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With over 1 million known active cases in Australia, and many more forced to isolate as close contacts, what can we do to protect ourselves and make sure we don’t pass COVID-19 on at home?
First, it’s important to remember while many experts have said it’s likely we’ll all get COVID eventually, it’s not inevitable. Taking steps to minimise the spread right now will alleviate the stress on the health system and protect the vulnerable and immune-compromised.
Melbourne-based Beci Orpin and 14-year-old son Ari (front) isolate from husband Raph and 18-year-old son Tyke, who have tested positive for COVID-19.Credit:Justin McManus
Professor Ross Gordon, a COVID and behaviour expert, from Queensland University of Technology says that “even with Omicron” and even if you are young and healthy, you’re at risk of a serious infection.
”The other point here is that you cannot have a healthy and functioning economy when thousands of people are catching COVID-19,” says Professor Gordon, who is a member of the World Health Organisation Technical Advisory Group on Behavioural Insights and Sciences for Health.
“It is a logistical nightmare,” admits Melbourne-based illustrator Beci Orpin, who has spent the past week isolating at home with her family. Her 46-year-old husband, Raph, and 18-year-old son Tyke have both tested positive, but so far, Beci and her 14-year-old son Ari are virus-free.
From a practical perspective, Ms Orpin stayed in the downstairs study, while Raph was in their bedroom and their two sons remained in their respective rooms.
She spent a lot of time cooking and delivered food to both their rooms. They also all wore N95 masks anytime Raph or Tyke went to the bathroom or came downstairs.
“We maintained distance. Sometimes my eldest son didn’t want to eat dinner in his room, so we’d go outside or the other way round,” she says.
She did online shopping and friends made deliveries, stocking up on chicken stock (“I made a lot of soup”), ready-made lasagnes, N95 masks, paracetamol and ibuprofen, ArmaForce supplements, wipes and rapid antigen tests (trying to find them was an “extreme sport” and a friend from Singapore sent extras).
Her strategy has worked so far. But what else can we do to prevent the spread and prepare our homes in case we have to isolate?
Steps to take to avoid spreading COVID-19 within your household
A person can be infectious two days before they have symptoms. But if someone starts to show symptoms they should isolate and use a separate bedroom and bathroom to others in their home, if possible, says Sarah Palmer, the co-director of the Centre for Virus Research at The Westmead Institute for Medical Research.
“Second, always put on a mask and ask the infected person to wear a mask [N95/P2 masks if you can get them] when others enter their room,” she adds. “Third, handle all dishes or waste from the infected person with gloves. Do not share dishware, towels, bedding, or electronics with the infected person. In addition, to prevent yourself from getting infected it is important to frequently wash your hands in soapy water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser.”
Ensure good ventilation by opening doors and windows and, Gordon suggests, using HVAC air purifiers where possible. “Spread is mainly respiratory, so surface disinfection is less important,” says Dr Abrar Ahmad Chughtai, a senior lecturer and epidemiologist at UNSW.
What should be in your COVID-19 home-isolation kit?
“Most people who catch Omicron might be sick and isolating for seven to 10 days, so you don’t need to stockpile huge amounts of goods,” Professor Gordon assures. “Making sure you have basic medications, such as paracetamol, and some non-perishable foods, such as canned soups and frozen meals can be a help as well as drinking plenty of water. Contact-free supermarket deliveries, and deliveries of takeaway food will also be available for people who catch COVID.”
Ms Palmer adds that a COVID-19 toolkit should also include gloves, masks, disinfectant and rapid antigen tests, if they can be found.
“A negative rapid antigen test only means you are not infectious at the moment of the test,” she explains. “With the fast replication rate of the Omicron variant, you could become infectious four to six hours after the test. Therefore, serial rapid antigen tests are needed to improve the accuracy of this test and to ensure whether you are infectious or not.”
She adds that “commonsense methods are best for mitigating symptoms from COVID-19”. These include getting plenty of rest, taking over-the-counter medications for fever, and staying well hydrated.
“There is not much strong evidence on taking supplements to aid recovery from COVID-19,” Mr Gordon adds. “However, certain approved vitamins and supplements, when taken correctly, can support health and wellbeing, so much of the advice out there is that it probably can do no harm to take them.”
Stocking up on “smart fluids” including ingredients to make fruit smoothies, vegetable juices, soups and electrolyte drinks can help people stay hydrated when they’re unwell, says accredited practising dietician Susie Burrell. She adds that vitamin C via citrus fruits, kiwifruit, berries, tomatoes, red capsicum and leafy greens, as well as and zinc via lean red meat, oysters, shellfish, legumes, nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds especially), can help to support immune function.
As for some of the more controversial approaches, Dr Chughtai adds that “there is no evidence around using Ivermectin and other drugs”.
“Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorisation (EUA) for Pfizer’s Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir tablets and ritonavir tablets, co-packaged for oral use) for the treatment of mild-to-moderate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in adults. However, it is not widely available yet.”
Fortunately, the simple strategies mentioned can help to protect us and the ones we love, both inside and outside the home, says Mr Gordon.
“I think two of the biggest myths out there are firstly that it is inevitable you will catch COVID-19, and secondly that there is not much that can be done about that,” he says.
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