Op-Ed: Caring for a Loved One with COVID-19 at Home

The news is almost uniformly grim, but it’s more than possible to nurse a family member with COVID-19 back to health
Raquel Nahra, MD

Currently, New Jersey is a hotspot nationally for the COVID-19 outbreak. Daily, more and more individuals receive news that a family member or close friend has tested positive for COVID-19. What should you do now?  First, do not panic. The good news is that most healthy people who have contracted COVID-19 will have a mild illness and can convalesce at home. For a small percentage of people, particularly those with other risk factors or chronic health conditions, hospitalization may be required.

If you are caring for someone at home with COVID-19, there are several steps you need to take. First, monitor for emergency warning signs, which include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or inability to arouse or bluish color of lips or face. If your loved one experiences any of these symptoms, you should immediately contact a physician or call 911 or the nearest hospital emergency room.

For most patients however, you just need to treat their symptoms. Allow the patient to rest and help them remain hydrated. Provide nourishing food, and follow doctor’s recommendations for taking any over-the-counter medications to manage symptoms.

Additionally, it is crucial to help prevent the spread of germs to others. As much as possible, keep the patient away from other people even in your own home; that includes using a separate bathroom and sleeping in a separate bedroom if possible.

The very best way to prevent infection or spreading the virus is for everyone in the home to wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their faces. People need to wash their hands often and vigorously for at least 20 seconds, using soap and water. Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol is also effective.

Avoid sharing personal household items. If possible, have the infected person wear a surgical facemask. They also need to use tissues to cover their coughs and sneezes. Caregivers, if possible, should wear a mask as well if you are in proximity to the infected person or within three feet. Dispose of facemasks and tissues in a lined trash can after use, and use gloves to empty it daily. Use a spray disinfectant to clean trash containers after changing the liner.

In addition, use extra precaution if anyone in the household is 65 or older, or has underlying health conditions, which might make them more susceptible to COVID-19. For older family members, limit contact as much as possible, and keep them away from the infected person. Monitor for fever, cough, or shortness of breath and contact a doctor if you suspect spread among those living in the home.

If someone is infected in your household, restrict activities for everyone in the household, except for getting medical care. Do not go to work, use public transportation, or other activities outside the home. Clean all high-touch surfaces (doorknobs, light switches, bathroom surfaces, kitchen surfaces, and so forth) daily.

The final step is knowing when to end home isolation for both the infected person and the family. Your doctor and local health officials will recommend the appropriate amount of time to remain isolated at home to avoid spreading the virus. By following medical advice and with cooperation, we can all work to minimize the effects of COVID-19 and prevent its spread to others.