President Donald Trump’s intent to leave the hospital and return to the White House has the country fixated on the safest procedures for COVID-19 patients ― particularly when it comes to looking after someone at home. What should you do if you live with someone who has the coronavirus? How do you keep them, yourself and your household healthy?
The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention says that most people who get mildly sick with COVID-19 should recover at home. Mild symptoms can include fever, cough, new loss of taste or smell, chills, fatigue, headaches, runny nose and diarrhea. If they’re experiencing severe symptoms ― trouble breathing, intense chest pain, new confusion and pneumonia ― seek emergency medical care.
How do you look after someone while ensuring that you stay as healthy as possible? Below, doctors share the advice they’re giving patients.
Your goal is to distance as much as possible.
First, don’t freak out. Taking care of someone with COVID-19 can be done at home if they have mild symptoms, said Sachin Nagrani, a physician and the East Coast Medical Director for Heal, a telemedicine provider of doctor house calls.
“If someone in your household is diagnosed and has mild symptoms, the goal is self-isolation for the sick person until she or he recovers, to limit the spread of the infection,“ he said.
Sleep in separate bedrooms. (And use different bathrooms, if possible.)
The CDC recommends having the sick person stay in one room, away from any other people in the house as much as possible. That means sleeping in separate rooms and using separate bathrooms, if possible.
“Limit the number of places the sick person goes to and separate them from other family members,” Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told HuffPost. “If a separate room isn’t possible, try a separate bed.”
When you do have to come into contact with them, practice good hygiene.
Your on-the-mend housemate will need to take their meals in their own room. That means the person who is primarily caring for them will need to bring food in. If that person is you, wear a mask when you’re around the sick person and keep 6 feet away from them, the CDC advises.
“After they’ve had their food, use extreme care cleaning the dishes,” said Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, a nonprofit organization that represents public health agencies across the country.
“The dishes should be washed in hot soap and water then rinsed in a bleach solution,” he said. “Or washed in the disinfect cycle of dishwasher, if you have that.”
Whenever you come into contact with the sick person, wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, the CDC says. If soap and water aren’t on hand, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
And it should go without saying, but avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if you come into contact with them.
Provide symptom treatment.
Make sure the sick person drinks a lot of fluids, whether it’s water or electrolyte-filled drinks like Gatorade or Pedialyte.
“With a fever, you want to make sure you don’t get dehydration, and simple hydration will consistently prevent that side effect while you’re sick,” Jake Deutsch, a physician and founder of Cure Urgent Care told HuffPost recently.
Over-the-counter medicines help reduce minor coronavirus symptoms.
“Have Tylenol on hand to bring down your fever,” Deutsch said, adding that supplements like vitamin C and zinc are great immune system boosters, too.
Talk to your health care provider about how long the person will need to stay isolated in their room, but Benjamin said it’s usually around 14 days.
Keep the house sanitized.
Keep high-touch surfaces ― tabletops, counters, doorknobs ― as clean as possible. The CDC says to use household cleaning sprays or wipes as you normally would.
Get extra vigilant about laundry, too. If laundry is soiled, the CDC says to wear disposable gloves and keep the dirty items away from your body while doing the laundry. Once you remove the gloves, wash your hands right away.
Don’t let the sick person feel isolated.
There are still ways to make your sick loved one feel like part of the household, even if they can’t leave their room.
“While a family member is physically isolated, video call them from the living room to interact with the family and keep their spirits up,” Nagrani said. “That’s something that is officially encouraged by this doctor.”
Monitor the person for worsening symptoms.
If the sick person you’re living with seems to be getting worse, call your healthcare provider for advice.
“One should always monitor for symptoms that require you or a family member to see a physician,” Benjamin said. “Those symptoms include persistent fever, shortness of breath and chest pain.”
Manage your own anxiety.
Caring for someone who’s sick is stressful in any situation, but particularly this one. If you start to feel anxious about everything going on around you, it helps to identity what you’re worried about: Are you anxious about what’s going to happen to your loved one’s health? Your own health? Are you worried about the potential for more spread? Are you anxious about the potential economic impact that all of this might have on your family?
Your concerns may be weighty, but you’re probably less powerless than you think. Once you’ve identified some of your worries, you often find there are things you can do alleviate the situation, said Lynn Bufka, the associate executive director for practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association.
“We can identify things that we can actually do that would be helpful in this situation and then we can let go of some of the anxiety and really focus on the person that we care about who needs us, because they’re probably feeling kind of scared and anxious too,” Bufka said.
Once you’ve addressed your worries as much as you can, you can get back to being more present for your sick family member, Bufka said.
“I mean emotionally present, because we’re still maintaining our physical distance here,” she said.