Caregivers: Protect Yourself – and Seriously Ill Patients – During the Coronavirus Outbreak
With the coronavirus (COVID–19) rapidly spreading across the United States, caregivers responsible for a loved one who has a serious or advanced illness should know what steps to take to protect their own health, their family and the health of their vulnerable patient.
It’s important to understand that the coronavirus is not likely to be fatal to healthy children and adults and resolves on its own without issues. But individuals with advanced illness are at higher risk, including those who are immunocompromised, the elderly and patients with cancer, COPD, diabetes and high blood pressure. Statistics from China show that Covid-19 is fatal for nearly 15 percent of people over 80 years old who have it and eight percent of people in their 70s. Anyone who is in close contact with individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 is also at elevated risk.
Understanding the Virus
The virus spreads primarily between people who are in close contact with one another, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and from contact with infected surfaces or objects.
Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. By comparison, the flu is more likely to cause fever, headache, muscle and body aches, fatigue, cough, sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose. COVID–19 cases can range from mild to severe, and shortness of breath may indicate a more serious form of the illness. According to the CDC, symptoms may present from 2 to 14 days following exposure.
The CDC recommends remaining at least six feet from people who are sick. If you become sick with respiratory disease symptoms, keep in mind that it’s more likely due to flu or other respiratory viruses than to COVID-19. Nevertheless, always err on the side of caution when caring for a loved one when flu-like symptoms are present:
- Stay in another room or be separated from the person as much as possible. Use a separate bedroom and bathroom, if available.
- Make sure that shared spaces in the home have good air flow. Turn on an air conditioner or open a window.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60 to 95% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Use soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- You and your loved one should wear a facemask if you are in the same room.
- Wear a disposable facemask and gloves when you touch or have contact with the person’s blood, stool, or body fluids, such as saliva, sputum, nasal mucus, vomit, urine.
- Throw out disposable facemasks and gloves after using them. Do not reuse.
- First remove and throw away gloves. Then, immediately clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Next, remove and throw away facemask, and immediately clean your hands again with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Do not share household items, such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding or other items with the person who is sick. After the person uses these items, wash them thoroughly.
- Clean all “high-touch” surfaces, such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables, every day. Also, clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool or body fluids on them. Use a household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash laundry thoroughly.
- Immediately remove and wash clothes or bedding that have blood, stool or body fluids on them.
- Wear disposable gloves while handling soiled items and keep soiled items away from your body. Clean your hands immediately after removing your gloves.
- Place all used disposable gloves, facemasks and other contaminated items in a lined container before disposing of them with other household waste. Clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer immediately after handling these items.
Community-Based Palliative Care
The spread of COVID-19 presents an added challenge for caregivers, who would benefit from the assistance of community-based palliative care experts who can evaluate the home situation and relieve caregiver burden.
In the current crisis, this team of highly trained specialists, consisting of nurses and social workers, can identify needed resources for access to food and other necessities and ensure that the patient and other household members have access to appropriate, recommended personal protective equipment, such as gloves and facemask, and are capable of adhering to precautions recommended as part of home care or isolation, including respiratory hygiene, cough etiquette and hand hygiene.