Someone at home is COVID-19 positive. How do I stay safe?

As COVID-19 cases peak in South Africa, many households will be dealing with infected patients. Here’s what you need to know.

Only around 20% of COVID-19 positive cases need to be hospitalised for treatment, while up to 80% are able to recover at home. So if your partner, parent or other household member has tested COVID-19 positive, displays mild or moderate symptoms, or has been in contact with someone who is infected with the virus, they’ll most likely need to self-isolate at home – for at least two weeks.

As Yolanda Walsh, Nursing Odyssey Programme manager for Mediclinic Southern Africa explains, household spread is one of the main ways coronavirus spreads. ‘This is because of the sustained close contact involved as household members share meals and touch the same surfaces and objects,’ she says. ‘If a member of your family is recovering at home, you all have to be super, super vigilant. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you should all expose yourself to the virus because you’re all going to contract it anyway. Remember, you don’t know just how sick another household member will get if infected.’

Introduce a ‘no visitors’ policy in your home and make sure the patient is in a well-ventilated single room. Ideally, the patient should also be using their own bathroom, or if this isn’t possible, it must be cleaned after each use. ‘Self-isolation requires serious sacrifice for your family,’ Walsh adds. ‘It is up to the patient to be responsible – if they can’t or don’t isolate safely, they’re a danger to the whole family. It’s better for the infected person to remain in the dedicated room but if they have to come out of self-isolation for a specific reason, they should be wearing a cloth mask. This is to control respiratory droplets at the source – and help protect other family members from becoming infected.’

If you’re in good health and have no immune-compromising conditions, you can be the designated carer for the patient. Don’t share toothbrushes, eating utensils, drinks, towels or bed linen and try to keep the patient in their room as much as possible. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after being in contact with the patient and use disposable paper towels (or a clean cloth towel) to dry your hands afterwards.

Wash crockery and cutlery used by the sick person separately using hot soapy water and allow to dry thoroughly. You and the patient should practise stringent hand hygiene at all times, especially after coughing, sneezing or handling tissues and touching surfaces in any shared areas. The patient should use a tissue to cover their mouth when coughing and sneezing and blow their nose into disposable tissues. These should be  thrown away in a disposable bag. Use a household detergent and water on a cloth to clean, which you can follow by wiping with a mild bleach solution.

If the patient cannot self-isolate safely at home, they should contact the applicable provincial health department to secure access to a quarantine or isolation facility.