There’s an unignorable elephant in the room here—a few, actually. First, the supply chain for medical equipment such as masks and gloves is so snarled that fashion designers like Christian Siriano have stepped up to try to manufacture more for health care workers, and medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy are donating supplies to hospitals. If you don’t already have surgical masks, it’s not remotely easy to find them right now. Even if you do have a few face masks, you’re supposed to throw them away after each use, according to the CDC. If you, say, brought the sick person breakfast while wearing a mask, you should technically wear a different one to bring them lunch.
There are a few options to try to address all of this if you’re looking after a sick person. First, as SELF previously reported, you can try asking whichever health care provider or facility you notified of your loved one’s COVID-19 case if they can offer you a mask as a caregiver. This can be especially important if you’re at high risk of COVID-19 complications yourself. But the reality is that the shortages are so severe they may not have any to give you because they need to prioritize protecting staff as much as possible.
In that case, Dr. Meyer says, using something like a scarf or shirt to cover your nose and mouth is better than nothing. (The CDC notes that these kinds of homemade masks are a last resort and are best used in combination with face shields, another thing most of us don’t have at home.)
According to Dr. Wagner, who is also a medical director within Stanford’s Department of Emergency Medicine, it’s important to be mindful about putting on and taking off a mask (or mask-like substitute) without potentially contaminating yourself by accidentally touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. “Untrained individuals who wear masks [can] end up touching their face more often as they fiddle with them, and that increases the risk,” he explains.
5. Disinfect high-touch surfaces at least once a day.
Especially when someone you’re living with or spending a lot of time with is sick, it’s important to clean and disinfect the surfaces in your home to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading to you or anyone else who lives there. At least once a day, make it a point to disinfect shared things in your home like doorknobs, light switches, counters, and tabletops.
Staying on top of laundry is also very important when someone you’re caring for is sick with COVID-19. “Because SARS-CoV-2 lives on inanimate objects, it is important to thoroughly clean all clothing and bedding,” Dr. Meyer explains. “Caregivers may want to use gloves while handling soiled laundry or dirty dishes, but where these are not available, good handwashing is an acceptable alternative. If the laundry is visibly soiled, wear gloves and/or practice good handwashing.”
Here’s a whole guide to cleaning and disinfecting your home to reduce the odds of getting COVID-19.
6. Treat your loved one’s symptoms with guidance from a doctor.
As we mentioned, health care systems across the U.S. are already in danger of being overwhelmed by this crisis. This is why experts are urging that people with symptoms they can manage at home don’t rush to the emergency room or their doctor’s office. If you’re taking care of someone in this situation, it can feel like you’re navigating uncharted territory by looking after them at home.
But, according to Dr. Meyer, the best treatment for most COVID-19 cases really is “supportive care” at home, meaning things like adequate rest and lots of hydration. “People can take acetaminophen every four to six hours for fevers or body aches,” she adds. “Some initial reports suggested ibuprofen and other NSAIDs were associated with worse [COVID-19] clinical outcomes, but the World Health Organization has advised that ibuprofen does not need to be avoided.”