Updated February 18, 2021.
In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, governments and health authorities across the country are encouraging communities to practice social distancing, stay home, and isolate themselves when sick. While it may be relatively easy to avoid public places during this outbreak, it can be more difficult to social distance while living with others. 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 if 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 dishes or bedding that may be carrying the virus. 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.
Discontinuing quarantine and isolation
Roommates, family members, and those who have been in close contact with an infected person should quarantine themselves for 14 days after the most recent exposure to the patient. During this time, it’s important to monitor yourself for symptoms, including fever, cough, or shortness of breath.
The CDC also supports a shorter quarantine period that isn’t as fully safe as a 14 day period, but significantly lowers the risk of transmission while supporting the need for someone to end quarantine earlier. The two alternative approaches the CDC recommends for ending quarantine are:
- After 10 days without any symptoms developing
- After 7 days, with a negative test result at least 5 days after the exposure
In both cases, you should continue to mask and socially distance as well as carefully monitor for symptoms through the full 14 day period. If you do develop symptoms, you should immediately isolate yourself and contact your healthcare provide
Meanwhile, patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 should isolate until the following:
- At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared
- They have had no fever for at least 72 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication
- Other respiratory symptoms have improved
- At least 10 days have passed since they first tested positive assuming they have not developed symptoms within that time
If you have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and are living with someone who has an active COVID-19 infection, you do not need to quarantine for the first three months after your are fully vaccinated (ie. 2 weeks after your second dose). It’s still important to be thoughtful about preventing transmission, as none of the vaccines are 100% effective.
For more information on quarantine and self-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.