Updated January 12, 2022.
In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, governments and health authorities across the country are encouraging communities to practice social distancing and isolate themselves when sick. Doing so while living with others, however, is often easier said than done. If someone in your household has tested positive for COVID-19, you may be concerned about protecting others in your home, including kids and older family members. Between joint bathrooms and food, shared living spaces can quickly become cesspools for new viruses. Whether you live with family, roommates, or are a caretaker, it’s important to take extra precautions at home to prevent the spread and transmission of COVID-19. Here are some steps you can take to keep your household healthy while living or caring for someone with COVID-19:
1. Separate yourself
If someone else in your household has tested positive for COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms, it’s important to maintain as much distance as possible. The sick individual should stay in one “sick room” during their isolation or quarantine. If you share a bedroom, stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom if possible. You should prohibit all visitors who do not have an essential need to be in the home.
2. Make sure there is good airflow
COVID-19 can be passed through the respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It’s currently unclear how long these respiratory droplets can linger in the air, though one study estimates it could be up to 3 hours. In order to minimize the risk, the CDC recommends making sure that shared spaces and the room the infected person is staying in have good airflow, like an air conditioner or an open window.
3. Wear a mask and gloves
Both the sick person and you should wear a mask while in shared spaces within the household. If the sick person is unable to wear a mask, you should wear one if you can whenever you are in the same room. Disposable gloves are also recommended when tending to the sick individual, cleaning their room, or handling anything that has had contact with the sick person’s blood, stool, saliva, or other bodily fluids. You should throw these gloves away and wash your hands thoroughly after use.
4. Don’t share household items
To avoid exposure to any germs, do not share dishes, utensils, towels, bedding or other personal items with the sick patient in your household. Any shared items should be washed thoroughly with soap and water, while wearing a mask and gloves.
5. Wash your hands
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
6. Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently
It’s important while living with someone who is sick to clean all “high-touch” surfaces daily using household cleaners and wipes. That includes frequently touched surfaces like countertops, doorknobs, toilets, phones, light switches, and keyboards. You can also use a bleach and water solution if you are unable to find disinfectants or cleaners in stores.
7. Handle waste with caution
The CDC advises that all facemasks, disposable gloves, and other contaminated items should be placed in a lined container before disposing of them with other household waste. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly immediately after handling these items.
8. Serve food from a distance
If the person with COVID-19 has an appetite, try leaving their food outside their door so that you can maintain social distancing. You can also deliver food to them directly if one of you is wearing a mask.
9. Communicate virtually
Being sick and isolated from others can be scary. That’s why it’s important to comfort the sick patient as much as possible even if from a distance. Try video chatting, calling, or texting your loved one or roommate while they are in their isolated bedroom. You can even play online games or watch a movie together via Netflix party to pass the time.
10. Check in regularly
Like with a cold or the flu, it’s important to check in on the sick person as much as possible. You should make sure they have enough of what they need, including water, tissues, and medication in their room so they can limit movement and physical contact with others. For safety purposes, you may even want to check in on them at set times to make sure they are okay. Monitor them for worsening symptoms and call their healthcare provider if they seem to be getting sicker. Signs that someone may need emergency care include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, or bluish lips or face.
Quarantine and isolation
Those who aren’t fully vaccinated who have been in close contact with an infected person should stay home and avoid contact with others for five days, followed by five days of strict mask usage. Alternatively, if a five-day quarantine is not possible, an exposed person should wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure. If you do develop symptoms, you should immediately isolate yourself and contact your healthcare provider.
If you are fully vaccinated, including a booster, or you completed your two-shot vaccination series with Moderna or Pfizer within the last six months or J&J vaccine within the last two months, you do not need to quarantine if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19. You should, however, wear a mask when indoors around others for 10 days following your exposure, and if possible, be tested five days after the exposure. Be sure to monitor for symptoms and isolate if you develop any symptoms of COVID-19.
For more information on quarantine and isolation see here.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County,Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.