Caring for a COVID-19 Patient at Home
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, many worrying questions have been running through our minds. One common concern is how do we take care of a family member who contracts COVID-19 but does not need to go to hospital? In this article we address this concern.
If the symptoms are mild, the patient will be advised to stay in quarantine at home. Most people with COVID-19 will only experience mild symptoms and can recover at home without medical care. However, it will be a challenge for other members of the household to avoid becoming infected. How can you help care for the patient but also ensure that you and other family members stay safe?
Here are some simple guidelines on how to care for a COVID-19 patient at home:
- Ideally the caregiver should be in good health and have no underlying chronic or immunocompromising conditions.
- If possible, place the patient in a well-ventilated single room (e.g. with open windows and an open door). Household members should stay in a different room or, if that is not possible, maintain a distance of at least 1 metre from the ill person (e.g. sleep in a separate bed).
- Limit the movement of the patient in the house and minimise shared space.
- Ensure that shared spaces like the kitchen and bathroom are well ventilated (keep windows open).
- Visitors should not be allowed until the patient has completely recovered and has no signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
- Do not share any items that could be contaminated, such as toothbrushes, cigarettes, eating utensils, dishes, drinks, towels, washcloths, cell phones or bed linen.
- Wash or sterilise your hands after any type of contact with the patient or their immediate environment. For example, before and after preparing food, before eating, after using the toilet, and whenever your hands look dirty.
- If your hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand rub can be used. For visibly dirty hands, use soap and water. Dry hands with disposable paper towels or a clean towel. Wash and replace towels frequently.
- The patient should wear a mask as much as possible and the mask should be changed daily.
- The patient must cover their mouth and nose with a disposable paper tissue when coughing or sneezing. If a handkerchief is used, it must be washed with soap detergent and water.
- Caregivers should wear a medical mask that covers their mouth and nose when in the same room as the patient. Masks should not be touched or handled during use. If the mask gets wet or dirty from secretions, it must be replaced immediately with a new clean, dry mask.
- Remove the mask using the appropriate technique – that is, do not touch the front, but instead untie it. Discard the mask immediately after use and wash your hands.
- Avoid direct contact with body fluids, particularly oral or respiratory secretions, and stool. Use disposable gloves and a mask when providing oral or respiratory care and when handling stool, urine, and other waste. Perform hand hygiene before and after removing gloves and the mask.
- Do not reuse masks or gloves.
- Use dedicated linen and eating utensils for the patient; these items should be cleaned with soap and water after use and may be re-used instead of being discarded.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces daily that are frequently touched in the room where the patient is being cared for, such as door and window handles, light switches, bedside tables, bedframes, and other bedroom furniture.
- Clean and disinfect bathroom and toilet surfaces at least once daily.
- Regular household soap or detergent should be used first for cleaning, and then, after rinsing, apply diluted bleach as a disinfectant.
- Clean the patient’s clothes, bed linen, and bath and hand towels using regular laundry soap and water or machine wash at 60–90 °C with common household detergent, and dry thoroughly.
- Place contaminated linen into a laundry bag. Do not shake soiled laundry and avoid contaminated materials coming into contact with your skin and clothes.
- Wear gloves and protective clothing, such as a plastic apron, when you are cleaning surfaces or handling clothing or linen soiled with body fluids. Perform hand hygiene before putting on and after removing gloves.
- Gloves, masks, and other waste generated during home care should be placed into a waste bin with a lid in the patient’s room before disposing of it as infectious waste.
- If the patient develops shortness of breath or has a fever for longer than one week, immediately contact your doctor to discuss whether they need to be admitted to hospital.
For more information please contact:
COVID-19 Corona Virus South African Resource Portal
Telephone: 0800 029 999
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases
Telephone: +27 (0)386 6400
Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.