Someone in my household has COVID-19. Now what?

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

No one wants to imagine COVID-19 arriving at their doorstep. But it’s important to do what you can to protect others from catching the virus in the event that someone in your household is infected and needs to isolate at home.

Remember the basics.

You’re familiar with the basics: Maintain distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands. These everyday instructions are even more important for COVID-19 patients and those who live with them.

 

The patient should stay isolated.

  • The infected person should stay in a separate room, preferably one with an attached bathroom. 
  • Ideally, the patient should have their meals prepared for and brought to them to avoid the spread of germs. It’s best if you can leave a tray outside their door and walk away before they open it. If you must enter the patient’s room to bring them food or drink, maintain as much distance as possible, wear a mask and wash your hands. 
  • If bathrooms and/or kitchen areas must be shared, these rooms should be thoroughly disinfected between uses. The patient should spend as little time in shared spaces as possible. Keep windows and doors open whenever possible to encourage air circulation.
  • Create negative air pressure in the patient’s room to ensure good ventilation. This post by  a hospital architect explains how.

 

Monitor symptoms closely.

Immediate medical attention is required for:

  • A temperature above 103ºF. The patient should take their temperature at least once a day and any time they feel feverish. 
  • Serious shortness of breath. A pulse oximeter, a device worn on the finger to measure blood oxygen concentration can tell you if it dips below 90.

 

If the patient experiences either of these symptoms, call 911 or go to a hospital. Call ahead to let the hospital know so that staff can be prepared to receive the patient and can take precautions to avoid transmission.

 

Get yourself and other household members tested.

COVID-19 testing helps public health agencies track infections and better understand transmission. But bear in mind that tests are not foolproof: 

  • There can be false positives or false negatives.
  • It can take 3 days or more to get test results; if you’re not isolating, this means you could catch the virus before you get your result.
  • You may have trouble finding a test locally. Some options: 
    • Ask your local public health agency, doctor, or local hospital about testing. Understand that you may be charged for the test even if the visit is free.
    • Order a test online

Need a return-to-work note?

If you were told to isolate or quarantine by a FSH doctor and need a return-to-work note, click here.

 

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