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To address the growing spread of coronavirus within communities in the United States, on March 13, 2020, the President declared the outbreak a national emergency. The White House issued The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America: 15 Days to Slow the Spread.
The overriding message is that people who are sick should stay home except if you are getting sicker and need medical care or are in a high-risk category. If someone in your house has tested positive, the entire family should stay home and you should contact your physician.
Learn how novel coronavirus spreads, why it’s important to isolate yourself from others if you are sick, how to protect your family and how to know when it’s safe to come out of isolation.
How Coronavirus Spreads
Novel coronavirus spreads mainly between people who are in close contact. Close contact means within about six feet of one another, according to the CDC.
Coronavirus spreads when an infected person sneezes or coughs respiratory droplets that travel in the air into the mouths or noses of others nearby, or when they inhale them while breathing. People are the most contagious when they are at their sickest and showing symptoms, including a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
It is also possible for coronavirus to spread from contact with surfaces or objects that have been contaminated by your respiratory droplets. Another person can become infected if they touch those surfaces and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes.
But in affected communities, the virus has shown that it is capable of spreading easily between people. It is spreading even among those who are not sure how or where they became infected, the CDC says.
The incubation period — the time it takes for a person to show symptoms after they become infected with the virus — appears to be about 2 to 14 days after exposure, according to the CDC. That means that people who do not yet realize they are infected could spread the disease unknowingly to others.
If You’re Sick, Isolate Yourself at Home
If you are infected with coronavirus, you need to stay home except if you need medical care or are in a high-risk category. People who have a mild illness can recover at home and should not visit public areas or visit loved ones in a nursing home or hospital.
Stay in touch with your physician and call first before seeking medical care. Be sure to get care if you think it is an emergency and avoid using ridesharing services, taxis or public transportation, says the CDC.
If you are feeling sick, stay home from work, and work from home if you feel up to it. Avoid close contact with loved ones and friends. As much as possible, try to stay in one sick room and use a separate bathroom.
Limit your contact with pets and animals. It’s not known yet if coronavirus can spread from sick people to pets, but the CDC is recommending you should limit contact with pets until more information is available.
While in isolation, take these steps to help prevent your family from getting sick:
- Use a tissue to cover a cough or sneeze and then throw it away in a lined trash can.
- Wash your hands immediately after coughing and sneezing into a tissue.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering all of your hand surfaces and rubbing them together until they dry.
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes.
- Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, eating utensils, towels or bedding with other family members. Wash these items thoroughly after use.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects in your sick room every day. These surfaces include phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets, smartphones and bedside tables.
- Let someone else clean surfaces in other areas of the home while wearing rubber gloves. Follow the instructions on the labels of recommended disinfectant cleaners to ensure safe and effective use.
When It’s Safe to End Home Isolation
How long should you stay in home isolation if you are sick? Your doctor can help you decide by taking into account your disease severity, symptoms and whether you had lab test results.
The CDC provided the following updated guidance on the discontinuation of home isolation on April 4, 2020:
If you did not have lab tests, you may discontinue home isolation depending on when you got sick and when you recovered, according to these conditions:
- At least three days (72 hours) have passed since you’ve no longer had a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
- Your respiratory symptoms of coughing and shortness of breath have improved; and,
- At least seven days have passed since you first had symptoms.
If you had lab tests, you may discontinue home isolation according to these conditions:
- At least three days (72 hours) have passed since you stopped having a fever without using fever-reducing medications and
- Your respiratory symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath have improved; and,
- Your lab test results from at least two consecutive nasopharyngeal (nose/throat) swabs, collected at least 24 hours apart, are negative.
If you had positive lab tests and have not had any symptoms after staying isolated for at least seven days after your first positive test, and have no other illnesses, you may discontinue isolation at home.
Check for updates to see if this guidance from the CDC changes as more information becomes available. Also stay up to date on the situation in your area, since state and local health departments may adapt these national guidelines to respond to changing levels of coronavirus spread in different communities.
It’s essential to isolate yourself if you’re sick to prevent your family from becoming ill and to prevent the spread of disease in your area. Our best chance to beat coronavirus is to take the right precautions.
“The virus is capable of spreading easily and sustainably from person to person based on the available data,” said Nancy Messier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in a media telebriefing on March 10, 2020. “We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves and our families and our communities so that if it does spread, it is in a slower fashion so that we’re all better prepared and so that our health care sector can take care of patients.”
We’re here to help you and your family limit the spread of disease in the community during the coronavirus outbreak. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub for regular coronavirus updates, answers to your coronavirus FAQs and to find more information to help keep your family safe.