Most of us have become experts at taking precautions to limit our risk of contracting COVID-19, which is fantastic. But what happens if you or a family member starts developing symptoms or receives a positive coronavirus test result? Healthy Food Guide editor Jenny de Montalk investigates how to safely take care of someone with mild COVID-19 disease symptoms at home.
Most of us have experienced looking after sick family members when winter colds and flu hit. With kids bringing all sorts home from day care and school, or partners coming home from work feeling miserable, many of us have selflessly nursed multiple patients at home, only to end up with everyone well again, then coming down with the bug ourselves.
But, when it comes to the novel coronavirus, we really don’t want to end up having it spread through each household member, so knowing how to care for people safely in the home is vital.
A small percentage of people (around 20 per cent) will have to be hospitalised for their coronavirus symptoms, and about six per cent of those will need critical care. These people cannot be cared for at home and will usually take three to six weeks to recover.
But the majority of people who contract the virus will have mild to moderate symptoms ranging from loss of taste and smell, inflamed toes or diarrhoea, to a fever and mild respiratory symptoms. These people will usually recover in about two weeks and can be cared for at home.
The World Health Organization recommends anyone who needs to be cared for, or is providing care, at home is supported, educated and monitored by their healthcare providers, to prevent the virus spreading to other household members.
1 How to set up a space at home for a person with mild coronavirus
The first thing to do is set the patient up comfortably in a well-ventilated room with windows that can open. This should be where they stay throughout the duration of their sickness. If there is an ensuite or separate bathroom that person can have sole use of, that’s ideal.
If there is only one bathroom to share, make sure this is also kept well ventilated, with windows and doors (when not in use) open.
No one should share the room where the sick person is. If that’s not possible, make sure anyone sharing the room keeps a minimum of one-metre distance from the patient at all times. That might mean setting up a separate bed or mattress on the floor, to stay distanced from the patient.
Keep other household members and pets out of the room.
2 Who should care for a person at home with coronavirus?
If possible, assign one caregiver to the sick person. The caregiver should be in good health with no underlying conditions and, ideally, not in any other vulnerable category such as aged over 60.
3 How to keep contact with a coronavirus patient as safe as possible
Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after any contact with the patient or their immediate environment. Use disposable paper towels to dry your hands with. Regularly clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces such as door handles, bedside tables, bed frames and other furniture in the room. Clean and disinfect bathroom surfaces at least once daily.
Separately hot wash the patient’s clothing and linen at 60°C to 90°C, using regular laundry detergent, and dry thoroughly. Use gloves and protective clothing or clothing you can remove and wash immediately, when handling the patient’s linen and clothing. Use a separate laundry basket or bag for the patient’s laundry.
Avoid direct contact with body fluids (mucus, saliva, urine or faeces). Use disposable gloves when handling any materials that contain body fluids and throw them and the materials away safely in a lidded bin. This waste should be marked as infectious waste. Check your local council’s advice for the disposal of infectious waste. Always wash your hands before and after using disposable gloves.
4 Face masks for caring for COVID-19 patients at home
Provide the patient with a medical mask to be worn as much as possible. This should be changed daily. Make sure the patient uses respiratory hygiene practices, such as covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, if they’re not wearing a mask.
Ideally, the caregiver should use a mask as well, when in the room with the patient. Make sure you have clean hands before putting the mask on and remove and dispose of it after contact (or hot wash it if you have no choice but to use a cloth one). Never touch the front of the mask. Remove it by the elastic or ties, and always wash your hands again after removing it. Never reuse disposable masks or gloves.
5 Eating utensils for people at home with coronavirus
Assign a set of plates, cups and cutlery that are used only by the sick person. Wash them with detergent and hot water before putting them in the dishwasher.
6 Breastfeeding with coronavirus
If a breastfeeding mother or her infant has coronavirus, it is recommended she continues breastfeeding, but wears a mask during, and washes hers hands before and after, feeding.
7 Monitor symptoms
Keep an eye on the patient’s symptoms. If they are getting worse or become severe call your healthcare provider or emergency room, rather than just showing up. They need to be able to prepare to meet a patient with coronavirus safely.
8 What to feed a person at home with coronavirus
Depending on their symptoms and appetite, opting for vege-packed meals and plenty of hydrating water and teas are always a good idea. Soups and smoothies are great for people who don’t have much appetite and are a good way to get plenty of nutrient-rich foods into a meal.
Article sources and references
- Stephen A. Lauer, MS, PhD *; Kyra H. Grantz, BA *; Qifang Bi, MHS, et al. The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. Annals of Internal Medicinehttps://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2762808/incubation-period-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-from-publicly-reported
- Home care for patients with COVID-19 presenting with mild symptoms and management of their contacts. World Health Organizationhttps://www.who.int/publications-detail/home-care-for-patients-with-suspected-novel-coronavirus-(ncov)-infection-presenting-with-mild-symptoms-and-management-of-contacts
- Robert Verity, Lucy C Okell, et al. Estimates of the severity of coronavirus disease 2019: a model-based analysis. Open Access Published:March 30, 2020. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30243-7. Lancet Infectious Diseaseshttps://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30243-7/fulltext