How to Take Care of Yourself and Others With COVID-19

Despite all the sanitizing, social distancing, hand washing, and trying not to touch your face, you've come down with a fever and cough. Chances are you have a viral infection. It could be the flu, sinusitis or the illness everyone on the planet is talking about: the novel coronavirus. Now what?

As SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—is highly contagious and has touched almost every pocket of the United States, go on the assumption that you're at the beginning stages of this illness. But the good news, according to the World Health Organization, is that most people (about 80 percent) with COVID-19 will suffer only a mild case and will recover without medical treatment. The exceptions, of course, are the elderly and those who have an existing condition that leaves them more susceptible to respiratory distress.

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Becky Sun says because COVID-19 has now touched almost every corner of the United States, people should work under the assumption that they're in the beginning stages of the virus. Getty

How to Manage Coronavirus at Home

At the same time, COVID-19 is nothing to sneeze at, even for young people who are otherwise healthy. Here's some advice for those who suspect they have the coronavirus.

1. Stay home. This is the first and most important rule. If you think you have COVID-19, even a very mild case, your job is to prevent its transmission. Do not go out into the public—even the grocery store, even if you stay six feet away from others, even if you feel OK.

2. Self-isolate. If possible, confine yourself to one bedroom and bathroom that you don't share with others. Have your shelter-in-place family prepare meals and leave them at your door. Communicate behind closed doors or via texting, as respiratory droplets can travel as far as 27 feet, finds a researcher at MIT's Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory.

3. Practice self-care. What works for colds and the flu is usually enough for COVID-19. So, keep yourself hydrated, get plenty of rest and take over-the-counter medication as necessary to alleviate symptoms. Try not to stress about caring for others at this time.

4. Call ahead. If you feel progressively worse, seek medical attention. But don't show up at the emergency room or urgent care unannounced. Contact your doctor or clinic and let them know you might have COVID-19, as they may have to take extra precautions.

How to Care for Someone With COVID-19

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After about a week of rest and home care, the patient should be on the mend. But always be on the watch for emergency warning signs of COVID-19, which include persistent chest pain or pressure, difficulty breathing, bluish lips or skin, and disorientation or unresponsiveness. Getty

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends certain populations seek immediate medical care at the first sign of symptoms. These groups include the elderly and anyone with diabetes, lung or heart disease, or a compromised immune system. But for most everyone else, home rest is sufficient. Take these steps to protect yourself and others in your home if you're caring for a person who might have COVID-19.

1. Confine the patient. Limit the sick person to only certain spaces as much as possible. Doing so minimizes the chances that others in the household will pick up the virus. Don't share bedding, towels or devices, and don't let them touch common surfaces like faucets, tables/counters, doorknobs and handles on kitchen appliances. If they need to be in the same room as the rest of the family, have them wear a mask.

2. Sanitize often. If it's not feasible to limit the patient to just one bedroom or bathroom, be extra diligent about cleaning high-touch surfaces, especially metals and plastics, with an EPA-registered disinfectant. But there's no need for caretakers to do more laundry than usual, as the latest research suggests the coronavirus does not last long on porous materials.

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Latest research suggests the new coronavirus does not last long on porous materials like clothing, but if you are caring for someone with coronavirus it is important to be extra diligent about cleaning high-touch surfaces, especially metals and plastics, with an EPA-registered disinfectant. Getty

3. Protect yourself. Besides the usual precautions of maintaining a safe distance and frequently washing your hands with soap, you should wear gloves and a mask if you're in the patient's room. Eye protection is also a good idea. As soon as you sanitize and/or dispose of the protective gear, thoroughly wash your hands again.

4. Know when to escalate. After about a week of rest and home care, the patient should be on the mend. But always be on the watch for emergency warning signs of COVID-19, which include persistent chest pain or pressure, difficulty breathing, bluish lips or skin, and disorientation or unresponsiveness. If you see these signs, call 911.

COVID-19, like all things, will pass eventually. The big unknown is when. By properly taking care of yourself and others, you'll play an important role in flattening the curve and beating this virus.

Becky Sun is a senior writer and editor with EnVeritas Group, a global agency that provides content for a variety of industries, including healthcare and senior living.