Takeaways

  • If anyone in your home is showing symptoms, it's best to assume they have COVID-19
  • The patient, or the caregiver on behalf of the patient, should consult with their physician to discuss the specific symptoms that they are experiencing and any underlying conditions
  • If someone in your household is sick, set up an isolation zone so that they can self isolate and try make their time in isolation as comfortable as possible so they won't need to leave the room

If someone in your home is sick, don't rush out to buy excessive supplies. Instead, stay home and follow the latest guidelines for dealing with the new coronavirus. Shuhan He, MD, emergency medicine doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, offers six tips for those caring for loved ones infected with COVID-19.

Assume They Have COVID-19

Since testing is limited and the pandemic has reached its peak, if anyone in your home is showing symptoms, it's best to assume they have COVID-19. Though every household dynamic is different, it's important to try to designate one healthy, capable person as the caregiver. Even if it's just a suspected case of the illness, it's best to stay isolated indoors to avoid possibly infecting anyone else.

"In a setting of not having tests for COVID, it's best to self-quarantine and self-isolate," says Dr. He.

Know When to Go to the Hospital

The patient, or the caregiver on behalf of the patient, should consult with their physician to discuss the specific symptoms that they are experiencing and any underlying conditions. Every case is different and communication with health care providers is essential.

Additionally, Dr. He suggests that caregivers look for an important symptom: shortness of breath. While some people are using oxygen monitors at home, these devices are in short supply so simply asking the patient if they feel short of breath can be as effective. If you don't think they're being honest, observe their breathing during normal activities as a simple test.

"If they're short of breath walking for coffee, if they're short of breath while sitting down, they should go to the hospital," Dr. He says. "That is the very clear line."

If the patient seems well enough to ride in a car, then the caregiver can drive them to the hospital. However, if they are so short of breath that they can't get out of bed, call an ambulance.

Isolate Within the Home

When hospitalization isn't required, set up an isolation zone at home. Every household is different. No matter who you live with, make a plan and clearly communicate boundaries and expectations. Be clear on your household's guidelines and consider using a checklist as a guide to kick off the conversation with your family or roommates about what to do in this situation.

"My general suggestion is as much isolation as possible," says Dr. He. "Certainly wear a mask if you're around family members, even indoors, because that could help. And then a lot of self-hygiene and minimizing visitors."

The details of the isolation zone will vary depending on your resources. If you have enough space to designate a bedroom and bathroom for them, do so. If space is limited, set up a room usage schedule so that the patient remains as isolated as possible. When the patient leaves the isolation area, they should treat it like going outside (wearing a mask and gloves) and clean up after themselves.

Both the patient and the caregiver should wear a mask, even indoors, to decrease the chance of transmitting the virus to other people in the home or receiving it.

"When a person has COVID and they cough, those droplets can stay in the air for a good amount of time," says Dr. He. "So if you're wearing a mask, it really reduces the amount of distance that cloud formation occurs."

Make the Quarantine Zone as Comfortable as Possible

Try to make the patient's time in isolation as comfortable as possible so they won't need to leave the room. Put together a basic kit with the supplies that you have at home. This could include:

  • A thermometer
  • A pulse oximeter
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Tissues
  • Vapor rub
  • Tylenol
  • Cough syrup

Offer emotional support because isolation is difficult and lonely. The caregiver can deliver food so they don't have to go to the kitchen, and drop off things to entertain them such as books and electronic devices.

"Make sure that there are resources so that they can just have time to recover and rest to take care of themselves," says Dr. He.

Clean and Disinfect the Home

Wipe down commonly-used items such as phones, TV remotes, tables and countertops. If the person who is sick is well enough, they can clean and disinfect their own room while the caregiver cleans everything outside of the room.

Remember, if they are getting out of breath while walking around the room, they likely need to be hospitalized.

Check the Latest Updates

Since we're dealing with a relatively new virus, there are still many unknown factors. It is important for caregivers to stay up to date on the emerging science and latest recommendations.