What To Do If Your Lockdown Housemate Starts Showing Symptoms Of COVID-19

Don't panic.


Yamkela Mdaka |

South Africa is only a couple of days into the national lockdown, meaning it’s possible that some of us are isolated with someone that might potentially have COVID-19. The virus’ symptoms can start appearing as early as two days, and in some instances, only 14 days after exposure.

This doesn’t just mean that every household member should still be adhering to COVID-19 prevention guidelines; it also means that everyone in the household should be prepared and know what to do if someone starts displaying symptoms.

When symptoms start showing

When you start noticing someone in your household experience COVID-19 related symptoms, make sure you have their healthcare provider’s information on hand. Following this, isolate the person in one room of the house and make sure they don’t come into contact with anyone in the household (as much as possible).

This is according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who also recommend that the person use a separate bathroom if possible. Other recommendations include:

  • Avoid sharing personal household items, like dishes, towels and bedding.
  • If the sick person can’t wear a facemask, you should wear one while in the same room with them.
  • If the sick person needs to be around others (either within the home, in a car or the doctor’s office), they should wear a facemask.
  • Limit the person’s contact with any pets and animals.

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You will also need to take extra precautionary measures such as cleaning and disinfecting all the surfaces that are touched often every day, cleaning and disinfecting bathrooms every day and making sure laundry is thoroughly washed.

“Do not shake soiled laundry to avoid spreading the virus through the air,” the Department of Health advises.

“Machine-wash laundry at 60-90 degrees Celsius with regular detergent. If machine washing is not possible, wash laundry using regular laundry soap and hot water in a large container using a stick to stir.”

Over-the-counter medication can help with relieving the symptoms until the person becomes better. But it’s extremely important to make sure the person drinks a lot of fluids to stay hydrated and doesn’t move around or get busy with work, but rather rests. The symptoms should get better within a week or so, but that’s not the end of it.

According to the World Health Organisation, the person can only come out of isolation if they haven’t had a fever for at least 72 hours, other symptoms have improved, and at least seven days have passed since their symptoms first appeared. If this is the case, then it’s highly likely that the person has recovered and can come out of their bedroom isolation. Keep a close eye on your own symptoms and those of everyone else in the house.

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What if the symptoms get worse?

If you start noticing that the person’s symptoms are getting worse, then it’s time to call their healthcare provider and/or the SA Corona Virus emergency helpline on 0800 029 999 to receive information on the next steps to be taken.

But if you start noticing emergency warning signs, then you’ll need to get the person immediate medical attention. This means calling your nearest hospital or emergency services immediately and notifying them about the symptoms and the need for emergency intervention. The Department of Health outlines the emergency warning signs as:

  • Chest pain or pressure in one’s chest that does not go away
  • Coughing up blood
  • Becoming confused
  • Severe sleepiness
  • Blue lips or face

If this is the case, you can either use private transport to get the patient to a clinic or hospital, or call emergency services for an ambulance. If you do use private transportation, make sure the person is wearing a facemask if one is available.

COVID-19 update*

Earlier this week, the president held his third nationally televised briefing on COVID-19. In his speech, he confirmed that the number of confirmed cases had risen to 1 326 (as of 31 March 2020) and that there have been three confirmed deaths from the virus.

The president pleaded with South Africans to obey lockdown and all its rules while also acknowledging that for the most part, South Africans have responded responsibly. Saying that we’re entering into a new phase in the fight against COVID-19, he announced that in the coming days, the government will be rolling out a screening, testing, tracing and medical management programme on a huge scale.

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“Around 10 000 field workers will be visiting homes in villages, towns and cities to screen residents for COVID-19 symptoms,” he said.

“People who are infected with coronavirus, but who have no or moderate symptoms, will remain in isolation at home or at a facility provided by the government, and those with severe symptoms will be transferred to hospitals. People with symptoms will be referred to local clinics or mobile clinics for testing.”

Most people who get infected with COVID-19 will only experience mild illness, and as the president advised, should recover at home unless the symptoms begin to escalate. According to the Department of Health, 82% of COVID-19 cases are mild, where a patient will only experience a slight fever, fatigue and a cough. They say that only 6% of patients need intensive care, and the vast majority of people can stay home and get better without hospitalisation.

*Stats correct at time of being published.

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