husband taking care of wife at home coronavirus
Coronavirus

Caring for COVID-19 Symptoms While Staying at Home

While a diagnosis or suspicion of COVID-19 can be terrifying, the reality is that 85 to 90% of people contracting coronavirus won’t need hospitalization. If a housemate becomes sick with flu-like symptoms, here are the four key steps to take to improve their health and reduce the risk of infection.

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While a diagnosis (or even suspicion) of COVID-19 can be terrifying, the reality is that 85 to 90% of people contracting coronavirus will not need hospitalization, and will either be asymptomatic, or able to recover at home. If a family member or housemate becomes ill with flu-like symptoms, there are four key steps to take to improve their health and reduce the risk of infection of others. While everyone is still feeling well, your household should take the time to develop a plan for how you’ll respond if someone gets ill, as a sick person may be contagious for two weeks or more after the onset of symptoms.

The four aspects of providing safe care at home include:

  1. Monitoring for emergency signs
  2. Preventing the spread of germs while providing care
  3. Treating the symptoms of their illness
  4. Deciding when its safe to end home isolation

Now is the time to sit down together and have a real discussion about what you’ll do if someone in your household becomes ill and think through the best way to improve your situation. If you can, involve everyone in the home while discussing these plans, including children. Most people will draw comfort from knowing there are plans in place and what their role may be in the event of illness at home. They may also have ideas to offer or think of problems or resources that another person hadn’t considered.

husband taking care of wife at home coronavirus

Monitoring for Signs of Sickness

  1. Have your healthcare provider’s information readily available on cards in both the room of the person who’s sick and outside the room, with emergency contact information included. Be sure that everyone in the home knows how to call 911 and what information they will need to give (address, give names, describe what’s happening, etc.).
  2. Have an oral or touch-free thermometer readily available and get familiar now with how to use and clean it between uses. Take everyone’s temperature a few times a day for a few days to get an idea of everyone’s baseline temperature. You can also use a thermometer to monitor for the early development of fever. Be sure to clean it in between uses and if someone in the family does become sick, do not use the thermometer on others.
  3. Any person with chronic diseases (including diabetes and heart disease) who are suspected to have COVID-19 need to keep in contact with their primary care provider because they may need to make adjustments in their medications or have risk factors to consider.
  4. Seek medical attention immediately if the person reports trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, or bluish lips or face. Keep in mind this list is not all-inclusive and you should consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are concerning.

Preventing the Spread of Germs while Providing Care

  1. Isolate the sick person(s) in their room and, if possible, assign them their own bathroom to use. If they have to leave the room for something, have them wear a mask, scarf or bandana to avoid coughing on others, and gloves to avoid touching any surfaces. Ideally, this room will have a window that can be opened for fresh air and sunshine as the door to the room should stay closed as much as possible.
  2. Assign one person, preferably someone healthy with no underlying conditions, to be the sick person’s primary caregiver. This person will be the only one to bring things to the person, to remove linens, etc. and should only enter the room if absolutely necessary.
  3. Create a gateway between the sick room and the rest of the house where the caregiver can exchange items with the person or disinfect their hands as they leave. It might just be a small bedside table just outside or inside the bedroom door, but it will be a place where you can leave meals or supplies for the person without having to enter the room itself. Wash your hands immediately whenever you leave the room or remove gloves.
  4. Place a laundry basket near the door for the caregiver to easily collect used linens and towels. The CDC advises to immediately remove and wash clothes or bedding that have blood, stool or body fluids on them. Still, that regular laundry soap and warm water are sufficient to eliminate any contagion.
  5. No visitors. Friends and family can call on the phone or talk to them through the door or window. Don’t even allow pets in and out of the sick room. While cats and dogs cannot contract COVID-19 themselves, if they are coughed on by a sick person, they might carry the virus to other spaces in the home.
  6. Every day, use an approved cleaner to wipe down frequently touched spaces in the home (even spaces that the sick person isn’t touching), including doorknobs, counters, tabletops, phones, computer keyboards, etc.
  7. Put into practice serious hand washing habits for everyone in the home. Even those that have nothing to do with providing care. Regular hand washing is the best way to prevent transmission between people.

Medication treatment. Sick black guy taking pills in bed, holding handful of tablets and glass of water, empty space

Treating the Symptoms of Their Illness

Follow any advice given by your medical provider, which may include:

  1. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  2. Provide over the counter medicines to provide comfort and relief from symptoms. Ask your medical care provider regarding their recommendations for fever or headache control as information is still evolving on the best forms of symptom relief.
  3. Consider stocking ahead on comfort foods that may be preferable if one has a sore throat, including teas, soups, ice cream, etc.

Deciding When it’s Safe to End Home Isolation

Eventually, the storm will pass, and it will be time to consider if the sick person can end their in-home isolation. The CDC states that “People with COVID-19 who have home-isolated can stop under the following conditions:

  • If they do not have a test to determine if they are still contagious, they can leave home after these three things have happened:
    • They have had no fever for at least 72 hours (that is three full days of no fever without the use of medicine that reduces fevers)
      AND
    • other symptoms have improved (for example, when their cough or shortness of breath have improved)
      AND
    • at least 7 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared.
  • If they can be tested to determine if they are still contagious, they can leave home after these three things have happened:
    • They no longer have a fever (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers)
    • Other symptoms have improved (for example, when their cough or shortness of breath have improved)
      AND
    • They received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart. Their doctor will follow CDC guidelines.”

We know how overwhelming a diagnosis of COVID-19, or even the suspicion of a probable case, can be, but remember, it will eventually pass and the vast majority of patients make a full recovery. As your family cares for the sick person, make sure that they, too, are practicing self-care. Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, eat well-balanced meals, get exercise as you are able, and ask for help when you can.

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Chrysanthos McCullers
CNA | See more posts by this author

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