With Dr. Jack Rodman, First Physicians Group COO, & Dr. Joseph Seaman, SMH Critical Care Pulmonologist
Written by SMH Communications Specialist Ann Key
Although Suncoast hospitals continue to manage an influx of patients with severe cases of COVID-19, most people with the disease are asymptomatic or experience mild to moderate symptoms, and recover without hospital care.
As a result, more and more area residents are self-treating and recovering from COVID-19 at home, oftentimes alone due to the need to self-isolate to prevent spreading the virus.
For those who may have to endure days of high fever, fatigue, acute respiratory issues and other symptoms at home, we offer this guide — an overview of what you’ll need, steps you should take, what to expect and tips for caregivers — based on insights from Sarasota Memorial’s medical providers. (Click here for a printable PDF version of this guide.)
In the event COVID-19 impacts your household, being prepared can help alleviate the potential stresses of supply shortages and shopping for medicines or trying to work out details when you’re un-well.
We also suggest reaching out to your healthcare providers ahead of time to find out how they support patients who are sick with COVID-19 but don’t require hospitalization. Would they provide remote monitoring at home, telehealth services, home care nursing or other care?
Look for these Red Flag Symptoms
- Trouble breathing / shortness of breath (blueish lips/face)
- Pain or pressure in the chest that doesn’t go away
- Fever spikes (especially in older people)
- New confusion
- Loss of speech or movement
- Signs of delirium or dehydration (fatigue, dizziness or overly-yellow urine)
- Inability to stay awake
If you experience any of these warning signs, seek emergency medical care immediately. Call ahead to the facility or call 911, and alert them of the situation.
It’s a good idea to stock your at-home COVID-19 care kit before you need it. Here is a checklist of the basic necessities:
Supplies for Patients
- Face masks or coverings (cloth or disposable; bandana style and buffs are not preferred)
- Disposable gloves
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with 60% alcohol)
- Thermometer (contactless, infrared thermometer is recommended)
- Pulse oximeter (to measure level of oxygen in the blood)
- Blood pressure monitor
- Over-the-counter medicines for pain, fever, cough, sore throat, inflammation, diarrhea and vomiting
- Hydration and electrolyte drinks or additives for water (liquids, tablets or mix-in powders; Pedialyte; sugar-free popsicles). Gatorade is recommended, but it should be diluted with water.
- Gel cold packs (for high fevers and aches)
- Notebook to log and track symptoms
- A bell or other device to alert a caregiver of an urgent need for assistance
- Supplemental nutrition drinks and/or soft, bland foods (for nutrient intake when nauseous or lose appetite due to high fever); choose high-calorie foods and liquids
Supplies for the Household
- Household cleaning and sanitizing products
- Clean sheets and towels
- List with emergency contacts and other important phone numbers (family, friends, caregivers, healthcare provider and preferred ER)
- List of current medications for each household member (drug name, dosage amount, dosage schedule)
Supplies for the Caregiver
- Face masks (cloth or disposable)
- Disposable gloves
- Eye protection (face shield or safety goggles/glasses)
- Notebook to track your own health and to log important care information, including when medicines were given
Home Alone with COVID-19
If you live alone or do not have a household member who could be your caregiver, ask a few friends to be your go-to team. Your “team” would reach out (call or video chat) for regular check-ins, care for your pets, pick up mail, locate needed supplies (oximeter, thermometer, etc.) and deliver groceries or other necessities while you’re self-isolating and recovering.
Treatment at Home
There is not yet a cure for COVID-19, so treatment must focus on support: getting rest, keeping the illness from worsening and alleviating symptoms.
With COVID-19, symptoms and severity vary greatly from person to person. The most common symptoms among adults include fever, dry cough and fatigue; less common symptoms include aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell, and skin rashes.
On average, symptoms arise 4 to 6 days after infection, but may occur anywhere from 2 to 14 days after a person contracts the virus. Mild illness typically begins with respiratory symptoms and fever, sometimes with a slight cough and/or headache (non-specific flu-like symptoms). Most people begin to get better or their illness may suddenly worsen 7 to 12 days after infection. Severe COVID-19 symptoms appear to peak twice during illness, around Day 14 and Day 22, post infection.
If you are symptomatic and/or test positive for COVID-19, follow the guidance below for self-isolating and at-home treatment. Stay in touch with your doctor, and if you experience any red flag symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
Avoid infecting others.
- Stay home. Do not go to work, school or public places. If you must go out for medical care, call ahead for instructions, wear a face mask and practice physical distancing.
- Self-isolate from other people, including those in your household and pets. Avoid sharing a bedroom or bathroom with others.
- Wear a face mask if you have to be around other people or pets at home. You do not have to wear a mask when alone, but do cover coughs and sneezes.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Do not share common items such as dishes, cups, utensils, towels or linens.
- If you are able, clean and disinfect your “sick room” and bathroom yourself; caregivers can disinfect common areas in the home. Disinfect high-touch surfaces (phones, remote controls, toilets, doorknobs, etc.) and any area that may have bodily fluids on it; wear disposable gloves.
- If you must share a bathroom with others, have them remove their toothbrushes and other toiletries.
- Fellow household members should self-quarantine for at least 10 days, monitor for symptoms and talk to their healthcare providers about whether COVID-19 testing is needed.
- Use over-the-counter (OTC) pain and cough medications to relieve symptoms; a humidifier and hot showers also can be effective for respiratory relief.
- For headaches, body aches and fever, Acetaminophen is recommended.
- Consult with your physician before taking ibuprofen, as it may not be safe for those with COVID-19 and heart or kidney conditions. If allowed, ibuprofen can be alternated with acetaminophen every 6 hours to manage high fevers and intense pain.
- Purposefully cough to help clear lungs of mucus.
- Use gel cold packs, along with OTC medicines, to reduce fever. You can place the cold packs or ice packs on your chest, wrists, armpits, neck and head to help bring down a high temperature.
- If you have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other chronic respiratory illness, be sure to continue using your prescribed medications.
- Supplementing with aspirin may decrease the incidence of severe and critical response to illness, but talk with your doctor before taking it.
Prevent worsening illness.
- Rest, rest, rest. But don’t spend all your time lying down.
- Move. Aim to move around every hour: Sit up, stand up or walk around and inhale deeply to expand your lungs. This helps to prevent blood clots and secondary infections, like pneumonia.
- Stay hydrated. Drink 2 to 3 liters per day. Your body loses more water when you’re sick, and dehydration can worsen symptoms. Proper hydration helps your body recover and fight off illness.
- Eat nutrient-dense foods that are easy to prepare, such as store-bought, frozen meals or nutritional supplement drinks.
- Stay connected. Use phone calls, texting or video chats to get support from your team, healthcare providers and loved ones.
Monitor and track your symptoms.
- Log your temperature, oximeter reading (oxygen level) and symptom severity at regular intervals; every 2 hours is recommended. Expect a higher temperature in the afternoon than early morning.
- Oximeter readings should be in the high 90s to 100. If any reading is in the low 90s or below, seek medical attention after calling ahead.
- If your symptoms worsen, call your doctor’s office for instructions.
Click here to view the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for managing COVID-19 care at home, what to do if you’re sick and when to end self-isolation.
Steps for Caregivers
When possible, a caregiver should not be someone who is at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Caregivers should follow the below tips to safely care for someone with COVID-19.
Wear mask, eye protection and disposable gloves when in the same room as someone sick with COVID-19. Throw away gloves, wash your hands and face, and change clothes immediately after exposure.
Watch for red-flag symptoms (above). Ensure the sick person get sufficient fluids and rest.
Clean and disinfect common areas. If you need to clean and disinfect a sick person’s isolation space, do so only as needed; wear a mask and disposable gloves.
Separate and launder any clothing, bedding or towels exposed to a sick person; wear disposable gloves.
Monitor your health
Stay home and monitor your own health for COVID-19 symptoms while caring for a sick person and for 14 days after your last close contact.
Take time to care for yourself. Get rest; connect with others (texts, phone calls or video chats); eat well; and hydrate.
Check out these other caregiver tips from Sarasota Memorial’s clinical team: “Refuel with Self-Care,” “Coping with the New Normal,” and “Tips for Caring for the Caregiver.”
Recovery & Convalescent Plasma
Full recovery from COVID-19 can take anywhere from several days to weeks, and viral shedding lasts about 20 days from the onset of symptoms.
Once you are symptom free and cleared by your healthcare provider to end self-isolation, consider donating plasma to help treat those in our community who are hospitalized with severe COVID-19.
For details on donating plasma the local Suncoast Blood Centers, for local use, call Suncoast at 941-993-8119 or email email@example.com for information.
As Sarasota Memorial's digital communications specialist, Ann Key manages the Healthe-Matters blog and newsletter, as well as other content and social media channels.
* NOTE: Information above was last updated July 23, 2020. Information related to COVID-19 is continually evolving. For the most up to date info, we recommend also visiting the CDC’s website.