Prepping for COVID-19: What to do if someone in your home tests positive

As COVID-19 cases surge around the province, there are many ways to prepare ahead of time for you or someone in your home testing positive for COVID-19.

Masks, hand hygiene and wiping down shared areas are all useful in combating in-home transmission

A blonde woman in a white doctor's coat looks at the camera.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger says there are ways to protect against COVID-19 transmission when one member of a household tests positive. (Martin Weaver/CBC)

The possibility that someone in your home could catch COVID-19 can be a scary, uncomfortable prospect to think about.

With more than 1,500 new cases reported across Alberta each day and vaccinations for the general public still months away, creating a plan for that possibility can be a major benefit.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Alberta, says the important place to start is identifying where in your home a sick person could try to isolate to avoid shared spaces. For those caring for others in their home, using Lysol or a solution of bleach and water to wipe down surfaces can help.

"We still don't really know how much virus is on surfaces, but obviously the risk of a surface that surrounds someone with an active infection is much higher than the risk of a random package from Amazon," Saxinger said on CBC's Edmonton AM on Monday.

She recommended designating a separate bathroom if possible, or having supplies ready to wipe down high-touch surfaces like faucet handles and doorknobs. She said households can think now about setting aside a comfortable room where someone who's infected can isolate.

If you can't avoid sharing a common space, maintaining physical distance, washing your hands often and wearing a mask can still drastically cut down your chances of transmitting the virus inside your own home.

"Most household transmission studies (show) it's not inevitable that everyone in the family is going to get this," Saxinger said.

Protection is especially important in the first five to seven days of the illness, when transmission is most likely, Saxinger said. She also recommended washing shared items, like food trays, right after they're used by someone infected with COVID-19.

People living on their own should find friends or family who can call them daily to check how they're doing, Saxinger said. Tapping into these same networks can help find someone to drop off food and other provisions, or even take care of pets. Saxinger noted there isn't a huge risk of COVID-19 transmission through pets.

Those in the same household as someone who has tested positive must quarantine for the same period of time, as they're in continual exposure to the virus, Saxinger said.

Food preparation

You probably already have enough food in your home to last through self-isolation, says registered dietitian Raina Beugelink, so worries about stockpiling food are likely unnecessary. 

Beugelink recommends having basic meals ready that will be easy to prepare when you're sick. They should include plenty of vegetables with immune-boosting vitamins, and she recommends incorporating things like ginger or garlic, foods rich with natural antioxidants, or making homemade vegetable soup or stew to keep in your freezer for when you need it.

"Diet alone obviously cannot prevent COVID-19 or any sickness," said Beugelink, who works with Revive Wellness. "But it definitely can decrease the time and severity of the sickness that you do have."

Finding staple items for your pantry that aren't loaded with preservatives or too much salt and sugar also helps, Beugelink said. She recommended looking for versatile foods that use lentils or beans.

High doses of vitamins can sometimes be harmful, and other times simply don't offer much help and are a waste of time and money. But she does recommend taking vitamin D supplements for anyone spending more time at home and not getting enough sunlight.

Most importantly, Beugelink said, it's important to maintain the four main pillars for health: managing stress, sleep, exercise and nutrition. When any of these aspects are off, your immune system can be more easily compromised. 

"We can't pull any of those things in isolation to say this is the answer to boosting your immune system," Beugelink said. "We kind of have to be looking at all of those components when we're looking at someone's overall health."

Talking to children

At this point in the pandemic, many people know someone who has had to isolate or has tested positive, said child psychologist Susan Bauld. 

It's important for parents to talk to kids about COVID-19, she said, and reassure them that there's a plan in place if someone at home gets sick. 

"In our area as numbers have increased, there's way more anxiety and fear," Bauld said. "With the new guidelines and us all having to be home and not see people as much, I think that's all piled on the stress and worry."