension that enforces a 25min/5min workflow: 25 minutes of distraction-free work, followed by 5 minutes of break, and use social media as a substitute for a conversation in the breakroom with a coworker.

Take breaks. If you’re working from home with children in the house, particularly young children, you may not have a choice about when those breaks happen. But, being organized and putting their needs first by making sure they’re fed, changed, or working on an activity before you sit down to work means fewer interruptions and distractions. Something as simple as setting a timer can help your children remember to stay on task because a break is coming up soon. Remember, their school days are structured into blocks of time, so re-creating that model at home is helpful.

Rely on siblings. Use this season as a teachable moment. Talk to your older children about being part of your family’s leadership team and ask them to mentor their younger siblings. Of course, there are some things they’ll need a parent’s attention for, but little things like a refill of a water bottle, potty break, or sharpening a pencil can easily be managed by a sibling. Ask them to step up in small yet significant ways like making lunch for the family or starting dinner while you finish up your work.

Be flexible. Your greatest challenge but also your greatest asset in this situation is the ability to be flexible. You have to be flexible at your job, and it’s a given that you have to be flexible and able to roll with interruptions and surprises as a parent. The whole day doesn’t have to be filled with academics. Children can often knock out their school work more quickly in a one on one situation than in a classroom. Work when they sleep. Play in the backyard together over your lunch break, or send them outside for “recess” if you need to make or take an important phone call. 

Finally, set reasonable expectations for yourself and your children, be quick to forgive, and make sure you set aside time to enjoy each other. These are uncertain days that have left everyone anxious. Model the behavior and attitude you want to see in your children, and remember, you will get through this. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.