What to Do if You Think Someone Has COVID-19 in Your House

As the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the United States you might be wondering what to do if someone in your house develops COVID-19.

You may not know for sure if someone in your house has the virus due to limited testing. That said, you may suspect they do if they’ve been in contact with someone who has a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.

Even if you don’t know, but suspect via the primary symptoms—fever, cough, and shortness of breath—it’s best that you distance yourself, says Carl Fichtenbaum, M.D., of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases.

Anyone living with someone that has COVID-19 should quarantine too, which entails staying at home and monitoring symptoms. That may seem unfair, but quarantine is a necessary precaution, says Dr. Fichtenbaum.

“This is where we have to look towards the greater good of humanity,” he says. “If most of us use this strategy—we can beat this virus.”

The goal is to “flatten the curve,” meaning the number of positive cases at a given time doesn’t strain the healthcare system. In the U.S., that could mean there aren’t enough ventilators for every patient who needs one due to COVID-19 complications, NBC reported.

Rely on delivery.

The virus spreads rapidly in high-trafficked areas—such as grocery stores—so it’s best to order your supplies, says Kristin Mondy, M.D., Chief, Division of Infectious Disease at the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin.

“Delivery would be optimal, but the timing of a grocery delivery here in Austin is a week out,” she says.

FreshDirect, Amazon Fresh, Peapod, and Instacart are a few services. Another option is asking family and friends to leave supplies at your door.

Set up a sick room.

People who show any sign of COVID-19 should stay in a specific room away from other people and animals in the home, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sharing a bedroom is not an option, says Dr. Fichtenbaum. Ideally, patients will have zero contact with common areas, like the kitchen, office, or bathroom.

“As mean as it sounds for those folks, they just need to hunker down and get better,” says Dr. Fichtenbaum.

Of course, not everyone has an ideal setup and may need to walk through the living room to access a bathroom.

In these scenarios, the CDC recommends that both sick and asymptomatic people wear face masks when in the same room.

Clean meticulously.

Especially the bathroom. Optimally, Dr. Fichtenbaum says your cleaning routine should mirror this:

It may be helpful to have a process. For example, keep a bottle of Lysol Wipes on the sink and ask the patient to send a group text when leaving the restroom.

One reminder about gloves: Change them with every use and wash your hands after.

“If you don’t change your gloves often, it’s no different than if you didn’t wear gloves,” says Dr. Mondy.

Don’t share.

People with COVID-19 should have their own set of dishes, towels, eating utensils, bedding, cups, and lined trash can, according to the CDC. Sick individuals should keep towels in the room in which they are self-quarantined.

Chances are, if you’re the well person, you’ll prepare all meals—unless you opt for take-out—because sick people shouldn’t be in the kitchen, according to Dr. Fichtenbaum. The chances of spreading the disease are high if someone with COVID-19 is preparing food, touching the refrigerator, and interacting with others.

“The idea is that [the patient] would use their own dishes, then you would take the dishes from outside the door. You can put them in the dishwasher or wash them by hand just wearing gloves,” says Dr. Fichtenbaum. “Again it’s an inconvenience, but it’s the safest.”

Do a daily temperature check.

At this time, scientists are still learning about the novel coronavirus, meaning they don’t know when it’s safe for sick people to mingle with others. The CDC states that confirmed cases of COVID-19 should isolate at home until the risk of secondary transmission is low, which can be determined by a doctor and state health department.

However, recommendations are typically based on a patient’s temperature, says Dr. Fichtenbaum.

Use a thermometer to get an accurate reading. Temperatures above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit are considered feverish.

Patients should wait seven days after their fever breaks to stop self-isolation, says Dr. Fichtenbaum.

Dr. Mondy offers an alternative approach: Patients can leave isolation after waiting seven days from the onset of symptoms plus an additional 72 hours after the fever breaks.

Monitor your own symptoms.

Don’t overlook your own health while caring for people in your home, warns Dr. Mondy.

“Check your temperature,” she says. “You might be getting a fever. Monitor for a cough.”

Symptoms develop between 2 and 14 days, which is why it’s important to quarantine even if you feel perfectly fine, says Dr. Fichtenbaum.

So, how long should your period last? “A good rule of thumb is to wait three or four days after the [sick] person is probably not contagious,” says Dr. Fichtenbaum. “[After] those 3-4 days, that’s when your clock of 14 days would start.”

All total, you’d want to avoid people outside your home for 17 days.

Reach out to friends.

Undoubtedly, everyone in your house might feel anxious or stressed. And staying cooped up inside can feel isolating, which is why Dr. Fichtenbaum recommends scheduling virtual dates.

“We do need a lot of support from our friends,” he says. “Have shared conversations because you have to take care of the mind, body, and soul.”

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