Coronavirus is spreading across the nation and the world. As more people are exposed to novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) or are in contact with those that have been, quarantines (by government order or by choice) are increasing in many communities.
In places like New York and New Jersey, large clusters of people have been asked to stay at home out of an abundance of caution. As well, when people are experiencing mild flu-like symptoms, health professionals are requesting those affected to self-isolate at home.
So, how do you prepare for quarantine or self-isolation before it becomes necessary, what do you do if you’re put under quarantine and what are the precautions you must take if you’re self-isolating if you start to feel ill?
There are a number of things you can to do prepare for it and a number of measures to take once you’re stuck indoors for an extended period, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.
Quarantine vs. self-isolation
First, the differences between quarantine and self-isolation must be defined.
If you’ve been exposed to coronavirus or traveled to an affected region (or been in close contact with someone who has), and are either required by government authorities to stay home or you decide to stay home on your own volition, but are not yet (and may never actually become) sick, you are in quarantine.
Quarantining is a measure to ensure you do not accidentally contaminate another person if you’re indeed infected. This usually lasts the duration of the COVID-19 incubation period, about 14 days.
If you actually have coronavirus or are experiencing early symptoms of the virus, and you stay confined at home (either on your own volition or on the advice of a medical professional) because you yourself may be contagious, that’s self-isolation.
Self-isolation will last until your doctor believes you have recovered or are cleared of having the virus and are no longer a danger to others. (Note: Self-isolation is for those that are mildly sick. Seek prompt medical attention if your illness is worsening, like if you experience shortness of breath or pain in the chest.)
Before you’re quarantined
If you think you might be in a situation where you are forced to quarantine, this is what you should do to prepare.
Gather all important information and discuss
Information and preparedness are your best friends in case you’re isolated or quarantined. Here are some actions you can take so you’re not taken by surprise if your community is affected or you feel sick.
- Meet with everyone in your family and close circle to discuss what to do if quarantine occurs, get everyone on the same page and discuss everyone’s individual needs and roles, especially those that are elderly or immuno-compromised
- Discuss emergency operations, sick leave policies and work-from-home rules at your place of work with your supervisor and have a plan if your routine changes
- Study up about your child’s school or daycare procedure for closure if it occurs. Have a plan if it closes or lets out early. Same for an older child’s university.
- Jot down a list of local organizations you can trust where you can access community information, healthcare services, mental health counseling and other resources. Talk to your neighbors about their plans and preparations. Sign up for community and school district alerts.
- Create a list of emergency contacts that includes phone numbers, emails and social media of friends and family, neighbors, doctors and hospitals, employers and teachers, carpool drivers and in-home workers, local emergency management and public health officials and others
What to stock up on
Before you are quarantining or self-isolating, there are several household items you should make sure you have stocked up at home. Now is the time to make sure you have what you need because once you’re stuck at home, there’s no making a Target run.
Guidelines state you should prepare for around two weeks at home, so consider stocking up (but not hoarding) a few basic items:
- Non-perishable items like canned meat, fish and beans, soups, broths and stews, fruits and vegetables and canned or powdered milk
- Ready to serve items like peanut butter, jelly, crackers, nuts, trail mix, dried fruits and granola bars
- Baby food and pet food
- Bottled water, fruit juices and fluids with electrolytes like Pedialyte or Gatorade
- Toothpaste, toilet paper, tissues, feminine supplies, diapers, batteries, contact lenses, laundry detergent and disinfectant
- 60 percent alcohol-minimum hand sanitizer, vitamins, over-the-counter cold and flu medicines, any refills of prescriptions and an at-home first aid kit
If you don’t feel comfortable going out to a crowded market or store, utilize grocery delivery services like Peapod, Instacart and FreshDirect for food or Amazon for supplies
How to clean
If you’re going to be stuck at home, you’ll need to make sure your house or apartment is neat, clean and organized because if you’re quarantined, you don’t want to get sick from something in your own house.
Clean regularly and sanitize often using items like Lysol spray and Clorox wipes on “high touch” surfaces including countertops, tabletops, doorknobs, nightstands, bathroom fixtures, toilets, refrigerator handles, kitchen faucets, light switches, TV remotes, cell phones, computer keyboards and tablets.
Wash your hands often
Both at home and at work or school, the best way to avoid contaminating your house is to wash your hands often, based on CDC guidelines. Wash after you touch another person or a common surface, before you’ll be eating or preparing food, after using the restroom, after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose and when you get home (or to work or school) from being outside.
When you wash, rub with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, or the length of the choruses of “Come on Eileen,” “Lose Yourself” or “Start Me Up”). Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
If soap and water are not available, disinfect your hands by utilizing a 60 to 95 percent alcohol hand sanitizer and following the listed instructions.
When quarantine starts
Follow these steps when the quarantine officially begins.
Communicate with others
Tell everyone you know that you’re in quarantine, particularly if you have been in close contact with a known case. Let each of them know they need to step up their cleaning and hygiene routines. And of course, discourage them from trying to come to visit you. If you live in an apartment building or complex or in a multi-family facility, let management know immediately so they can take action or help.
If you live alone or if you have a chronic medical condition, ask your family and friends (or doctors) to check in with you regularly to make sure all is well and you aren’t feeling any symptoms. Conversely, stay in touch with quarantined people you know who live alone or have chronic conditions.
Inform work and school
Contact your place of work and tell them you’ve been asked to quarantine or have a reason to quarantine yourself. Discuss medical leave compensation or remote office options. Never put co-workers at risk. The same goes for your children. Contact their school as soon as possible and discuss the next steps, including distance learning and online classwork.
Keep your space clean and hygienic
Even if you aren’t going outside, maintain your cleaning and sanitization patterns as stated above. Keep washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and continue disinfecting commonly-touched surfaces.
Many municipalities are requesting that while you’re in quarantine or isolation, don’t take your trash out until you’ve been cleared. Keep all of your trash in cans lined with double bags.
Prepare in case you get sick
Designate a room that can be used if one member of the family falls ill and can be separated from others in the household, and keep it clean and prepped. Set aside a selection of cups, plates and cutlery, personal care and hygiene products and linen, pillows and towels that will be for any sick person’s use only.
Help maintain everyone’s mental health
Regularly assess the emotional and mental health of everyone at home, including yourself, and particularly children. The quarantine can be scary and stressful for all involved. Make sure everyone knows that you’re quarantining to keep everyone safe, not because something is wrong. Call a mental health professional if needed.
Keep everyone busy, happy, occupied and communicative with group entertainment activities like a variety of board and video games and TV or Netflix watching marathons.
Don’t violate the quarantine
Except if you need to go see your doctor or go to the hospital, don’t leave the house. Not only will you not infect others, the more you stay at home and rest, the faster you recover.
If you’re sick and self-isolating
Even if you aren’t under quarantine, you might still want to self-isolate yourself. Here are some tips to follow.
Keep yourself separated
Anyone who is sick must stay in the designated sick room and away from other people. Only leave the sick room to use the bathroom or go to the kitchen. If you have more than one, designate a bathroom just for the sick person.
Clean and disinfect any areas they touched before anyone else uses them. Have them eat in a different room or at different times than others do. Avoid touching pets, as well. They won’t get sick but they can carry the virus on their fur. If a sick individual must feed or clean up after a pet, wash the hands before and after.
Don’t share personal items
Utilize everything you should have set aside for use by the infected person, including drinking glasses, plates and silverware, sheets and blankets, towels and toiletries for your use and your use only. After every use, clean dishes thoroughly with soap and water and fabrics in the washing machine.
Now is when you should wear a facemask
People who are in self-isolation and others in the household should wear facemasks (especially care workers) when interacting with each other. People who are not sick or around those that are don’t need to wear facemasks.
Maintain and increase hygiene routines
As above, continue to use suggested methods when sneezing or coughing, and continue regular hand washing. Clean and sanitize commonly touched areas more often, especially outside your sick room.
Keep the air flowing
Maintaining proper airflow in your apartment or house is critical for clean, refreshed air quality and respiratory recovery. Keep windows open or keep a filtered air conditioner on, or use an air purifier.
If you must go to the doctor, call first
Remember, self-isolation is for those with mild symptoms, those who are manageably ill with flu-like symptoms. Keep an eye on your symptoms and seek medical attention if they persist or get worse, as per your medical professional’s instructions.
If you must see a doctor or visit a hospital, call before you go to allow them to take precautions to keep others visiting their office from being infected or exposed. If possible, consider a virtual doctor’s visit online. If you need to call 9-1-1 for any reason, inform them of your symptoms before they arrive, as well.
The end of quarantine or self-isolation
If you’re quarantined by community order, stay at home until the order is lifted, even if you feel fine. If you’re self-quarantining, remain in your house or apartment until the 14-day incubation period (from the time you may have been infected) has ended.
If you’re self-isolating or isolating under doctor’s orders, don’t leave the house until you’re cleared by a medical provider or it’s decided you must be moved to a hospital or other facility.