Ask the Pharmacist

Q. What should I do if someone in my household gets Covid-19?

A. We are living in very different times than we were just a few weeks ago. With so many cancellations and closures and practising new concepts such as “social distancing”, many people have returned to their family home from both abroad and from within Canada.

Covid-19 is spreading throughout our country at an alarming rate. You may have a family member return home after a possible or definitive exposure to this virus and not know what to do. You may also have a someone in your home get sick with Covid-19 in the coming months and need advice.

This virus is new and that means two critical things. One, nobody has any “acquired” immunity to it meaning that it is up to our immune systems to fight this off without the help of any pre-existing circulating antibodies. Secondly, the information we are told is continually evolving meaning some of what we have been told is no longer accurate (i.e. gatherings of less than 250 is no longer okay and should have been discouraged long before it was).

For this article, the information gathered are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Health Canada which are about as reliable as you can get. The suggestions below may seem like extreme measures and do involve lots of work and diligence but, if we are indeed to “flatten the curve” (another new term for many of us) so as to ensure we have enough ventilators to keep, as many people alive as possible, we are going to have to be very disciplined.

First off, if a member of your family does not exhibit any symptoms but has returned home from within Canada after a possible exposure to Covid-19 within the last 14 days, they should self-monitor for 14 days and practice social distancing (2 metres) with others. This is especially important for those that are in close contact with elderly or medically fragile people.

For your family member that does not exhibit any symptoms but had a possible exposure to a confirmed case(s) of Covid-19 (such as at a meeting or party or train) or returned home from outside of Canada, they need to self-isolate. This means they need to stay home and monitor for any symptoms for 14 days and avoid contact with other people in your home and the community.

If at any point in time someone in your home begins to show symptoms (cough, fever and shortness of breath being most common as well as headache, chills, aches, etc.), then they need to go into isolation to reduce the spread of this highly contagious virus. If you live with others, it can be challenging to accomplish this.

For starters, choose a room in your home in which only the affected person will live (a bedroom) to separate the healthy from the unhealthy. This means that intimate partners should not share the same bedroom for the time being. If you have more than one bathroom, choose one to be used solely for the affected individual and have the rest of the household use the other bathroom(s). If this is not possible, then close the toilet lid before flushing and clean and disinfect the bathroom frequently throughout the day, ideally after each use by the sick person. On a similar note, affected individuals should have their own dishes and cutlery unless you have a dishwasher with a sanitizing option. They should also use a separate toothpaste, hand towel, soap, brush and any other item contacting their body. Laundry should be washed using a normal detergent using the warmest water and dryer settings recommended on the clothing label. Disposable gloves should be worn while handling soiled items and an effort should be made to keep them away from your body. Clean your hands immediately after removing the gloves following the 20 second rule and put all used gloves, masks and the like in a lined container for disposal.

As frequently as you can, disinfect heavily used items such as counter tops, door knobs, light switches, cabinet handles, phones, tablets (we are more than likely on those electronic devices more than ever now) and sinks and toilets (remember the toilet handle!) at least once daily. It is suggested to clean with warm soap and water and then disinfect them with a product that contains at least 60% alcohol. You could also make a bleach solution by mixing 20ml (4 tsps) of bleach with 1000ml (4 cups or 1 quart) of water. Of course, as we all should be doing now, prohibit any non-essential visitors from entering your home.

**Note that once a household member does show symptoms and goes into isolation, the rest of the household also has to now self-isolate and should no longer go outdoors for work or errands. You will need to adopt a hands-free delivery of essentials (groceries, medicines, etc.) from your neighbours, friends or the many businesses offering delivery.**

If the symptoms are mild then you can stay at home and continue the isolation process. If your health is declining and you are beginning to have trouble breathing, then it is time to go to your local Covid-19 Assessment Centre.

There may be a scenario that the affected person is very ill and requires caregiving or they may previously have required one on one caregiving to do daily tasks of dressing, toileting and eating. Maintaining the two metre social distancing then becomes impossible to accomplish. If this is the case, only one person in the household should be appointed to this task and the caregiver should wear protective equipment (gloves, mask and eye protection) to protect him/herself. Afterwards, it is extremely important to wash the hands after removing the protective equipment.

For more information on this or any other health topic, contact your pharmacist.