Most people in the U.S. will be exposed to the coronavirus, according to the National Institutes of Health. But not everyone with COVID-19 develops a cough and fever. For every infected person who shows symptoms, five to ten others are asymptomatic, meaning they look and feel just fine for the duration of having the virus, but are spreading the virus fast. This is what social distancing is all about: Stay home, wash your hands often, clean your space and hopefully you’ll be able to avoid the asymptomatic spread. But when someone in your house is showing symptoms or simply knows that they’ve come into contact with someone who has been tested and found to have the virus a different kind of quarantine is required. You need a quarantine within a quarantine. The infected need to isolate within your own home.
In these situations, the goal is to isolate the sick person from the world, and the members of their household, for two weeks. It isn’t easy, but there are steps to take that can give those not infected a fighting chance. Here’s how to proceed.
This Is the Time for a Mask
While there has been much controversy over masks — primarily aimed at those healthy folks hoarding them while hospitals run out — if you have someone sick at home, they should be wearing one while around others in the house. If they don’t own one, you can try making your own out of household materials or cover your mouth with a bandana. “In this critical time we’re having, anything is better than nothing,” says Sophia Thomas, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.
Leave Them Alone
Designate a room in your house where those who are sick can spend the next two weeks, and stay out of it as much as possible. If you don’t have a bedroom they can hole up in alone, keep your distance. “The most important thing is to try to stay six feet away from one another,” says Georges Benjamin, director of the American Public Health Association. Don’t let visitors into the home, especially those at high risk, such as grandparents.
If the sick person does have a room of their own, check up on them several times per day. Ask how they’re doing through the door or give them a video call if they aren’t too ill. If the infected person has more serious symptoms, you may have to venture inside, but take precautions including distance and gloves. If the person feels well enough to bend down, leave their meals outside the door.
Of course, sending a five-year-old to their room for two weeks is basically impossible. Don’t panic. “You do the best you can,” Benjamin says. Reduce your risk of infection by cleaning surfaces kids touch frequently, such as toys. Pay attention to your own cleanliness, too. “The most practical thing for most parents is to simply wash their hands as often as they can,” Benjamin says.
Clean the House Like You Mean It
If a surface is visibly dirty, first clean it with a detergent and water. Then, disinfect it with a product that can kill viruses, such as bleach. Even if they look clean, wipe down high-touch surfaces with detergent and water often, including doorknobs, counters, tables, light switches, remote controls, cabinet handles, and sink handles. “The more frequently, the better,” Thomas says, but at least once daily. Use disposable gloves while cleaning, and don’t reuse them.
Appoint a bathroom for those who are ill, or, if you only have one, make sure it has good airflow. If the whole family must share a bathroom, immediately clean and disinfect after the sick person uses it.