We know, unfortunately, that thousands of people will be hospitalized with Covid-19. While some patients definitely need medical care that can only be provided in a hospital setting, many others with the novel coronavirus can recuperate in the comfort of their own homes.
To understand the kind care you need: Call your doctor if you feel sick. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and guide you on the next steps. If your doctor recommends that you recuperate at home, there are multiple steps you and your caregiver should take to reduce the chance of spreading the illness.
Isolating the Patient
The patient with Covid-19 (or suspected with Covid-19) must wear a mask that covers the nose and the mouth when around other people. The risk of infecting others significantly decreases if the infected person wears a mask. Ideally, the healthy person should wear a mask as well. If a mask isn’t available, a cloth covering should be worn.
The person who is sick must practice good hygiene and wash his or her hands with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds each time. Hand washing is especially important after touching surfaces such as doorknobs, faucets, handles, light switches and electronics. Those who are sick should wash their hands after coughing or sneezing into them; coughing or sneezing into a tissue and then discarding the tissue is preferred. Everyone should avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands.
People who are sick should try to stay isolated in a separate bedroom. The door to this room should remain closed as much as possible. The person who is sick should really try to minimize leaving the room, except in case they need to use the bathroom. Children should remain out of the room where the family member is isolated.
If possible, the person who is sick should use a separate bathroom from the rest of the family. It’s also a good idea to close the toilet lid before flushing because it has been shown that the virus is also transmitted via feco-oral transmission, and also possibly into the air upon flushing if the lid is open. This is also a reason why hand-washing after using the bathroom is so important.
If a bathroom must be shared, the person who is sick should disinfect the toilet handle, faucet, doorknob, light switch and any other touched surfaces.
Helping the Patient
In your role as caregiver, you’ll want to help the your loved one feel as well as possible while maintaining your own distance.
Caregivers should help ensure their loved one stays hydrated and takes any medications needed. Caregivers will also want to jot down their loved ones’ symptoms and provide updates to the patients’ doctor. Caregivers can also arrange virtual visits with their physicians.
They also should know it’s okay to call 911 if the person who is sick is experiencing chest tightness, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
Don’t underestimate the importance of uplifting the spirits of your loved one. Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. Even within the same house, you can communicate via cell phone and video chats.
Children can draw pictures or cards for an ill parent and slip them under the door of the sick room. (However, please refrain from sending them back.)
The healthy person can bring food to the sick person’s room, leaving it just outside the door if the person is strong enough to get up and grab the plate. If not, the caregiver can bring the food in while trying to stay at least 6 feet away from the person who is sick. Caregivers should also always wash their hands after leaving the room.
It’s best for the caregiver to prepare the food so the person who is sick can remain out of the kitchen, minimizing the spread of germs to kitchen surfaces or food.
Laundry and Dishes
Clothes worn by the person who is sick can be laundered with the rest of the family’s clothes. Be sure to use detergent and the warmest water setting possible for the fabric. Dry laundry in the dryer on the hottest setting possible for the fabric.
Consider wearing a mask and disposable gloves when touching the sick person’s laundry, including after putting clothes in the washing machine and after transferring to the dryer. After removing the gloves, wash your hands.
If you prefer to separately wash the clothes of the person who is sick, that is fine too. Consider using a separate laundry hamper. If the person who is sick feels well enough to do the laundry, that’s another good alternative.
Avoid sharing bedding, towels and other household items.
Put the sick person’s dishes and drinkware straight into the dishwasher or consider having the person use disposable dishes, cups and utensils for the duration of the illness. If you don’t have a dishwasher, use soap and hot water and make sure to thoroughly clean your hands afterward.
Caring for the Caregiver
Caregivers have a huge and important job. Depending on the make-up of the family, a single caregiver may be taking care of a partner while also taking care of children. It’s not easy.
Caregivers should be sure to eat well, exercise and rest. They of course should limit exposure to the person who is sick. They should also monitor for their own symptoms and call their physician if they don’t feel well.
If the caregiver does get sick, hopefully by then the first person who was sick will have recuperated and the roles can reverse.
Dealing with any illness is a time for a family to work together.
If one person in the family is sick, everyone in the family should stay home for at least 14 days. After the 14 days have ended, continue practicing social distancing guidelines by staying at least 6 feet away from others and continue good hand hygiene.
People who are sick can end isolation after all of these conditions are met:
- 72 hours without a fever, without the help of fever-reducing medications and
- All other symptoms are resolved and
- At least 1 week has passed since initial onset of symptoms.
When everyone is well, be sure to disinfect the sick room by wiping down hard surfaces and laundering bedding.
Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, P.C. (Permanente) is our network of over 1,500 physicians who practice in our medical centers located in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia.