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What exactly does it mean to practice "home isolation" during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Author: Dayna Stroik

March 30, 2020
Home Isolation

"I imagine many people in our community are in this situation right now," says Monte Johnson, MD, vice president of medical affairs at St. Francis Regional Medical Center. "They're not feeling well, maybe they're concerned it's COVID-19. They talk to the doctor only to find out that they can't be tested for the coronavirus, so they're thinking, 'Now what?'"

Indeed it's a frustrating time for Minnesota patients. You're caught in the middle of a global pandemic and due to a national shortage of supplies, many states have been forced to pull back on testing patients that don't meet a very specific criteria – namely, they're not critically ill and/or hospitalized.

"Currently, we're not able to test everyone with an illness for COVID-19. But, just because we can't test you doesn't mean you're not sick with COVID-19, and it doesn't mean you're not contagious," explains Johnson. "If a patient comes to us with a cough, fever and shortness of breath, even though we can't definitively say if they do or don't have the coronavirus, we will strongly urge them to practice home isolation if it's determined they don't need hospital care."

As a patient, it's confusing. On one hand, you're definitely sick, so your doctor tells you to practice home isolation. On the other hand, you're not "sick enough" to be tested for COVID-19, so do you really need to isolate yourself?

Johnson says, "If you're feeling ill right now, regardless of whether or not it's COVID-19, it serves you, your family, your coworkers, the general public, and those who are most vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19 to act as if you have COVID-19 and practice home isolation to avoid spreading your illness."

But, what does it meant to act as if you have COVID-19 and what exactly does it mean to practice home isolation? Johnson advises, if you’ve got a cough and fever, think "COVID":

C – Cover your cough and sneeze. Always cough or sneeze into your elbow to lessen the chance of spreading your symptoms to others though droplets sprayed into the air or onto objects. If you need to cover with your hands, wash them immediately with soap and water.

O – Obsessively wash your hands. Wash your hands before and after eating, using the restroom and coughing or sneezing. Wash your hands even more often than you think you need to, for at least 20 seconds each time.

V – Virus. If you're sick, whether or not you’re tested for COVID-19, what you're experiencing is likely a virus and antibiotics won't help you feel better. You can manage your symptoms during home isolation with over the counter medicines like DayQuil and NyQuil, and a humidifier or steam from a shower.

I – Isolate yourself. That means quarantine yourself in your home, away from your family as much as possible. Try to stay in one room, or one area of your home to minimize spreading symptoms to your family. Don't go to the store, and don't spend time with friends. This is a time to take advantage of guilt-free TV time and Facetiming family members.

D – Distance from others. If you must leave your home, stay at least six feet away from others when you're in the same area. Even if you're not sick, practice social distancing and stay six feet or more away from anyone that you don't live with. This limits the chance that you'll spread your symptoms to them, and limits the chance that they'll spread something to you.

According to Johnson, if you are sick but weren't tested for COVID-19, keep practicing home isolation and reference the CDC guidelines on what to do if you are sick. Continue to stay away from others as much as possible until ALL of the following are true:

- your symptoms are improving;

- you have been fever-free for at least 72 hours (three full days!) without fever reducing medication; AND

- at least seven days have passed since your symptoms first appeared.

While you complete your home isolation, continue to monitor your symptoms. If you're getting worse, call your doctor. If you're starting to have trouble catching your breath and you think it's an emergency, call 911.

Johnson says, "If you’re symptoms are mild, the best place for you to be is at home, away from healthy people, and out of the doctor's office, away from sick patients."

To learn more about COVID-19 consult trusted resources, like allinahealth.org/coronavirus, healthpartners.com/coronavirus, or cdc.gov/coronavirus.