You may be doing everything health experts are recommending to prevent getting COVID-19, such as washing your hands often and practicing social distancing. But what happens when you or someone in your house starts showing COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for the new coronavirus?
While an unpleasant situation to think about, it is critically important to be prepared for any emergency at home involving COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says most people who get COVID-19 will only have what is considered a mild illness and will be able to recover at home.
Nevertheless, people with COVID-19 need to monitor their symptoms. If they show any of the emergency warning signs — including trouble breathing, persistent pain in chest — they need to seek medical attention right away. Some people may test positive for COVID-19 but have no symptoms. They should still practice extra precautions — including physical distancing — as the virus is also spread asymptomatically.
Additional steps must be taken to help prevent the spread of the potentially deadly virus in the household.
“Home isolation is recommended for people who are ill with COVID-19 and are a risk to their family and visitors. They must be carefully watched in case their symptoms worsen,” says Ghazala Sharieff, MD, Scripps chief medical officer, clinical excellence and experience.
The CDC recommends that people with COVID-19 or who believe they are infected should:
- Stay home and do not leave unless it’s for medical care. Get rest and stay hydrated.
- Monitor your symptoms and call medical facilities ahead of time before seeking care there.
- Keep a distance from others as much as possible. Stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom.
- Wear a cloth face covering over your mouth and nose when around others.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes; throw away tissues in a lined trash can and immediately wash hands.
- Clean all high-touch surfaces in your isolation area – including phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables.
- Let someone else clean and disinfect surfaces in common areas, but not your bedroom and bathroom as long as you’re sick.
- Don’t use public transportation, ridesharing or taxis.
In addition to isolating yourself if you're sick, the whole household should quarantine at home for 14 days, as symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.
If someone in your house has COVID-19 or symptoms and is told to stay home and monitor their condition, you may provide support for the sick person, but be careful.
If you are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, you should not be a caregiver if possible. If you can be a caregiver, stay home and monitor your health for COVID-19 symptoms while caring for the person who is sick.
“The person who is sick should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom if possible,” says Dr. Sharieff. “Check up on them several times a day and monitor for emergency signs.”
Make sure the sick person is drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and getting plenty of rest. Provide over-the-counter medication to treat symptoms when appropriate.
“Ask through the door how they are doing. Give them a video call if they aren’t too ill,” Dr. Sharieff says. “If you must go inside, keep your distance and wear a mask, especially if the sick person can’t wear one and use gloves.”
Wash your hands with soap and water after interacting with the sick person to help prevent the spread of germs in the household.
In addition, the CDC recommends the following measures be taken for people who are sick:
- Have them take their temperature regularly.
- Make sure they wear facial covering when around others and stay six feet away.
- Call their health care provider if they are getting sicker (such as not being able to eat, drink or go to the bathroom).
- Limit contact with animals. There is no evidence of pet-to-human transmission, but caution is urged.
- Prohibit visitors who do not need to be in the home.
People who are not sick should not clean the room of someone who has COVID-19, or should do it only on an as-needed basis and take precautions. If you only have one bathroom, use air conditioning or an opened window – weather permitting – to improve airflow.
According to Dr. Sharieff, those with COVID-19 who are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms should isolate at home and monitor symptoms. They may discontinue isolation if:
- Seven days have passed since the patient’s symptoms first appeared.
- The patient has not had a fever for at least 72 hours or three days without the use of a fever-reducing medication.
- The patient’s respiratory symptoms (cough or shortness of breath) have improved.
Ending home isolation should be done in consultation with your health care provider and state and local health departments. For additional information check the CDC on when you can be around others.
It’s not too late to plan ahead in case you or someone in your house gets sick with COVID-19 and is told to isolate at home while they recover.
Basic supplies to have on hand should include:
• A working thermometer to monitor fever
• Fever-reducing medications
• Rubber or latex disposable gloves
• Regular soap and hand sanitizer
• Tissues to cover sneezes and coughs
• Disinfectant cleaning supplies
If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you have or might have COVID-19.