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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to heavily affect people around the world, it’s likely you know someone whose life has been impacted by the disease. And if someone you live with becomes infected — or maybe it’s you — it’s important to know the right steps to take to avoid spreading the virus to others, as well as how to care for that person.
Situations are different: You might have a roommate (or three), or live in a household with your family, or a significant other. You should already be practicing social distancing as best you can in a roommate situation, but it isn’t always possible. And if you’re helping care for others in your family, self-isolation can be difficult or impractical.
Keep track of the coronavirus pandemic.
We’ve drawn suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as first-hand advice from people we know who have recovered from coronavirus. Here are recommendations for how to adjust if you suspect someone in your household has COVID-19, but is not sick enough for hospitalization. Note this is not an exhaustive list and guidance from public health agencies could change over time.
Contact the doctor
At the first sign of what could be coronavirus, contact the doctor immediately to list symptoms and ask for advice on whether you should pursue COVID-19 testing. In many cases, the doctor will need to order the test for you (more on this below).
If the patient has underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for fatality, the doctor will also be able to weigh in on which medications they should and shouldn’t take and how they’ll need to adjust their lifestyle, including what kind of vital signs you should monitor as the illness progresses.
Isolate the person who’s sick
As soon as your roommate or family member suspects they have symptoms of COVID-19 (or tests positive for the coronavirus), they need to isolate from others until they test negative, or until the symptoms are long gone (more details below).
They should wear a face mask or cloth covering if they’re in the same room as you or your housemates and everyone needs to make sure they’ve thoroughly washed their hands for 20 seconds after interacting. It’s also important to keep the house sanitized. A healthy person could reduce contact with a sick person by filling a water pitcher and preparing food for the patient, leaving both at a safe distance for the member of your household to collect.
The CDC suggests isolating in a bedroom away from others. However, we understand that’s not always an option — for example, if you live in a studio apartment with a significant other or share a small house with many others.
If there isn’t an extra room for them to stay in, make sure to maintain a six feet distance at all times to practice social distancing. Unfortunately, that might mean someone’s sleeping on the couch, on a mattress on the floor or so on.
What if you only have one bathroom?
The CDC recommends the presumptive coronavirus patient use a different bathroom if possible. However, if you only have one bathroom, the person who’s ill should wear a mask when they leave their isolation room. After they leave the bathroom, make sure the toilet, sink, shower, handles and soap dispensers get sanitized.
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. Also, avoid using the same hand towel as the potentially infected person. You may need to set up a caddy for items that only the sick person uses, like a separate soap dispenser, towel, toothpaste tube and so on.
How to care for a person with presumed or confirmed COVID-19
If there are multiple people who live in your home, the CDC suggests only one person should take care of the sick one to limit the number of people who might come in contact with the virus. That includes bringing them food or medicine; checking their temperature, vitals and blood pressure; and laundering their clothes and bedding.
However, it’s a good idea for the carer to wear gloves and a face mask when coming in contact with anything the infected person has touched, before washing their hands directly after.
When you bring food, for example, you can place it inside the room they’re staying in, but avoid contact with them and make sure your nose and mouth are covered — theirs, too.
While in isolation, your roommate may start to feel lonely, so make sure you’re comforting them by sending them texts, calling to talk from the next room, or even talking to them outside the door. Michigan Health suggests opening a window for air circulation.
Monitor their symptoms
It’s important to note that many hospitals don’t want you to go to the emergency room or arrive for a COVID-19 test without a doctor’s order, or an advanced state of symptoms, like high fever over 102 degrees. In many places, the number of tests are limited and hospitals must follow protocols to limit the exposure of sick people to the rest of the hospital population.
Symptoms that typically warrant a COVID-19 test include:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Confusion or lack of energy
- Bluish lips or face
Everyone needs to stay home
If the person you live with has contracted the coronavirus, it’s possible you and other housemates have already been exposed. The World Health Organization states the incubation period for someone with coronavirus is between one to 14 days. This is the time between catching the virus and seeing symptoms. This means you need to quarantine yourself for two weeks to prevent spreading the virus to others.
To avoid going out, have your food and groceries delivered to your door. The CDC says once everyone is symptom-free for at least 72 hours and testing negative for coronavirus, you can leave the house for necessities again.
Disinfect surfaces often
Make sure you’re cleaning and disinfecting high traffic surfaces in your home daily. This includes doorknobs, remote controls, bathroom surfaces, kitchen counters, appliances and your phone. Use products from the EPA’s approved list of disinfectants to help kill coronavirus.
The American Red Cross says to avoid sharing household items, such as glasses, utensils, towels and bedding. If an ill person uses any of these items, they should be washed thoroughly.
When is it OK to stop self-isolating?
If the infected person doesn’t have access to testing, the CDC states they can leave their home if they’ve had no fever for at least 72 hours (without medicine), symptoms like coughing have improved and at least seven days have passed since their symptoms first appeared.
To help better prepare you for a coronavirus case in your home, here’s what you need to know about making a face mask or covering at home, where you can buy a face mask if you don’t have the right tools and how to disinfect your car and home to help kill coronavirus.
Keep in touch with loved ones while keeping your distance
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.