How to care for someone in your household with COVID-19

Update: In addition to cough, fever and shortness of breath, possible symptoms of COVID-19 have been expanded to also include sore throat, weakness, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of smell or taste, and chills. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, please access the free screening questionnaire via MyBSWHealth.

Is someone in your household experiencing COVID-19 symptoms? The good news is that most people who become ill with the virus will experience only mild symptoms and can make a full recovery from the comfort of home.

But when that home is also home to several other people, minimizing the spread of the virus can be a challenge — how are you expected to simultaneously care for someone who is sick and also protect yourself and the rest of your household? All this while adjusting to our new lifestyle of social distancing, working from home and homeschooling?

If you’re a COVID-19 caregiver facing these questions and worries, you’ve come to the right place. Follow these guidelines to help keep you and your household safe as you nurse your loved one back to health.

Isolate

The first step toward preventing the spread of COVID-19 within your household is to isolate the person who is sick. It might seem cold to isolate them in their time of need, but it is truly what is best for your household and your community at large. Every little step we can take to stop the spread of this virus is critical.

  • If space allows, designate one bedroom and bathroom for your sick loved one to use. If this is not possible, be sure to clean and disinfect all surfaces after each use, including the toilet flush handle and all doorknobs.
  • Avoid sharing items like towels, utensils, bedding and dishes with the infected person.
  • Always wash or disinfect your hands when leaving the patient’s designated room. 
  • Wear an apron or robe when you enter their room and remove it when leaving.
  • If possible, designate a lined trash can for their use only. Use gloves when taking out the trash and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

Minimize contact

When caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19, it’s a good idea to minimize close contact whenever possible. Ideally, this involves wearing a gown, gloves, mask, face shield and foot covers — but in all likelihood, you don’t keep those items on hand at home. In their absence, it becomes critical to minimize contact between the person who is ill and all other members of your household.

Keep in mind that this virus is much more contagious than most other viruses. You must protect yourself in order to continue to perform as a caregiver. Think about how much more difficult caring for them will be if you also become sick. (Not to mention, who will take the dog out, teach the kids, buy the groceries, etc.?)

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  • Stay 6 feet away whenever possible.
  • If possible, protect yourself with a gown, gloves, mask, face shield and foot covers. Wash or disinfect hands thoroughly after removing the equipment.
  • Talk to your patient from across the room. Make sure they know you are still there to help care for their needs — but try to keep your distance.

Be vigilant about cleaning

Wherever you normally fall on the cleanliness spectrum, now is the time to go overboard. The COVID-19 virus has been shown to able to survive up to three days on household surfaces. Everyone in the household must wash their hands whenever they touch anything touched by the person who is sick.

Follow CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting your home, including:

  • Wear disposable gloves to clean and disinfect.
  • Clean high-touch surfaces daily using soap and water. These include surfaces like counters, tabletops, light switches, faucets and doorknobs.
  • Disinfect surfaces using CDC-recommended cleaning products.
  • Reduce cleaning of the infected person’s bedroom and bathroom (unless shared) to as-needed to avoid spreading the virus. Make sure your loved one has access to cleaning products so they can clean and disinfect their spaces.
  • Wash all utensils, plates, bowls and glasses in hot water while wearing gloves or in the dishwasher.  
  • Launder all clothes, sheets and towels on the warmest setting possible and dry the items completely. Items used by the ill person can be combined with the rest of the household’s items. Remember to clean and disinfect your dirty clothes hamper.

Monitor their symptoms

Most people with COVID-19 have mild respiratory symptoms, as seen in the common cold. Unusual symptoms include abdominal cramping, diarrhea and loss of taste and smell. Most people recover in 14 days, but that recovery time can be shorter. A small minority will remain ill for a longer period of time.

Remember that if you have a MyBSWHealth account, you may be able to use it to seek virtual care options or send a message to your loved one’s physician. To download the MyBSWHealth app, text BETTER to 88408.

Monitor your loved one’s symptoms. In the event of a medical emergency, call 911 and notify the dispatch personnel that they have or are being evaluated for COVID-19, or visit the nearest emergency department.

Be supportive

Whether it’s your spouse, roommate, child, grandparent or friend, it’s never easy to see a loved one suffering. Make sure they know that you are there for them.

  • Help them follow any instructions given by their doctor. Make sure you have their doctor’s contact information on hand.
  • Make sure they’re well stocked with over-the-counter medications to help manage fever and other symptoms.
  • Keep them hydrated and nourished.
  • Make sure they get plenty of rest to regain their strength.
  • Help them stay entertained with books, movies and other activities they can enjoy while in isolation.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself

Last but not least, remember to take care of your own needs. Realize that you cannot adequately care for another if you become sick or exhausted.

  • Eat healthy — focus on foods that can help boost your immune system. Be sure to practice proper portion control on those quarantine snacks.
  • Get adequate sleep and try to stick to your normal routines.
  • Exercise regularly and participate in activities that you enjoy. This is important for both your physical and mental health.
  • Use online resources and apps to find stress relief through meditation, prayer, yoga or exercise. 
  • Remember to laugh. Comedy movies and light-hearted shows offer a nice distraction.
  • Set limits on your involvement in caring for your loved one. Share with them that you also need time for rest and nourishment.

Related: How to cope with COVID-19 anxiety

If caregiving and managing your day-to-day responsibilities becomes a challenge, know that you are not alone. Know that it’s okay to reach out for help when needed. Now more than ever, we need each other.

  • Keep in touch with your friends and loved ones, even during social distancing. Chatting and video calling with others can help relieve stress and give you a chance to talk through your fears and worries.
  • Reach out to your personal physician, preacher, chaplain or confidant if needed.
  • Embrace your virtual communities. We’re all part of different kinds of communities — church groups, friend circles, families, exercise groups, book clubs and more. Use those relationships to help you keep your spirits up.

It’s important to keep a positive attitude! The vast majority of people who have COVID-19 will experience only mild symptoms. Remember that your loved one is lucky to have you as their caregiver, and they will be grateful for your support during their time of need.

For more information about COVID-19, please visit BSWHealth.com.

About the author

David Winter, MD
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David Winter, MD, is an internal medicine physician. He serves as the President, Chairman and Chief Clinical Officer of Baylor Scott & White HealthTexas Provider Network.

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How to care for someone in your household with COVID-19