With SMH-Sarasota Critical Care Pulmonologist Joseph Seaman, MD
Although Sarasota Memorial and other Suncoast hospitals are caring for an influx of inpatients with COVID-19 or COVID-19 complications, most people experience mild to moderate symptoms and can recover at home, without hospital care.
"Most folks with COVID-19 are going to be able to get over this at home with the usual remedies that we treat viral illnesses, such as Tylenol, rest, fluids, nutrition and making sure their other health problems are not adversely affected by their illness," said Joseph Seaman, MD, a critical care pulmonologist and associate chief medical officer at Sarasota Memorial Hospital-Sarasota Campus. “Make sure you have plenty of rest, you're eating a good diet, and you're keeping well hydrated. And most importantly, you're trying to isolate yourself at home, meaning you're not going to be spreading the illness.”
If you’re symptomatic and/or test positive for COVID-19, use this guide to ensure that you have the supplies you need, know what to do and know when to seek medical care. Click here for a printable version of the COVID-19 Care at Home guide, along with tips for caregivers.
We also recommend reaching out to your healthcare providers now to find out how they support patients with COVID-19 who 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 (blueish lips/face)
Pain or pressure in chest that doesn’t go away
Fever spikes (especially in older people)
Loss of speech / movement
Signs of delirium or dehydration (fatigue, dizziness or overly-yellow urine)
Inability to stay awake
If you experience any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately or call 9-1-1.
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 or neighbors 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.
It’s also a good idea to give a spare house key to someone on your team or hide it outside, near your front door. In the event of a 9-1-1 emergency, your team/neighbor will be able to get in to care for pets and grab things you may need at the hospital. In the event you miss a check-in call, they can enter your home to be sure you’re OK.
Treatment at Home
Most authorized COVID treatments — including monoclonal antibodies and oral anti-viral medications — are currently prescribed for people with COVID-19 who are immunocompromised and/or at high risk of developing severe disease. (Not sure whether you’re high-risk / immunocompromised? Talk to your doctor about your eligibility for monoclonal antibody therapy or anti-viral pills.)
If you’re not eligible for these therapies, at-home treatment should focus on getting rest, keeping your illness from worsening and alleviating symptoms.
COVID symptoms and severity can vary greatly, and many symptoms are very similar to those of other respiratory illnesses and viruses, like flu, RSV, strep throat and bronchitis. Common COVID symptoms include sore throat, cough, fatigue, fever, headache, and gastrointestinal issues (diarrhea / vomiting); a loss of taste or smell is less common with some COVID variants. Red flag symptoms (see box above) require emergency medical attention; if you experience them, call 9-1-1 or seek care immediately.
Symptoms typically arise 3 to 6 days after infection, but may occur anywhere from 2 to 14 days after contracting the virus. Mild illness typically begins with non-specific flu-like symptoms, and full recovery from COVID-19 can take anywhere from several days to weeks.
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 (preferably KF94 or KN95; cloth or disposable OK, but do not rely on bandanas or buffs/neck gaitors)
- Disposable gloves
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with 60% alcohol)
- Thermometer (contactless, infrared thermometer is best)
- 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. Pedialyte drinks and popsicles work well for children.
- 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
- Extra 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 (preferably KF94 or KN95)
- Disposable gloves
- Eye protection (face shield or safety goggles/glasses)
- Notebook to track your own health and log important care information, including when medicines were given.
"You really have to be aware of your symptoms and how your symptoms are changing day-to-day,” Dr. Seaman said. "If your symptoms continue to get worse and you're not able to care for yourself at home, or your symptoms start to culminate in a very concerning manner, you need to seek additional assistance.
“I would recommend you starting with your primary care provider,” he added. “They typically know you best. They can hear your symptoms, and then they can direct you to the most appropriate level of care, which could be coming into their office, it could be with urgent care visits, or it could be with an emergency room."
Recovering from COVID-19 at Home
Avoid infecting others.
- Follow public health recommendations for isolation and quarantining. Find the latest guidance at cdc.gov/coronavirus.
- Stay home. Don’t go to work, school or other public places. If you have to go out for medical care, call ahead, wear a properly fitted face mask (KF94 or KN95 are preferred) and practice physical distancing.
- Self-isolate from others in your household. Avoid sharing a bedroom or bathroom with others, if possible.
- Wear a face mask (KF94 or KN95 are preferred) if you have to be around others 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.
- 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. 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, continue using your prescribed medications.
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 COVID pneumonia.
“During the day, you need to get up and move around your home at least once an hour, if not twice an hour to stretch your legs and move around,” Dr. Seaman advised. “When you do so, you need to take deep breaths to make sure that your lungs are expanding nicely and you're getting air down into the lower parts of the lungs. After you take a few deep breaths, you need to purposely cough to clear any mucus from the deep recesses of your lungs.
“The reason why we encourage folks to do that is because as the mucus builds up, you could get sicker from either a typical pneumonia, because some people are at risk for that, or you could start to have more symptoms because your lungs are starting to fill with mucus and you could start to develop more shortness of breath, more low oxygen levels, or even other issues that may develop to include pneumonia.”
- Stay hydrated. Drink 68 to 100 ounces 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 94 or above. If any reading is in the low 90s or below, seek immediate medical attention; call ahead if possible.
What if Your Symptoms Worsen?
Full recovery from mild to moderate COVID-19 generally takes from several days to a week, but it can take weeks, and some symptoms may linger for months.
If symptoms worsen or you experience any red flag symptoms — including chest pain, shortness of breath, fever spike, new confusion, etc. (see list above) — seek emergency care or call 9-1-1.
Click to the following links to view the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for: what to do if you’re sick and when to end quarantine / self-isolation.
** NOTE: This blog post was published Jan. 7, 2022. Information related to the COVID-19, vaccines and treatments is continually evolving. For the most up to date info, we recommend visiting the CDC’s website.