coronavirus: how to self quarantine when you live with other people

While it’s a terrible thing to have to contemplate, if you become ill during the coronavirus pandemic, here’s how to self isolate or self quarantine when you live with other people.

We’re living in unprecedented times, and while many states have already mandated people stay home as much as possible, further steps need to be taken if you start to feel sick or are showing symptoms of coronavirus. Because of the highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, health officials have recommended anyone who develops symptoms self-isolate to help stop the spread of the infectious disease.

Quarantine vs Isolation

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “quarantine is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others. Someone in self-quarantine stays separated from others, and they limit movement outside of their home or current place.” In contrast, “isolation is used to separate sick people from healthy people.”

Self-isolation means staying home, period—if you need groceries or medication, you should ask someone else to get them for you—and avoiding unnecessary visitors. The goal is to minimize contact with other people to avoid transmitting the disease, but what happens when you live with your family or roommates? How are you supposed to self-isolate in a shared home?

Related Reading: Lockdown, Quarantine, Shelter in Place—The Language of Social Distancing

If you find yourself in this position, here are the steps you should take to keep the other members of your household safe during your self-isolation.

Stay Separate As Much As Possible

The CDC recommends you self-isolate in a designated “sick room,” preferably with direct access to a separate bathroom, if possible. However, if your home only has one bathroom, you’ll want to disinfect the surfaces you touch after every use.

When you do need to be around the other members of your household, try to stay at least three feet apart and wear a cloth face covering. (They may also want to wear a mask for safety.) The CDC has guidelines on how to make your own face mask if you can’t purchase one.

“Those who are caring for loved ones who are sick at home should wash their hands frequently, avoid close contact as much as possible, and have the sick individual wear a surgical or procedure mask to prevent droplets spreading through the air,” explains Crystal Watson, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Additionally, if you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, immediately put the tissue into a lined trash can, then wash your hands. Alcohol based hand sanitizer may be used, but properly washing your hands with soap and water is still the most effective method.

Related Reading: What It’s Like to Have Coronavirus, According to People Who Tested Positive & Recovered

Clean and Sanitize Frequently

coronavirus wash your hands

Mike Kemp / Getty Images

If someone in your household is self-isolating, it’s important to clean and sanitize thoroughly and frequently. The CDC recommends cleaning “high-touch” surfaces every day, including:

  • Phones, tablets, keyboards, and other electronics
  • Remote controls
  • Counter- and tabletops
  • Doorknobs
  • Toilets
  • Bedside tables
  • Any surfaces that get bodily fluids on them

You’ll want to start by washing the item or surface with soap and water, then following up with a disinfectant. Be sure to follow the directions on the product to maximize its effectiveness. If you’re the person who’s self-isolating, you should be cleaning the sick room and bathroom yourself, while other members of the household can take care of common areas.

Don’t Share Personal Items or Linens

To avoid spreading germs to members of your household, you’ll also want to avoid sharing items such as tableware, glassware, and utensils. Wash these items thoroughly after each use, and to be extra safe, have a designated set of dishes to use in your sick room.

This goes for linens, as well. Don’t share kitchen and bath towels, blankets, pillows, or sheets with other members of your household, and wash them regularly in hot water.

When Can You Stop Self-Isolating?

Self-isolating or self-quarantining in a shared household is tricky, but it’s important to follow these steps to avoid potentially spreading the virus to those around you. According to the CDC, you can stop self-isolating if:

  • It’s been at least 7 days since your symptoms first appeared.
  • You haven’t had a fever for at least 72 hours without taking any fever-reducing medication.
  • Your other symptoms have improved.

Related Reading: Shortness of Breath, Dry Cough, and Other Symptoms of Coronavirus

If you get tested for COVID-19 and get negative results, you’ll still want to wait until any fever subsides for 72 hours and your symptoms improve before leaving the house.

Visit our Coronavirus Headquarters for more resources and information.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

Header image courtesy of elenaleonova / E+ / Getty Images

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