We’ve been dealing with coronavirus for many months now, and we’re facing a dramatic surge in the number of cases as we head into winter. Are you prepared if someone in your household gets it? Following is a list of actions to consider putting in place before illness strikes.
I first published this blog post in April 2020 and thought it worth reposting. The information was inspired by an article in the Washington Post and adapted based on what my household is doing.
The CDC also has guidance on what to do when caring for someone who is ill or caring for yourself if you are ill.
Note: If you or someone you are caring for has coronavirus and is within the high-risk category, seek medical attention immediately.
If members of your household are weathering coronavirus at home, it’s important to isolate the patient from everyone else. Here are some suggestions for preparing now—not waiting until someone gets sick.
Designate a patient room and a well room
If you share a bedroom and bathroom with others, and you have a spare bedroom, designate the spare room as the patient’s room while the caretaker sleeps in the shared bedroom. This allows the caretaker to more or less continue as normal, with access to clothes and other items.
If you don’t have a spare bedroom and you share with the patient, the patient is probably better off in the shared room while the caretaker camps out on the couch.
If someone gets ill, after you relocate the patient to the other room, disinfect everything in the shared bedroom and launder the sheets, towels, and all dirty clothes in hot water (sanitizer cycle if your machine has one). Consider wiping down the dressers, pictures, and other knickknacks in the entire room.
The patient will isolate in the designated room until their temperature has returned to normal for at least 72 hours (without the use of fever-reducing meds) AND other symptoms have subsided, AND at least 7 days have passed since the first symptoms appeared. Symptoms can subside one day then come back the next, which is why the timing is important. If the caretaker does have to enter the patient’s bedroom, wear a mask, eye protection, and gloves, then disinfect yourself after leaving; wash your hands and face at least. The caretaker should avoid entering the patient’s room, if at all possible, until the patient is recovered.
If possible, the patient and caretaker should also have separate bathrooms. If you have only one bathroom, the caretaker should wipe it down with disinfectant after every use—both by the patient and the caretaker. There is no such thing as over-cleaning when it comes to coronavirus!
The caretaker may want to wear a mask and at least keep their toiletries in a separate room, including a toothbrush. Brush your teeth in the kitchen sink instead, and bring only your necessary toiletries into the bathroom when you need to use them.
Each adult in the house should pack a small bag with at least a week’s worth of clean clothes so that everyone has a bag ready to go to their respective bedroom (either designated patient room or caretaker room). If the patient stays in the shared room, caretakers will not want to go in the patient’s room for clean clothes.
Supply the patient bedroom
Some of the common things (painkillers, decongestant, tissues) you can put in the patient room now. Bring other items to the room according to the needs of the patient. Here’s what you’ll need.
- Go bag of the patient’s clothes
- 2-3 boxes of tissues
- Pain reliever, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or whatever is suitable for the patient
- Decongestant such as Mucinex to help move the phlegm, or whatever is suitable for the patient
- Thermometer; the patient will need to monitor their temperature to track when they’re on the mend
- Drinking glass
- Reading material, laptop or pad, TV, radio, knitting, pens and notebook, and other diversionary things for when the patient is well enough to engage but still in isolation
- Cell phone and charger for communicating with the caretaker and emergency services, if needed
Check in regularly to ensure the patient’s needs are met and to assess whether they should see a doctor or go to the ER, for example if the patient has difficulty breathing. The CDC recommends notifying your doctor about a potential coronavirus illness but going to a medical facility only if the patient is in distress. Again, keep in touch with your doctor if you are worried and follow the CDC’s guidance. Always call ahead if you need to see the doctor. In an emergency, call 911.
Supply the patient bathroom
Know beforehand whether any meds you take should be stopped if you get coronavirus. Ask your doctor if you aren’t sure. In addition, will the patient be able to self-administer meds? If the caretaker needs to assist, use gloves and a face mask, then disinfect yourself immediately after leaving the patient’s room.
- Essential toiletries include 2 weeks’ worth of soap, toilet paper, disinfectant wipes or a spray bottle of diluted bleach solution—anything you can use for disinfecting—lotion, feminine hygiene products, Depends, and other necessaries.
- Useful toiletries, depending on the patient’s needs: shampoo, shaving cream, toothpaste, etc.
- Essential medications include 2 weeks’ worth of any meds the patient currently takes and which cannot be stopped during the illness; stock by the bedside for the patient to self-administer or make a plan for caretaker assistance.
Create a reminder list and calling tree
We have a list of things to remind us what to do should one of us get sick. It includes whom to call in the family and friends network to let them know about the patient, including written-out phone numbers. You don’t want to be fumbling for phone numbers when you’re stressed. Set up a phone tree so the caretaker has to call only one family member, who will notify everyone else, and one friend, who will notify the friends network.
Our list also includes reminders about where important things are (such as documents) and what to do in case the caretaker is overwhelmed with anxiety and can’t remember. In our house, I’m the one who takes care of household business, and my spouse would struggle to find the bank files, despite that he’s been shown numerous times!
If the patient is working or has worked recently outside the home, call the employer to let them know the patient is ill. You won’t be able to confirm it’s coronavirus unless the patient is tested. But you owe it to tell the employer and anyone else that the patient might have been in contact with in the previous 2 weeks.
Supply your kitchen
My freezer is stocked with 14 quarts of homemade soups. The soup is for the patient, so all the caretaker has to do is thaw and heat. The freezer and pantry are also stocked with perishables and non-perishables so that the caretaker can survive without going to the store.
Remember, if someone in your house is ill, no one should leave the house until they have passed the recommended quarantine time! If you need food or other items delivered, there are plenty of options in urban or suburban areas. I hope you also have neighbors and friends you can rely on to deliver things to your door in a pinch. Have a plan for that too.
Check in with the patient
The caretaker should check in several times a day to see how the patient is doing. You can peak your head in the door (wear a mask), or text or call too. Our plan involves leaving all food and other patient-requested items outside the patient bedroom. A knock and an announcement will let the patient know that food and drink are waiting. We have a pitcher ready to fill with water and another with Gatorade (to keep electrolytes up). The caretaker can top up the pitchers as needed and leave them outside the bedroom door.
Because both caretaker and patient will be handling dishware and drinks pitchers, the caretaker should use gloves when bringing them back to the kitchen and immediately put them in the dishwasher (all dishware and utensils) or disinfect with a bleach rinse (drinks pitchers).
The patient’s clothes and bedding won’t be washed until the patient is well again, so keep a change of sheets in the patient room and extra towels in the bathroom in case the patient wants to change them. When the patient is well again, everything will go in a plastic bag (bedding, towels, bathmat, clothes, pillow protectors, etc.) to be laundered using the hottest setting on the washing machine. The bag prevents virus ickies from shedding everywhere on the way to the laundry room.
The CDC has advice about daily and frequent cleaning of surfaces, including how and when to clean the patient’s room. It’s important to note that the CDC recommends the patient clean surfaces themselves in the “sick” room and bathroom. If the caretaker needs to clean instead, wear a mask, gloves, and wait for a while after the patient has used the bathroom before wiping it down.
Put your plan into action
Discuss a plan with your housemates and get everything ready—today. If you have children, you’ll have an extra layer of planning. Who will take care of them if you’re a single parent, or if both parents get ill? If you care for someone who needs extra assistance normally, and you get ill, what’s your plan for the person you care for? Don’t put off figuring this out because you won’t be able to think clearly when you’re sick.
Make your plan today, prepare a room, pack a go-bag, and stock the fridge and pantry. Better yet, wear a mask at all times in public, wash your hands frequently, and take all medical-recommended precautions seriously to reduce your risk of getting coronavirus–or passing it along to others.
Disclaimer: I am not qualified to give medical advice. For questions about your or a family member’s health, ask your doctor or follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), or your local county health authority. The suggestions here are based on what I’ve read from the CDC.