Mon | May 25, 2020

Self-isolation – The why, do’s and don’ts

Published:Thursday | April 9, 2020 | 12:07 AMDr Michael Coombs/Contributor

It is now established that the world is experiencing a pandemic of the coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19). The urgent need now is to mitigate the impact and spread of the COVID-19 virus, using appropriate public health measures.

Self-isolation is a very important strategy for limiting the spread and impact of this novel (new) coronavirus.

Why self-isolate?

The spread of the COVID-19 virus, and, indeed, any virus infecting the respiratory tract, occurs through person-to-person transmission, directly and indirectly. When an infected individual coughs or sneezes, the virus is transported in droplets through the air. Anyone within three to six feet from this individual can become infected. Also, the virus may fall on various surfaces and survive for several hours to days, depending on the condition of the surface. Uninfected individuals who touch these surfaces and then touch their faces, mouth, eyes, nose, etc, before washing their hands, are at risk of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, if you suspect that you may have COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who might have the illness, isolating yourself at home for a specified period of time will protect other household and community members from becoming infected. It will also prevent the unnecessary overcrowding of healthcare facilities.

Who should self-isolate?

Anyone who begins to experience mild to moderate flu-like symptoms, e.g. fever, coughing, runny nose, aches and pains, should self-isolate for at least seven days even if they think they do not have COVID-19. Indeed, individuals having seasonal flu, which can be deadly, should also self-isolate.

You should also self-isolate if instructed by your healthcare provider to do so because of your travel history or possible exposure to persons with COVID-19 even if you are having no symptoms. The period of self-isolation should be at least 14 days.

If you live in a household where a family member with flu-like symptoms is self- isolating and you made contact with that person or came within six feet of them, you should self-isolate for at least 14 days.

The Do’s

. Anyone in self-isolation should ideally be the sole occupant of a bedroom with their own bathroom. If they have to share a bathroom, they should allow others to use it first and clean the toilet and bathroom thoroughly after use.

. Bathrooms, toilets, and common areas should be cleaned thoroughly and regularly with appropriate cleaning agents.

. Persons in self-isolation should separate themselves from other household members as much as possible, and practise good cough etiquette, personal, and, in particular, hand hygiene.

. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

. While in self-isolation with flu-like symptoms, wear a mask to protect someone who may come close to provide care and support.

. Continue taking all prescribed medications unless advised otherwise by your healthcare provider.

. Keep a list of telephone numbers to include neighbours, family, friends, your doctor, Parish Health Department, nearest hospital, the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) toll-free number (888-ONE LOVE), and take-out restaurants, among others.

. If your illness worsens and you begin to have difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider, the nearest hospital, or the MOHW toll-free number without delay, especially if you are an elderly person and/or have a pre-existing health condition.

. Allow as much ventilation as possible.

. Make arrangements to have groceries and basic supplies delivered to your home. Persons delivering these should be asked to leave items outside of entrance doors.

. Do regular exercise outdoors/indoors, maintaining social distancing (three to six feet).

. Maintain a healthy, balanced diet.

The Don’ts

. Do not go out to public areas. Arrange with family, friends, neighbours to assist in obtaining supplies.

. Do not take public transport.

. Do not have visitors.

. Do not share personal items, e.g. toothbrushes, towels, or utensils.

. Do not stay in rooms having other individuals for prolonged periods. Practise social distancing (three to six feet) at all times.

Ending Self-isolation

Once symptoms have resolved at the end of the designated period of isolation, self-isolation should be discontinued. If there are any doubts, call your healthcare provider or the MOHW toll-free number for guidance. You do not need to see a doctor unless instructed to do so.

Dr Michael Coombs is a public-health specialist and founder and chair of the National Association for the Family. Send feedback to