How can you protect yourself when caring for someone who has COVID-19?

woman cleaning counter with disinfectant  
If you’re being discharged from the hospital with a positive COVID-19 test, we recommend following these instructions to know how to keep yourself and others safe as you recover.
 
Coronaviruses often cause mild diseases such as the common cold. This new virus causes a respiratory illness called Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19. Most people with COVID-19 have mild or moderate illness and don't require a hospital stay.
 
COVID-19 spreads easily between people who are in close contact. Often, the virus is spread by coughs or sneezes or by touching surfaces that have the virus on it.  
 
If you have COVID-19, what should you do to take care of yourself?
 
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep. You may feel weak and tired for a while, but your energy level will improve with time.
  • Drink fluids to keep your urine light yellow or clear like water. Choose water and other caffeine-free clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you’re having a problem with your medicine. Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) as directed on the package to control any fevers and to help ease body aches.  
  • Take care of your cough so you can rest. A cough that brings up mucus from your lungs is common with pneumonia. It is one way your body gets rid of the infection. If your coughing keeps you from resting or causes chest pain, call your doctor, who may suggest a medicine to reduce your cough.
If you’re caring for someone with COVID-19, how can you protect yourself? 
 
  • Wash your hands before and after providing any care or having any contact with trash, laundry or utensils used by the ill person.
  • Wear a mask and gloves when you have contact with the person’s saliva or other body fluids.
  • After providing care, take off the gloves and mask right away and dispose of them, removing gloves first and washing your hands with soap and water, then removing mask.
  • Clean hands again after disposing of the mask and before touching anything else.
  • Limit visitors whenever possible. Keep high-risk individuals away from the infected person. This includes the elderly and those with chronic illness, such as heart disease, diabetes and immune deficiencies. 
  • Avoid sharing household items such as dishes, cups, silverware, towels or bedding. Clean these items with regular soap or detergent. 
  • Wash laundry thoroughly at the warmest recommended temperature, using gloves when handling laundry from the infected person. But there’s no need to separate your laundry from the infected person. If gloves are not available, be sure to wash hands well after handling laundry. 
  • Use a separate, bag-lined trash can for any tissues, gloves and masks that have been used by the ill person or items used to care for them. Tie the trash bag shut, remove it from the trash can and throw it away with other household trash.
 
If you have COVID-19, how can you protect others?
 
  • Stay away from others in your home as much as possible. Limit visitors.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Be sure to wash your hands:
  • After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing.
  • After using the bathroom.
  • Before eating or preparing food.
  • Before touching anyone else in the house
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in your household every day if possible. These may include door knobs, tables, countertops, light switches, handles, keyboards, phones, remotes, touch screens, toilets, faucets and sinks.
  • Keep at least 6 to 10 feet away from others in your home. Don’t sleep or spend time in the same room with others. Use a different bathroom, if possible.
  • Don’t share bedding, towels, dishes, utensils or drinking containers. Wash dishes in hot water or use a dishwasher.
  • Wear a face mask when others are around, if available. If that’s not possible and the person requires close contact for help, the caregiver should wear a face mask and gloves whenever handling any bodily fluids. Avoid reusing gloves and masks. If masks aren't available, use a scarf or bandana to cover your nose and mouth.
 
When can you discontinue home isolation?
 
If patients haven’t been tested but suspect that they have COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that home isolation can be stopped once all three of these conditions have been met: 
  • At least 72 hours without a fever and without use of fever-reducing medications such as acetaminophen 
  • Improvement in cough and shortness of breath
  • At least seven days have passed since symptoms first started
What else should you keep in mind?

If you’re caring for someone at home who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is suspected to have the disease, monitor the person closely and know the emergency warning signs, the CDC recommends.

Get medical attention immediately if they show any of these emergency warning signs: 
  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face
If the infected person seems sicker, call their health care provider. For example, if they're having new or worse trouble breathing, their cough is worse, they have a new or higher fever, or feel faint. 
 
For medical emergencies, call 911 and notify the dispatch personnel that the person has or is suspected to have COVID-19.
 
Dustin Chase is an internal medicine hospitalist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and vice chair for inpatient clinical medicine at The Ohio State