Tips for caring for yourself, others with COVID-19

By JOYCE VANDERPOOL Banner Contributor
Posted 8/2/20

Though many are working to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still possible to catch the coronavirus. On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Health reported there had been more than …

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Tips for caring for yourself, others with COVID-19

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Though many are working to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still possible to catch the coronavirus. On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Health reported there had been more than 1,600 cases in Bradley County.

Though there are a lot of things one cannot control during this time, one can control how they react to a COVID-19 diagnosis. Here are some tips for both patients and caregivers. 

What to expect after COVID-19 diagnosis

To confirm your diagnosis, you will receive a call from public health. It may take a few days. At that time, they will ask questions about your activities before and after you became ill.

Strictly isolate yourself at home for at least 10 days, and be feeling well with no fever before resuming normal activities. Other members of your household should also stay home, with no visitors allowed.

Isolate yourself in one room away from others if at all possible. Use a separate bathroom if at all possible. Healthy family members may want to move to more isolated areas of the home in order to decrease their risk of exposure.

Ask friends or family to bring meals or other necessities to you, handing them through the door or leaving on the porch rather than entering the home.

Inform your close contacts who will also have to stay at home for 14 days after their last contact with you. “Close contacts” include anyone that you were within 6 feet of and for more than 10 minutes while feeling ill. If your symptoms get worse, contact your local healthcare provider and take the steps they suggest for you.

There is no specific treatment for COVID-19, but it is necessary to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and, if needed, take medication to reduce your fever. Practice healthy habits by covering your cough or sneeze into your elbow or tissue (not handkerchief). Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand rub. Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces regularly including your cell phone or items you touch regularly.

Once you have completed your isolation period at home (minimum 10 days plus 3 days of feeling well), you can return to your regular activities. You do not need to be retested in order to resume your regular activities. These recommendations are consistent with CDC’s Symptom Based Strategy. For more information, you can visit www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov

Prepare a hospital jump bag

If you have to go to the hospital, take a “jump bag.” It would be a good idea to have this bag packed even if you aren’t feeling ill. It can sit in the corner of your bedroom ready to take with you if necessary.

Things to include are a list of your medications and vitamin supplement; do not take the pills with you. If you haven’t updated your medication list recently, do so immediately.

Pack a change of clothing and shoes you can wear home at the time of discharge. You will NOT wear your COVID contaminated clothing or shoes home. They will be bagged for washing or cleaning at a later time at your home.

Put a spare toothbrush, toothpaste or other dental hygiene products in it. They will be left at the hospital at time of discharge. When you get home, you must dispose of the toothbrush you left behind.

When you leave home for the hospital, be sure to have your ID and insurance information with you. If you use a CPAP or BPAP, take it along to the hospital. Don’t forget the power cord. The hospital may be able to get new masks and/or advice on its use while you are isolated.

Isolation can create periods of boredom. You can have your cell phone with you, but don’t forget the charger. You can take magazines or books, but they will NOT come home with you, so don’t take library books or “borrowed” volumes. Knitting or crocheting is okay, but only if it goes home in your “dirty clothes” bag and can be washed.

Caring for someone sick at home

First, remember as a caregiver you must protect yourself and others in your home. The following suggestions apply to those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, whether or not they are showing symptoms.

Provide support and help with basic needs. Help person who is sick follow doctor’s instructions for care and medications. Check to see if over-the-counter medicines for fever help the person feel better. Make sure the person drinks a lot of fluids and gets a great deal of rest.

Help with grocery shopping, filling prescriptions and getting other items they may need. Use delivery services if possible. Take care of pets in the home and limit contact between the sick person and the pets when possible.

Watch for warning signs

Have the doctor’s phone number on hand. Call their doctor if the person keeps getting sicker. For emergencies, call 911 and tell dispatcher that person has or might have COVID-19.  Seek emergency medical attention if person has trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, bluish lips or face, or any other unusual symptom about which you are concerned.

Limit your contact and try to stay at least 6 feet away. Have person in separate room or area if at all possible. If you must share space, keep good air flow in room with open window or other improved ventilation. Do not have visitors.

Eat in separate rooms or areas. Stay separated. Wash dishes and utensils using gloves and hot water. If you handle any dishes, cups/glasses, or silverware used by the person, use gloves or dishwasher. Wash hands after taking off gloves or handling any used items (napkins, condiments, etc.) If possible, serve on disposable plates and put condiments such as ketchup in small containers rather than offering the bottle to the person.

Do NOT share items such as dishes, glasses/cups, silverware, towels, bedding or electronics (like cell phone) with person who is sick. Clean and disinfect as much as possible.

Dental and CPAP (BPAP) care are also important. Social distance sick person’s toothbrush. It should not be stored in same holder or cabinet as other family members. Wash hands before and after brushing teeth. Don’t contaminate the toothpaste. Do not let the brush touch the toothpaste tube, or put a small amount of toothpaste on a Q-tip and transfer to brush. Trash the toothbrush after being ill.

If the person uses a CPAP or BPAP, it may be difficult to use during illness. If any questions arise concerning its use, contact person’s sleep care provider or primary care provider. When used, clean and disinfect according to instructions supplied with the machine. After recovery, all filters, nose pieces and other contact components should be replaced.

Cloth face coverings or glove use are necessary for both sick person and caregiver. A person who is sick should wear cloth face covering when they are around other people at home or at doctor’s office. Cloth face covers should be washed regularly.

Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is not able to remove the covering without help.

A caregiver should wear a cloth face covering when caring for sick person, including times when entering person’s room or when working with items soiled or handled by sick person. Gloves should be worn when touching anything that has made contact with sick persons’ bodily fluids. Gloves should be thrown in plastic lined trash can, and hands should be washed immediately.

Clean and then disinfect “high-touch” surfaces and items every day. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks and electronics. If possible, the sick person should clean their own bathroom after use.

Clean first with soap and water if dirty. Then use a household disinfectant, most of which are effective. Included on the EPA’s list of approved disinfectants include multiple products from brands like Clorox and Lysol — including Clorox toilet cleaners with bleach, Clorox disinfectant sprays and wipes, Lysol toilet bowl cleaners, and Lysol multi-surface cleaners and disinfectant sprays — along with Purell disinfectant wipes. Generics with same EPA registration number as primary product are also okay.

Use plastic liners in trash cans, use gloves when handling and disposing of trash, and wash hands. If possible, have a dedicated lined trash can for the sick person.

Laundry should be done with some precautions. Do not shake dirty laundry. Wear disposable gloves while handling dirty laundry. Sick person’s laundry can be included with other people’s items. Dry laundry, on hot if possible, completely. Wash hands after putting clothes in dryer. Clean and disinfect clothes hampers and again wash hands. 

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Joyce Vanderpool is executive director of the Creative Story Project, a nonprofit organization which provides enrichment activities for people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. 

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