You may have heard that seniors 65+ are at high risk of severe illness with COVID-19, as well as those of any age with certain underlying conditions. As a caregiver, your loved one probably fits into one or more of those categories. You’re likely worried about their health and well-being, as well as your own and that of your family.
You can take precautions and protect yourself against COVID-19 while still supporting your loved ones.
What Is the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, and Who Is at Risk?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person, most likely through respiratory droplets when you’re in close contact with someone who is infected. People can spread the virus even if they are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. COVID-19 has affected people in drastically different ways. Some have no symptoms. Some have mild to moderate flu-like symptoms like fever, cough and shortness of breath. But others have severe illness, requiring hospitalization, supplemental oxygen and even treatment with a ventilator. Some have developed severe pneumonia symptoms, multi-organ failure and died.
As with many viruses, those who are at an elevated risk for contracting the virus include those who are caring for someone with COVID-19, those who have close contact with someone who has the virus or those returning from a location where community spread of the virus is occurring.
If I’m a Caregiver, Should I Stay Home?If the person you’re caring for lives in your home, then the answer is absolutely yes. Staying at home, and staying at least 6 feet apart if you go out for a walk around the neighborhood or need to go out for groceries or medications, is the best way to reduce your chances of catching COVID-19 and spreading it to anyone else in your home.
Of course, if you work in an “essential” industry like healthcare, law enforcement, food manufacturing and sales, or public utilities, you cannot just stay home. Additionally, if the person you care for lives outside your home, you’ll need to venture out to ensure they have what they need.
Consider getting groceries and prescriptions delivered, if possible, to minimize contact with other people as much as possible. If the loved one you care for lives outside your home and has access to a computer or smartphone, help them set up a video-chat service so you can check in even when you can’t be there in person.
Finding Peace of Mind as a CaregiverWhether you are staying at home or caring for a loved one in their home, there are precautions you can take to protect yourself, your loved one and anyone else in your family or household:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; and after returning home from any location outside your home. Encourage others in your household to do the same.
- If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, like doorknobs and light switches, using household cleaning sprays or wipes.
- Try to avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Or, if needed, cough or sneeze into your shoulder or elbow so you are not contaminating your hand before touching a surface or object.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, whenever possible. Obviously, if the person you care for, or anyone else in your home, is ill with known or suspected COVID-19, some contact is unavoidable. In these cases, it’s wise to isolate the ill person in one room or area of the home, ideally with their own bathroom; wear a mask (cloth/homemade is fine) and have the ill person wear one as well (as long as it doesn’t impair their breathing); and clean your hands and surfaces frequently.
- If you must go out or take your loved one to a testing or medical facility, wear masks or scarves around your mouths and noses. This is to protect others around you from respiratory droplets you may expel when speaking, coughing or sneezing. Cloth or homemade masks are fine. Please leave medical-grade masks for the healthcare workers who desperately need them.
- If you are caring for a loved one sick with known or suspected COVID-19, you should also take the following precautions:
- Ensure the sick person has their own dishes and cups, eating utensils, towels and bedding. After each use, these items should be washed thoroughly – with appropriate soap or detergent – in the hottest water possible.
- Wear disposable gloves when handling these contaminated items, and wash your hands thoroughly after removing the gloves.
- Open windows in the sick person’s room when possible to circulate fresh air.
- Disinfect all surfaces they touch regularly.
As a caregiver, it is important that you monitor your loved one during the course of this illness, as well as take stock of your own health if you catch it. While most cases of COVID-19 are mild, others can become complicated, with some people developing severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome and other life-threatening issues. Call your loved one’s doctor or set up a telemedicine appointment if you have any concerns.
If your loved one or you develop serious symptoms like trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, or bluish lips or face – or if someone seems to be getting better and suddenly develops a new fever, breathing troubles or worsening cough – seek immediate medical attention.
How Elmcroft Communities Can Help
Check here often to stay up to date about COVID-19 and possible effects on our communities.