When Amy Mogck woke up one morning in mid-March with an unusually sore throat, she thought it must just be allergies. But next came the headaches, and then the fever, followed by almost unbearable fatigue. She experienced no shortness of breath, however—one of the trademark symptoms of COVID-19.
Still, the Manitou Springs, CO, resident wanted to play it safe. She told her husband, Tony, that she would quarantine herself in the master bedroom and exclusively use the en suite bathroom. Two days after she did, her fever spiked, and the chills and sweats began.
It was time to go to the emergency room. However, she discovered there that there weren’t enough tests. Instead, she was sent home with a presumed coronavirus diagnosis—and strict directions to keep away from others.
And so began a two-week period of isolation from her husband and her 8-year-old son.
“One of our major concerns was that my husband would get sick, and I would be sick at the same time. And then who would take care of our little guy?” Amy explains. “That was the catalyst for us to fully isolate me.”
It can be a scary and stressful time when someone in your house is COVID-19 positive. What type of precautions do you have to take to make sure your family or roommates don’t get sick? How should your cleaning regimen change?
How do you quarantine within a quarantine?
We consulted with infectious disease experts from across the country on how to keep a safe home during this global health crisis. Read on for their recommendations, as well as to hear how Amy and Tony coped—and kept their family healthy while she was sick.
Create a quarantine area
This should come as no surprise, but we’ll say it anyway: If anyone in your household begins exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, they should be isolated immediately, according to recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There should be as little mixing with other family members as possible,” advises Aubree Gordon, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
“If at all possible, they should stay in separate bedrooms and have their own bathroom.”
Separate all belongings in the bathroom
In a smaller home or apartment, the healthy family member can sleep on the sofa if there isn’t a spare room.
What if you only have one bathroom, though? Sharing a bathroom is challenging enough without a quarantine, but when someone in the house is sick, surfaces that can be touched easily become a way of transmitting germs.
“Disinfect things as often as possible in the bathroom,” Gordon says. “Be fastidious about hand-washing, and turn off the faucet with a paper towel or cloth—which should then be washed.”
Make sure that the clothing and personal items of the patient are kept fully separate, and minimize sharing any items in the bathroom
For instance, medication should either be dispensed for the sick person, or kept in a separate container, Gordon says.
Keep separate such items as towels, cups for mouthwash or drinking, and toothpaste. (Just think about all the times a toothbrush makes contact with a toothpaste tube—a definite no-no!)
Table for one, please
Meals should be consumed in quarantined rooms, and not in common rooms such as the kitchen or dining room.
“Tony delivered my meals to me, and he only touched one side of the door, and I only touched the other,” Amy recalls. (They then both wiped down their doorknobs with disinfectant.)
Dishes, drinking glasses, and eating utensils should be designated for the person who’s infected—and, of course, washed regularly, cautions Dr. Frank Esper, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.
Always wear masks in common spaces
There are likely to be times when the sick person walks through common areas of the home—to use the bathroom, for instance.
“The ill household member should wear a cloth mask when in the same room as any healthy household member, and should wear a mask when in shared spaces, regardless of whether another person is currently in the room,” Esper says.
Amy was vigilant about wearing a mask and gloves whenever she stepped out of the master suite—including the times she went out to get some fresh air on their deck, sitting 10 feet away from her family.
If you’re a caregiver, make sure you have the right protection
The CDC advises staying 6 feet away from people with the novel coronavirus. But that might be impossible when you’re caring for a sick person and they need help getting to the bathroom or changing their clothes.
“If providing care to an ill person, personal protective equipment should be used if possible,” Gordon says. “At the minimum, this would include a mask and gloves.”
If you don’t have a mask, homemade masks or cloth can be used in lieu of commercially produced masks.
Hand-washing is critical, and you should increase ventilation, by opening a window or using a bathroom fan.
Stock the patient’s room
Ideally, the less interaction you have with the infected person the better. Stock the patient’s room with necessities, to minimize the need for entering that room.
“If possible, provide them with tissues or paper towels that can be disposed of after [they have been] coughing, sneezing, or wiping their nose,” says Dr. Heather Daniels, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.
“Also consider separate supplies of water, snacks, tissues, thermometers, medications, cleaning supplies, blankets.”
But if the infected person is a child, don’t leave medication and cleaning products in the room. Read the CDC’s guidelines for caring for children.
Make disinfecting your part-time job
Getting serious about self-isolation and scrupulous cleaning was a no-brainer for Amy and Tony, because they have an 8-year-old son to protect.
“That’s why we became super, hyper-vigilant about bleaching everything and keeping everything very hygienic,” Amy says. “I would hate to imagine if we were both sick, and then this poor little 8-year-old was fending for himself.”
As the chief virus fighter, Tony did as the experts recommend: He cleaned all the “high-touch” surfaces in the house—counters, tabletops, doorknobs, laundry baskets, etc.—twice a day, regardless of whether Amy had been in the room or not.
“We did a pretty good job of maintaining a sterile environment,” Tony says. “It’s challenging, but worth doing.”
Use technology so you don’t lose touch
It’s difficult to stay away from loved ones, especially when you want to comfort them. It has to be done, though, to prevent the infection from spreading.
That might mean you have to turn to technology to communicate. Amy and Tony used text and video calls, and as detached as that might seem, it made for a surprising revelation to Amy by the end of her quarantine.
“I never thought this crazy, tumultuous virus would bring us closer together,” she says, “while separated in different parts of the house.”
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