This pandemic has begun to take its toll, that's for sure. But what happens when a family member tests positive? What can we do? The task of caring for someone with COVID-19 in the home can take the pandemic to a whole new level of stress. There's more to this than caring for someone with the flu. How do you keep from getting infected or keep from passing the virus along when you venture out for needed supplies?
The WHO recommends first quarantining the patient in a well-ventilated room, keep windows open as much as possible to keep fresh air flowing in. Even if several other people are living in the home, only one person should be going into the sick room. This may seem challenging as we want to love and take care of our loved ones, but we need to reduce potential exposures across the household, so it's important to limit who goes in to just one person. Check on the patient multiple times a day, doing what you can to keep them fed and hydrated.
Set aside dedicated cups, dishes and utensils, and treat these as if they are contaminated (they are). Wash them thoroughly and apart from other dishes immediately after use. Some families have used disposable plates and utensils for this purpose which is fine, but be sure to dispose of them carefully and where they can't be handled by other people or gotten into by pets.
When possible, give your family member or roommate their own restroom. If you must share one, thoroughly disinfect the room every time they use it. Remember, a simple toilet flush can distribute viral particles all over the room. The person would wear a mask when they visit the restroom and be careful to limit their contact with surfaces if possible. But remember, they are shedding virus particles so it's probably best to assume they touched everything and that particles went everywhere.
Make sure the disinfectant is registered with the EPA as effective against coronaviruses. A diluted bleach solution will also work, as long as you don’t use it on any porous surfaces. (Make sure never to mix bleach with other household cleaners).
Use a laundry sanitizer when washing their clothes and sheets and dry clothes on high heat to reduce the survival of any hitchhiking pathogens. Some washers and dryers have sanitize settings. If possible, do that. Also, don’t forget to sanitize laundry baskets and machine exteriors before pulling clean laundry from the dryer. Wipe them down thoroughly with a disinfectant.
There is some information about viral load that seems to indicate that frequent washing of things like sheets may help and we say, well, it can't hurt. So if we have to care for someone with this virus we're planning to change and sanitize the sheets, pillowcases, and clothing of the person every day or every other day.
Mask up before entering the room and have the patient wear a mask also. You can make a mask using materials around the house if you don’t have one. Consider wearing a face shield to reduce the chances of becoming infected through your eyes. It may be wise to wear an outer layer that can be shed later and sanitized as well.
Use disposable gloves whenever you handle anything that could be contaminated. This includes laundry, dishes and anything with bodily fluids on it. Then throw those gloves away after every use. And remember, the mask and face shield are contaminated on the outside, so be careful not to touch them as you move about. Do not, under any circumstances, touch your face.
Given that virus particles are on the floor from the patient coughing and breathing in the room, it may also be best to wear shoe shields or to leave a pair of slippers outside the door that you put on before entering and take off as you leave and then sanitize before the next use so they can't spread germs all over the house. Of course, shoe shields would be most convenient and can be disposed of safely, but it depends on what you can get in a time of increased demand for these items.
After leaving the room, dispose of the gloves, clean your hands, remove and sanitize the face shield, remove and sanitize the mask, and shed any outer layers that may have picked up germs as well. Sanitize the outer layers by washing them in hot water with soap and laundry sanitizing solution. Be aware that germs can settle on the hair as you move about the room. This is why doctors wear hair coverings. So if the outer layer has a hood, that may be wise to use, too. And if not, then perhaps covering the hair with a bandana would be best. Shed these layers and sanitize them. To be extra safe, a shower with soap can help ensure any landed particles can't be moved about the house.
Keep track of the patient’s temperature and symptoms. It may help to start a log that records temperature, blood oxygen level, and any other symptoms a few times per day so that changes are more evident and easy to provide in case of hospital transfer. So when do you hospital transfer? If the person has difficulty breathing, their blood oxygen level drops below 95, or their fever is over 102. The hospital may choose to send them home again but it's best at these stages to get their advice.
Remember to encourage your patient to stay hydrated. Coughing takes a lot out of a person. It may help them to steam by taking a hot shower or by breathing steam by putting a towel-tent over their head and running hot water in the sink. This may soothe breathing passages as well.
Respiratory therapists use a procedure called inversion and cupping therapy to help drain the lungs and some have reported that it helped them so as potential caregivers here at Wellness, we plan to try this to help someone if necessary, too. Two or three times daily might provide real relief, and it sure beats feeling helpless, right?
Of course, we cannot overstate how important it is to feed this person a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables and leafy greens, to get them some form of exercise every day, and expose them to fresh air and nature. These may not be easy but they are imperative to wellbeing at this time more than ever.
Watch their mental state as well, and do what you can to lighten the mood when you do go in; isolation isn’t easy when a person is feeling well, and it may be downright torturous to a person suffering from serious physical discomfort. Consider watching a movie together (in different rooms). Or find other ways to help the person stay connected to the life that's waiting for them to safely return.
When you leave the home for supplies, remember that you could be a potential carrier, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Wear a mask and keep your distance from other people as though you were sick and limit how much you go out at all. You could be sick already, and you just don’t yet know it. Consider having supplies delivered by caring friends and remaining isolated until long after the illness has left your home.
Caring for someone with COVID-19 can be a massive undertaking, but as long as you’re cautious and diligent about how you do it, you can remain safe and help the person to recover. Consider the tips above if someone in your household falls ill. No matter what you do, don’t take any shortcuts, not even once. It’s not worth potentially infecting yourself and everyone else. Most of all, seek professional advice and combine that with trust in your loving heart to do the best you can by your loved one.