With nearly 250,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the United States as of April 3, more and more states are implementing shelter-in-place orders to limit their residents' movements and nonessential outings. But even with these precautions, you may be worried about getting sick, especially if you live with other people. If you are wondering what to do if you get coronavirus and you live with roommates, there are measures you and your household can take to protect yourselves and limit the virus from spreading.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), key symptoms of the coronavirus can include a fever, coughing, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Symptoms can also include body aches, nasal congestion, sore throat, diarrhea, and a runny nose. Experts have suggested that a loss of smell and taste could also indicate that you have been infected with the coronavirus, too. If you experience any of these symptoms, reach out to your health care provider and ask whether they would recommend getting tested for the coronavirus. If you are experiencing chest pains or having trouble breathing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends seeking immediate medical attention.
If you or your roommates start to develop any coronavirus symptoms, such as a fever or cough, you should get in touch with your health care provider to determine what your next steps would be. That doesn't mean that you should rush to get tested the minute you start feeling ill. According to the CDC, many people who contract the coronavirus have a relatively mild illness and are able to recover at home. If you observe any emergency respiratory symptoms, however — such as trouble breathing or chest pain – you should seek medical attention right away, and keep your roommates updated so they can take the necessary precautions.
The coronavirus guidelines from the CDC are explicit: If someone in your household contracts the coronavirus, you should avoid contact with them as much as possible. If someone in the house gets sick it's important to self-isolate, so the CDC recommends that they stay in a dedicated "sick room" if there's enough space. The CDC also advises people who have been infected to use a separate bathroom when possible. However, many apartments and roommate situations don't have multiple bathrooms, so if you have no choice but to share, you should regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces like toilets, bathroom counters, and anything else you touch regularly.
If someone in your household is sick, they should wear a mask when they're around others, and they should avoid sharing things like dishes, towels, or other personal items with anybody else. Self-isolation can be tricky in a roommate situation, especially if you live in a small rental unit, but by regularly disinfecting surfaces and limiting how much you share personal items, you can protect one another and limit the virus' spread.
Dr. Jeff Martin, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Elite Daily that being mindful of what you touch can go a long way toward limiting transmission. "You have to do the best you can within the confines of your physical environment," Martin says. "It becomes a bit of a full-time job to be that conscious about your environment."
Being aware of your environment can mean a lot of things. If you suspect or know that you have contracted the coronavirus, you should avoid bringing in the mail, Martin says, or preparing food for your roommates. Your roommates should be prepared to protect themselves by leaving food outside your door, staying at least six feet away from others, and wiping down any surfaces you touch when you use the bathroom. Ultimately, anyone who falls sick in your apartment or household should have an "attitude of leave no trace behind," Martin says. Beyond that, however, any of you could be asymptomatic carriers of the virus at any time, and should take extra care to keep your shared spaces clean and hygienic. If you have another place to stay while you're sick, possibly with relatives who have a separate room or bathroom for you to use, that's also an option. However, you should only travel if you can do so safely and without exposing others, so you're not spreading the illness to your new location. In many places, travelers from places where there have been major outbreaks, like New York, have been advised to avoid unnecessary travel.
Dr. Renata Schiavo, a senior lecturer at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health's Department of Sociomedical Sciences, tells Elite Daily that it's also important to have an emergency plan and open communication. "If people find themselves in this situation, it would be great to make a plan with roommates and other people living in the apartment," says Schiavo, who is also the founder and president of the Health Equity Initiative's Board of Directors. "It may be helpful to monitor the situation, ask frequently about the health of your roommate or partner, and make sure they also stay vigilant about potential symptoms."
Checking in with your roommates is always important, but it is especially so in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, tells Elite Daily that you and your roommates must continue practicing basic hygiene — but you should also let each other know if you do get sick so you can all take the necessary steps. That includes "making sure if you do get sick, that you notify your roommate and take action to isolate yourself," Adalja says. In turn, Adalja adds, roommates who are still healthy should "allow their [sick] roommate to self-isolate and monitor their health for the development of symptoms."
According to The Atlantic, emergency plans can include things like a cleaning schedule and designating specific places in your home for shoes, cleaning supplies, packages, groceries, and anything else that you will bring in from outside. You should all wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing, before eating, and after using the bathroom.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.
Dr. Jeff Martin, professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco
Renata Schiavo, PhD, MA, CCL, senior lecturer at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health's Department of Sociomedical Sciences, founder and president of the Health Equity Initiative's Board of Directors
Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security