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Medical experts say there are ways to protect yourself while helping a person you live with who has tested positive for COVID-19. Dani_Fotografo / Getty Images
  • Living with a person who has COVID-19 can not only be stressful, but also put you at risk for contracting the virus.
  • The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services lists testing sites by location.
  • There are ways to protect yourself while helping the person you live with.

Learning that someone you live with has tested positive for COVID-19 can cause concern for both of you.

“This is an important situation to consider because we know that household members have a roughly 50 percent risk of infection when somebody living in their home is infected,” Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious disease, internal medicine physician at Northwell Health, told Healthline.

In order to help and care for the person with COVID-19 while keeping yourself safe, consider the following eight tips from experts.

If someone in your home has tested positive for COVID-19, get a COVID-19 PCR test for yourself as soon as possible, said Dr. Scott Braunstein, medical director of Sollis Health in Los Angeles.

“However, even if this is negative, it doesn’t rule out early infection, when viral loads can be below the level of detection, causing a false negative test,” Braunstein told Healthline. “We know that the sensitivity of the tests increases dramatically at 5 to 7 days after last exposure, so you will want to obtain a second COVID-19 PCR test during or after that window.”

To find testing near you, visit the website of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

“If you are unable to obtain, or prefer not to be tested, quarantining for 14 days as long as you don’t develop any symptoms, is another option,” Braunstein said.

Anyone who came into contact with the person who has COVID-19 should be informed.

“Household members and all other close contacts should be assumed to be positive,” Braunstein said.

In its guidelines for caring for someone with COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that:

  • The person with COVID-19 should separate themselves from others in the home.
  • If possible, the person with COVID-19 should use a separate bedroom and bathroom.
  • Everyone in the household should stay at least 6 feet away from the person with COVID-19 as often as possible.

The person with COVID-19 should be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days from the onset of symptoms or positive test, and longer in severe cases, Braunstein said.

If you’re in a tight space, keep the person with COVID-19 as far away as possible from others, said Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health.

“The vast majority of time, the farther away from that person means [that] even if you’re exposed, you’re exposed to a lower dose,” Hirsch told Healthline.

“There’s a lot of very interesting information that shows a person who gets infected by a large viral amount gets much sicker than a person who gets infected by a small viral load,” he added.

However, you can still care for the person, but only enter their space for necessities, he noted.

“People who are living with the person who has COVID-19 should care for them by bringing them food and avoiding prolonged contact in the room,” Hirsch said.

To improve ventilation in your living quarters, keep the windows open as much as tolerable, even it means turning up the heat.

“This is especially important when remembering that indoors the virus can remain in the air in very small droplets and potentially infect others,” Hirschwerk said.

The CDC states that the person who’s sick should wear a mask when they’re around other people, and anyone living with them should wear a mask or face covering, too.

“There should be a very low threshold for the use of masks (as much as possible) among all household members, particularly the infected individual,” Hirschwerk said. “Masks help contain respiratory infections from the nose and mouth of the infected person. But more recent data supports that masks protect individuals from becoming infected as well.”

While wearing masks doesn’t guarantee 100 percent protection against contracting the virus that causes COVID-19, Hirsch said doing so can reduce your chances.

“A surgical mask is good, particularly if it’s well sealed. A cloth mask is better than nothing,” Hirsch said. “And if you don’t have either, wearing a sweatshirt over your nose and mouth can provide a certain level of protection.”

Wearing goggles when you’re near the person with COVID-19 “can protect from getting virus directly into the mucus membranes of the eyes,” Hirsch added.

The CDC suggests maintaining good hand hygiene:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being near the person who’s sick.
  • Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, if soap and water aren’t readily available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

“Washing hands is helpful and makes a lot of sense around a sick person, and [it] is important for the sick person to wash their hands, too,” Hirsch said.

The CDC also recommends cleaning and disinfecting “high-touch” surfaces and items every day, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, and electronics.

The CDC suggests cleaning areas and items with soap and water, and then using a household disinfectant.

For a list of disinfectants, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

Talk with your doctor about whether you should take a supplement, Hirsch said.

“However, what’s much more important is having a healthy diet and avoiding weight gain that is so easy to experience during this time of stress and uncertainty,” he said. “We know certain health conditions predispose a person for COVID-19 complications, and a lot of those health conditions can be addressed by lifestyle changes.”

Adults with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe COVID-19, hospitalization, ICU admissions, intubation or mechanical ventilation, and death, according to the CDC.

Conditions related to diet that put people at increased risk of severe illness include:

  • heart conditions
  • obesity (BMI of 30 kg/m2 or higher but <40 kg/m2)
  • severe obesity (BMI ≥40 kg/m2)
  • non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus

“Having a healthful diet makes the body metabolically much more healthful and that makes a difference,” Hirsch said.

While it’s tempting to listen to what friends, family, and those on social media say, listen only to trusted sources backed by experts when it comes to COVID-19 information and recommendations, Braunstein said.

“There’s a lot of misinformation on social media and the internet that will recommend everything from taking massive doses of vitamins to taking hot showers as being effective in safeguarding you from getting the COVID-19 infection,” Braunstein said. “Most of these suggestions are either unproven or debunked, and some can even be dangerous.”

Turn to sources, such as your primary care doctor, the CDC, or the World Health Organization.

Friends and family, however, can be great for expressing your feelings during difficult times.

“If you’ve had a household contact test positive for COVID-19, it’s normal and natural to experience a variety of emotions, including fear, anxiety, depression, and loneliness, which can be profound and debilitating,” Braunstein said.

“Speaking about and expressing these feelings to a friend or relative can be very cathartic, and can improve your physical and emotional well-being,” Braunstein added.