Thousands who may have been exposed to the coronavirus have been asked to seclude themselves. It’s harder than it sounds.
Stay home unless you must see a doctor. No trips to the office or school, no shopping. If you must come out of your room, wear a mask. And don’t share towels.
Self-quarantine and self-isolation are different. The first measure is for the large numbers of healthy people who may fall sick following possible exposure. The second is for people who are ill with the coronavirus — they are a danger to their family and visitors, and must be watched carefully in case they deteriorate.
Right now,everyone is being asked to stay home if they have returned from parts of China and Iran; if they have symptoms, like fever and a dry cough, and have spent time in other countries or on cruise ships; or if they are ill without any known source of infection.
A growing number of people are staying home because someone they work with or socialize with has tested positive.
It may sound like a vacation from reality, an ideal time to binge on Netflix and catch up on sleep. In fact, it’s not easy to lock yourself away from family and friends. Home quarantine can be unpleasant and will probably last for two weeks, which is the presumed incubation period for the virus. It is especially challenging if you have young children or elderly relatives to care for, or live in cramped quarters with a lot of roommates.
If you are potentially infectious, it is important that you separate yourself from your partner, your housemates, your children, your elderly aunt. To be on the safe side, you shouldn’t even pet your dog or cat, although pets are not known to transmit the coronavirus.
A room must be designated for your exclusive use. A bathroom should be, too, if possible. Every surface you cough on or touch could become contaminated with the virus.
You should have no visitors, and keep three to six feet away from others. Don’t take the bus or train, or even a uber.
If you must be around other people — in your home, or in a car, because you’re on your way to see a doctor — you should wear a mask, and everyone else should, too.
But first, you or one of your friends or family members have to find masks, which are sold out almost everywhere. If you can’t, you can create a makeshift one from a scarf or other garment.
If you cough or sneeze, you should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, and discard the used tissue in a lined trash can. Then you must immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You can use sanitizer, if you can find it, but soap and water are preferred.
Even if you haven’t coughed or sneezed, you should wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, if you haven’t just washed them.
Don’t share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels or bedding with anyone. Wash these items after you use them.
Countertops, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables are considered “high-touch surfaces” — wipe them often with a household cleanser.
Frequently wipe down surfaces that may be contaminated by bodily fluids, including blood and stool.
Keep an eye on your health and call a doctor if you develop symptoms or if they worsen. Make sure to tell the medical staff that you are at risk of infection with the coronavirus.
Housemates can go to work or school, but it’s going to be their job to stock up on groceries, pick up prescriptions, take care of the quarantined and keep the place clean.
They’ll be wiping down doorknobs and countertops, doing loads of laundry and washing their hands — a lot. Family members and other occupants should monitor the patient’s symptoms and call a health provider if they see a turn for the worse. When around a symptomatic patient, household members must wear a face mask, as well as gloves if they have contact with his or her bodily fluids. These should be thrown away immediately, never reused. Elderly members of the household and those with chronic medical conditions risk severe complications, even death, if they become infected. Pregnant women may also be at particular risk, although the data aren’t clear. Contact with the secluded individual should be minimized.
No one pays you for self-quarantine, although officials say they are trying to find ways to compensate people without sick leave for wages lost because of the coronavirus.
Not everyone can work remotely, and a two-week absence from work can take an enormous financial toll on hourly wage workers who have to clock in and show up to get paid, or who are part of the gig economy with no single employer.
There is no reimbursement for products you may need, no government home aide to stop by and help out. Self-quarantine is a hardship, both emotional and financial, for those who have families and those who live alone.
So these are the basics of self-quarantining. Keep reading the blog for more health tips during these tough times.