May 22, 2020 by John Fernandez
Keeping Your Family Safe When You’re Isolating at Home
If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and been told to isolate at home, that means you are one of millions of Americans whose symptoms didn’t require hospitalization and who are now recovering from the virus.
But isolating at home means just that—isolation—and that’s not easy to do if you’ve got family under the same roof. Zulma M. Berrios, M.D., MBA, chief medical officer for West Kendall Baptist Hospital, spoke with Resource about the virus and important steps you can take to protect yourself and your family at home.
Q. First of all, how is the pandemic impacting West Kendall Baptist Hospital?
A. Of all the patients that present to our emergency department with symptoms compatible with
COVID-19, approximately 20 percent are being admitted to the hospital for treatment. Not all of them end up diagnosed with COVID-19, though. In the West Kendall area, we’re seeing that close to 20 percent of all patients tested are diagnosed with COVID-19.
Q. Of the COVID-19 patients you’ve seen so far, where are they falling on the age range?
A. Patients testing positive for COVID-19 at West Kendall Baptist Hospital have ranged from 19 to 90 years of age. The largest proportion of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 are between 40 and 60 years old. However, close to a third are between the ages of 20 and 40, so this is not a disease that affects just the elderly.
Q. West Kendall Baptist Hospital has reported an increase in clusters of family members testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. Why do you think this is?
A. Multi-generational households are common in West Kendall and other communities in South Florida. Many households have grandparents, parents and children living together. If someone in the family is infected with COVID-19 and has no symptoms, other family members could be exposed and infected.
Q. What are some of the ways the virus can be spread at home?
A. The good news is that if you remain at home, the chances of your family being exposed are extremely minimal. The most common way COVID-19 can be transmitted at home is when a patient does not follow their isolation instructions. Unfortunately, we have identified patients who have decided to “break isolation” to go out for groceries or pick up medications at the pharmacy. Also, asymptomatic patients who carry the virus can inadvertently expose other members of the family.
Q. For those being sent home to recover at home or await their test results, what advice can you offer on how to prevent other family members from being exposed?
A. If you are sent home after being tested, that is good news. That means you’re stable and can continue recovery at home. However, it is extremely important that you follow strict isolation instructions while recovering at home until the results of the test are received and your physician tells you that it’s safe to discontinue isolation. While you wait for your results, you should continue to monitor your symptoms, maintain communication with your physician and seek care if your condition deteriorates.
Q. What do those isolation instructions entail?
A. You must remain at home except to get medical care, and you must avoid public transportation, ride-sharing or taxis. You should always wear a mask when around other people. You and everyone else in the household need to continue to wash hands often, and cover coughs and sneezes. As much as possible, you should stay in a separate room, away from other family members, and use a separate bathroom if available. If you need assistance with care, those caring for you need to wear appropriate protection including masks and gloves when in contact with your body fluids.
Also, you want to avoid sharing personal household items, like dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding. These should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. And “high touch” surfaces – including countertops, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, tablets, keyboards and phones – need to be cleaned every day.
Q. What should you do if you need to go to your doctor’s office?
A. If you do need to visit your doctor’s office, you should call ahead first. This will allow your doctor and the office staff to take steps necessary to protect other people from getting exposed.
Q. Is it safe for family and friends to visit someone isolating at home, as long as social distancing guidelines are observed?
A. This is not the time to have visitors. Prohibit visitors who do not have an essential need to be in your home.
Q. What if someone who’s told to recover at home doesn’t have anyone to help care for them?
A. We screen the appropriateness of the support at home for patients who will continue their recovery at home. We do our best to work with the patient and their families to identify alternatives for care outside the hospital environment for these patients.
Q. What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about COVID-19?
A. People believe the disease will be severe only for patients older than 65 years of age. While patients older than 65 are at a high risk of adverse outcomes if infected, we are seeing patients in their 40s experiencing severe illness, including need for critical care. In regards to the use of masks, they are not a substitute for social distancing. I live in the West Kendall area and, sadly, I’ve witnessed gatherings of groups of 10 or more people in the streets not observing social distancing while wearing masks. I get deeply concerned because transmission can still occur if we don’t follow precautions. We don’t want our community to be affected by a localized increase in cases due to these patterns of behavior.
Q. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
A. Yes! On behalf of all the healthcare personnel at West Kendall Baptist Hospital, I want to thank the community for following the call to stay at home. You’ve probably seen the signs posted on social media: “We stay at work for you. Please stay at home for us.”
Concerned you may have coronavirus?
Use our online Coronavirus Assessment tool or call our COVID-19 hotline, 1-833 MYBAPTIST (833-692-2784). To see a doctor on your phone from the comfort and safety of your home, download Baptist Health Care On Demand. Use code CARE19 for a free visit.