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Caring for Someone with COVID-19 at Home

Most patients with COVID-19 will be cared for at home. During this time, it is important to:

  • Treat symptoms according to doctor’s instructions.
  • Watch for signs of worsening illness.
  • Prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.
Home isolation means that a patient has confirmed or suspected COVID-19 and is being cared for at home. Patients should stay at home and be isolated from others until symptoms have improved and they are no longer contagious.

How to Care for Someone with COVID-19

  • Know what symptoms to expect. Common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include fatigue, body aches, and chills. Some patients may have runny nose, decreased sense of smell and/or taste, nausea, or diarrhea. There is no medicine that will treat the virus or make symptoms go away completely.
  • Make sure the patient drinks plenty of fluids and stays hydrated.
  • Encourage the patient to rest.
  • Treat symptoms using over-the-counter medicines as recommended by your doctor.
  • Monitor symptoms, and watch for emergency warning signs:
    • Trouble breathing
    • Pain or pressure in the chest that will not stop
    • Confusion or lethargy
    • Lips or face turning blue

Talk to your doctor about any symptoms that worry you. This list includes some of the more common warning signs. There may be others. In a medical emergency, call 911. Be sure to let the dispatch personnel and responders know that the patient has COVID-19.

Recommended Precautions in the Home

Keep the patient away from other people to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.

  • Have the patient stay in a separate room and away from other family members as much as possible.
  • Have the patient wear a face mask when around other people. This helps keep the patient from spreading the virus through respiratory droplets. However, do not put face masks on children under the age of 2.
  • Do not allow visitors into your home.
  • Limit the number of family members who care for the patient. Try to have one healthy caregiver provide care if possible.
  • The family caregiver should wear a mask for all care activities and interactions. It is best if both the family member and patient wear a mask. Limit contact as much as possible. If the mask gets wet or dirty, replace immediately with a clean, dry mask.
  • Keep the door to the patient’s room closed.
  • If possible, designate a bathroom to be used only by the patient.
  • Do not allow the patient to use common living, kitchen, or dining areas. If the patient must use common areas, all family members should wear a mask.
What is the proper way to wear a mask? Loop around both ears and cover from the top of your nose to underneath your chin. The mask should cover your nose and mouth.

Clean household items and surfaces, especially those used by the patient.

  • Use a disinfectant cleaner to kill germs. Pay extra attention to high-touch surfaces like phones, remotes, and doorknobs.
  • Do not share personal items or electronic devices with the patient.
  • Bring food and drinks to the patient. Make sure the patient does not touch shared food containers or kitchen items.
  • Wash dishes in hot water or clean in the dishwasher.
  • Wash laundry thoroughly in the warmest temperature recommended and dry completely.
  • Take extra care when cleaning patient areas and items the patient uses:
    • Wear a disposable mask and gloves any time you might handle patient body fluids, including tissues or diapers.
    • Immediately wash clothes or bedding if they have body fluids on them.
    • Hold the dirty linens away from your body. Wash your hands with soap and water for twenty seconds right after removing your gloves. Follow the clothing label instructions, using the warmest temperature recommended.
    • Do not share towels or blankets.
  • Keep a lined trash can for patient use. Place all disposable gloves and masks in a garbage can with a liner. Put used tissues directly in the trash can.
  • Always use gloves when taking out the trash and changing the liner. Wash your hands immediately after removing the gloves.
  • If disposable gloves are not available, use clean kitchen gloves or anything that can put a clean physical barrier between your body and the patient’s used items.
Wear a disposable mask and gloves any time you might handle patient body fluids, including tissues or diapers.

Wear a disposable mask and gloves any time you might handle patient body fluids, including tissues or diapers.

Immediately wash clothes or bedding if they have body fluids on them.

Immediately wash clothes or bedding if they have body fluids on them.

Make sure that all family members take steps to prevent infection inside and outside the home.

  • Family members should self-quarantine for 14 days after the last close contact with the patient or 14 days after the patient ends isolation.
  • Wear a face mask that covers the mouth and nose.
  • Practice social distancing by staying 6 feet away from others.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Increase ventilation and air flow in common rooms in the home.
  • Keep pets away from the patient. The sick family member should not handle pets or animals while sick.

Supply Checklist For COVID-19 Home Care

  • Face masks
  • Disposable gloves
  • Hand soap
  • Hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Thermometer
  • Over the counter fever-reducing medicine
  • Tissues
  • Disposable paper towels
  • Trash can with liner
  • Regular dish soap
  • Regular laundry detergent
  • Household cleaner and disinfectant

Have a Plan in Case Other Household Members Develop Symptoms of COVID-19

Contact your primary care provider or pediatrician to let them know someone in the house has COVID-19. Ask what you should do if you or somebody else in the family develops symptoms of COVID-19. If you need to medical care, call medical clinic or hospital ahead of time for specific instructions. In a medical emergency, call 911. Be sure to let the dispatch personnel and responders know that the patient has COVID-19.

Create an emergency contact list. Include the names and phone numbers for your doctor, hospital, and local public health department. Also be sure to include others you might need to notify such as family members, friends, neighbors, school, and work contacts.

When to End Home Isolation After COVID-19

The time it takes to recover from COVID-19 varies from person to person. Someone with mild illness may recover in 1-2 weeks. Recovery from severe illness may take much longer. It is important to stay in isolation and away from others to avoid spreading the virus.

In general, home isolation can end if:

  • It has been at least 10 days since the start of symptoms.
  • Symptoms (cough, shortness of breath) have improved.
  • The patient has been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medicines.

Some patients may have cough that lingers even after they are well and should check with their doctor to see if they can be around others. Once they are well, most people who had mild to moderate COVID-19 do not need additional testing before ending isolation.

Patients who had severe COVID-19 or who are immunocompromised may need additional testing before being around others.

Remember, even though a patient may feel better, it may take a while to regain energy and strength to return to normal activities.

All household members should continue self-quarantine for 14 days after the patient stops having symptoms. If symptoms of COVID-19 develop, contact your health care provider.

What is the Difference Between Isolation and Quarantine?

Home isolation means that a person has confirmed or suspected COVID-19 and is being cared for at home. During isolation, patients should stay home and separate themselves from others. Patients should isolate until symptoms have improved and they are no longer contagious. During this time, it is important to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others. This is especially important if other household members are at risk for serious illness.

Learn more about isolation and what to do if you are sick.

Quarantine means that a person has had a close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and is staying away from other people. Quarantine is important after exposure to COVID-19 because people can spread the virus even when they are not having symptoms. Family or household members of someone with COVID-19 should self-quarantine for 14 days after the last close contact with the patient or 14 days after the patient ends isolation. Learn more about when to quarantine.

What is Close Contact?

Close contact means that you have been within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 and the contact lasts for a period of time. The CDC uses a time guideline of a total of 15 minutes over a 24 hour period (for example, three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). For community or household exposure, it is considered contact whether or not face masks were used.

The risk period of exposure through a close contact starts 2 days before the person’s symptoms started or 2 days before a positive test and continues until the person meets criteria to end home isolation.

Read more about close contact and contact tracing.

 

Additional Resources for Caring for a COVID-19 Patient


Reviewed: November 2020