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© Odua | Dreamstime.com
If you’re spending time at home caring for a sick family member, loved one or friend, it’s important to take steps to maintain your own health along with preventing the spread of germs in your home or to other people.
While it may seem like a daunting task, there are precautions you can — and should — take. Sourced from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), the Red Cross and other experts in the field, here are things you can do to help limit the spread of the coronavirus infection.
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Have the sick individual stay in a separate room of the home, away from other members of the household. If possible, have them remain in that space, keeping their activities in other parts of the home to a minimum. In the absence of a designated bedroom, try to sleep in separate places if you can. And if there are multiple bathrooms, pick one to be used only by the patient and no one else.
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According to the Harvard Health Publishing website, you should ensure that shared spaces in your home have good airflow. If the weather permits, you can open a window for some fresh, outside air or use the air conditioner. The WHO recommends that the patient should also be in a well-ventilated room with open windows and doors.
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Avoid sharing common household items like cups, dishes, sheets, towels and silverware with the affected person. And once the patient has used any of them, make sure that they are thoroughly washed with soap and water or laundered afterward. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you can hand-wash dishes and other items. The CDC recommends using gloves when handling dishes and utensils, which should be washed in hot water.
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The WHO, CDC and American Red Cross all recommend wearing a mask when tending to a sick person and having the patient wear a mask if possible. Though it’s uncertain when, exactly, each state will hit its peak use of resources, masks and other protective gear are currently in short supply. As a last resort, homemade or improvised masks, like scarves or bandanas, can be used. When removing masks, use proper technique, which includes not touching the front. Instead, untie it, discard or wash it and wash hands thoroughly immediately after.
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There’s no minimizing the importance of frequent and thorough hand washing to help prevent the spread of germs. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after interacting with the sick person. If that’s not possible, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizer that’s 60% or higher in alcohol. Cover your hands with it and rub them together until they feel dry.
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The WHO recommends disinfecting frequently touched surfaces in the patient’s room like nightstands, bed frames and other furniture. Bathroom surfaces and toilets should also be cleaned daily, along with counters, tabletops, doorknobs, phones and other high-touch things. Gloves and protective clothing should be worn during cleaning, and hands washed after gloves and clothing are removed.
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The sick person’s clothes, towels, sheets and other bedding should be laundered frequently in hot water and thoroughly dried. The WHO recommends putting contaminated linens into a laundry bag and avoiding contact with your skin and clothes. If they have any patient fluids on them, they should be washed immediately. Always wear gloves when handling the sick person’s items — they’ll help protect your skin — then promptly wash your hands after removing them.
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It can be hard to be apart from family and friends and even though there are ways to stay in touch during the coronavirus pandemic you may be tempted to see people. However, unless they are essential to care, visitors shouldn’t be allowed especially when someone in the household is sick. According to the WHO, until the infected person has completely recovered and has no signs or symptoms of the illness, there should be no additional guests in the home due to risk of spread.
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After washing hands with soap and water, if possible, use paper towels for drying instead of cloth. According to Unicef, paper towels or clean cloths are the most effective way of removing germs without spreading them to other surfaces. And because germs spread more easily from wet skin than from dry, drying hands thoroughly is important.
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In addition to monitoring the patient for concerning or worsening symptoms, as a caregiver, you should also keep a close watch on your own health. If symptoms like fever, cough or shortness of breath develop, the CDC recommends calling your healthcare provider right away.
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Because infections can enter your body through mucous membranes, it’s important to keep your hands away from your nose, eyes and mouth to help prevent the spread of germs. It’s easier said than done. In fact, one study found that participants touched their faces roughly 23 times an hour. Be aware of how often you touch yours and whether you’re working from home or doing other things, do your best to avoid it.
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While animal shelters have seen an uptick in fostering during the coronavirus pandemic, sick individuals should be separated from pets in the home. According to the Harvard Health Publishing website, contact with animals should be restricted much like it is with other people. It’s best if caretakers or other people in the household care for pets until the owner is well again.
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To ensure everyone’s safety, before the recovering patient returns to normal activities, check with a healthcare provider or a local health department to confirm that it’s OK first. You can also ask about other concerns you may have like if coronavirus is spread through food and other COVID-19 questions you need answered.
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