April 8, 2020

Caring for COVID-19 loved ones at home and knowing when to seek additional help

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The COVID-19 pandemic is causing hospitals in parts of the country to be overwhelmed with patients, resulting in the need to turn facilities into makeshift hospitals and constructing field hospitals.

But what do you do if you or a loved one is showing symptoms of COVID-19 at home?

Two Purdue University instructors – Libby Richards, an associate professor of nursing who specializes in population health, and Eric Palmer, a lecturer who retired from the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps after 22 years of service – have basic safety tips on how to provide care. Both are members of the School of Nursing in Purdue's College of Health and Human Sciences.

richards-l18 Libby Richards, associate professor in Purdue University’s School of Nursing. (Purdue University photo) Download image
  • Isolation at home: If a family member or roommate believes they have COVID-19 or signs and symptoms, quarantine the person to a spare room, where the individual should stay. If you do not have a spare bedroom, rearrange living conditions by keeping the healthy people in one room and the symptomatic person in another.

 “The symptomatic or ill person should disinfect surfaces they touch after each use,” Richards says. “During this time, consider using disposable items that are thrown away in a lined trash can in the room. The sick person can wipe down items that need to leave the room and set them outside the door. Hand-washing for everyone is vital, as is avoiding touching the face. If you want to check on the person, stand 6 feet away, or use a mask to cover your mouth and nose if you need to be closer. Always wash your hands after you leave the room and dispose of the mask and other items. It’s important to wash hands again after removing the mask.”

Richards says that the healthy members of the house should disinfect commonly touched items around the house such as doorknobs, remotes and light switches at least once a day.

palmer-eric Eric Palmer, lecturer in Purdue University’s School of Nursing. (Purdue University photo) Download image

Palmer says the frequency of checking on the person in isolation varies from person to person: “Whatever makes each person feel most comfortable. Isolating oneself in their own section of the house can be a little draining emotionally and worrisome for the other parties. It can be a minimum of every four hours or even longer. It also depends on the progression of the illness. If the person’s symptoms become worse, they should call a health care provider or 911.”

  • When to call a doctor or seek advanced care: The sick person should stay home and follow any recommendations from their health care provider, Richards says. “At this time, call your health care provider and do not go into their office. If the shortness of breath worsens, a person becomes confused, has a blue tinge to the lips, chest pain or other serious conditions, you should call 911.”
  • Addressing mental health: “You should limit social media use at this time,” Palmer says. “While it can help us stay in contact with loved ones, it can also cause undue anxiety because of misinformation. Use teleconference or video chatting technology to connect with others instead.”

Palmer also suggests using this time to reconnect with loved ones, learn something new or teach something new to those in your house or those you talk to on a regular basis.

 “Many online courses and services are available for free during this time,” he says.

In addition, use reliable sources of information, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or state health department webpages. “Even though many have ‘stay in place’ orders, the caregiver should also try to maintain a normal routine, eat balanced meals, exercise, sleep, avoid tobacco, and limit alcohol consumption.”

  • Future planning and patience: If you are the primary caregiver, be sure to have a plan in place if you become ill.

 “This means you should have a plan for who would take care of your children – if they are at home,” Richards says. “Also, pace yourself and give yourself some grace and find balance between caring for others and yourself, especially if you are working from home or helping with your children’s school projects.”

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 6 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at purdue.edu

Writer: Matthew Oates, 765-586-7496 (cell), oatesw@purdue.edu, @mo_oates.

Sources: Libby Richards, earichar@purdue.edu, @LibbyAnnR1

Eric Palmer, ehpalmer@purdue.edu


Note to Journalists: Photos of Libby Richards and Eric Palmer, as well as a stock photo, are available on Google Drive. Richards and Palmer are available for phone or web-based video interviews.

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