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House Call: Three scenarios – and what to do – when COVID-19 strikes too close to home

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 24, 2020

Vail Health Hospital pharmacy technician Rob Brown practices measuring the exact dosage for a mock COVIC-19 vaccine in the sterile compounding room in the hospital's pharmacy Dec. 8 in Vail, Colo. From one vial, once reconstituted to be administered to a patient, there are five doses of the vaccine.  (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post/AP)
Vail Health Hospital pharmacy technician Rob Brown practices measuring the exact dosage for a mock COVIC-19 vaccine in the sterile compounding room in the hospital's pharmacy Dec. 8 in Vail, Colo. From one vial, once reconstituted to be administered to a patient, there are five doses of the vaccine. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post/AP)
By Dr. Jeff Markin For The Spokesman-Review

Even though the COVID-19 vaccine is here and the light at the end of the tunnel looks brighter than ever, the truth is we’re not out of the woods just yet.

Unfortunately, the chances of having contact with another person in Spokane who has tested positive for COVID-19 are still far too high. Given the likelihood of encountering a case, we should know how to respond to keep our families and community healthy.

Here are three scenarios we might find ourselves in – or our neighbors – during the weeks ahead and what we can do to stay safe and be prepared. For full details, visit cdc.gov.

I’ve been exposed – what do I do?

If you’ve been in close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more) with someone with confirmed COVID-19, you should likely be tested and begin to quarantine immediately. If you do not get a test, you need to quarantine for 10 days after exposure.

Testing ideally should occur no less than five days after the exposure, which gives the virus enough time to replicate in order to be detectable by a test. Quarantining occurs before you know the test results to restrict moving around and potentially infecting others. It’s important for helping to prevent the spread of the virus.

If you test positive, you should isolate yourself for 10 days since symptoms first appeared (or longer if your doctor tells you to) or until your symptoms are improving and you haven’t had a fever for 24 hours, whichever is longer.

If you don’t have symptoms, you should also isolate for 10 days from the date of your positive test to avoid passing the virus to other people and watch for any symptoms. Isolation means separating an infected person from those who are not infected.

If you test negative (and the test was done at least five days after the last or most recent day of your exposure), then you should still continue to quarantine for seven days after the last or most recent day of your exposure.

A negative test means you probably were not infected at the time your sample was collected. The test result only means that you did not have COVID-19 at the time of testing. You should continue to take steps to protect yourself and those around you during this time.

How do I care for someone with COVID-19?

Whether it’s a spouse or neighbor, the best way to help the infected person is to be sure to follow doctor’s instructions and what they recommend in terms of care and medication.

Help them stay in their room as much as possible by helping with grocery shopping, filling prescriptions and getting other items they might need. In cases where you are unable to leave, consider home delivery or asking a reliable neighbor to help.

When possible, try to eat in separate rooms and limit contact with others in and outside the household.

You should also have designated bins for the infected person’s dirty laundry and separate trash bags for anything the infected person throws away, including masks and gloves of the caregiver.

Remember to always wear a mask when in the same room as the infected person. If your mask gets dirty, replace it immediately. Wash hands often and right after any contact with the infected person, and sanitize high-contact surfaces touched frequently like doorknobs. To limit your own exposure, and if the infected person is able, it’s OK to ask them to help disinfect their area.

It’s natural to want to let friends come check in, but encourage them to send cards or make phone calls instead. While the precautions are time-consuming and tedious, these recommendations can help keep you safe as you help a loved one recover.

What’s the proper way to return to work after recovering from COVID-19?

This is a tricky question, and unfortunately there isn’t one right answer, as many factors and considerations come into play. It’s possible your doctor will work with infectious disease experts and/or your local health department to decide if testing will be necessary before you can be around others again.

The Washington State Department of Health recommends you stay in isolation until 24 hours after your fever is gone (without using medicine) and 10 days after your symptoms started and have improved (such as cough or shortness of breath).

Even though there’s hope in sight, we still remain in the midst of a pandemic. As long as this continues to be our reality, we must remain vigilant of how the virus is continuing to spread through our community. If we do, we’ll be out of the woods before we know it.

Dr. Jeff Markin is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Veradale Medical Center.

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