7 Habits You Need to Start (Right Now) If You Suspect Someone in Your Home Is Sick

updated Mar 31, 2020
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Credit: Amelia Lawrence/Apartment Therapy

Even if you’re social distancing to prevent the spread of illnesses in your community, you might not be completely off the hook when it comes to getting sick—especially when you live with other people. But don’t panic: Fortunately, a little extra attention to hygiene best practices in your home can go a long way in limiting the spread of sickness in your household

Here’s exactly what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends if you’re living in the same place as a sick person:

Start using a separate bathroom, if possible 

If you have more than one bathroom in your home, take advantage of it. Since many germs can survive on surfaces anywhere from hours to months—and they can spread through cough and sneeze droplets and fecal matter—it’s best to keep your bathroom to yourself, assuming you have that luxury. (A recent study shows the novel coronavirus can remain viable on hard surfaces like plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours.)

If you don’t have a separate bathroom, practice targeted hygiene and regularly disinfect high-contact surfaces in your bathroom like toilet and faucet handles and doorknobs. 

Start sleeping in a separate bed 

Germs can also live on soft surfaces like bed linens—plus, it’s probably best to remain at least six feet away from a person who’s actively sick, per CDC guidelines, even during sleep. (Your partner isn’t as likely to cover their coughs or sneezes while asleep, after all.) If possible, sleep in a separate bed or camp out on the couch instead of sharing sleeping quarters. (And this probably goes without saying, but it’s probably best not to have the sick person sleep on the couch, unless you want to steam the entire piece of furniture every day.)

Have the sick person wear a face mask

Face masks aren’t recommended to prevent the spread of infection within the general public, but if you’re in a confined space with someone you know is sick, the CDC recommends having them wear a face mask to prevent droplet spread. If the sick person isn’t able, or willing, to wear a mask, the CDC says you should wear one while in the same room as them.

Practice targeted hygiene more often

Another way to keep germs from spreading is to practice targeted hygiene, which basically means disinfecting high-contact surfaces as often as necessary, for as long as someone is sick. (Most disinfectants don’t provide lasting protection—meaning that as soon as a sick person touches a surface, it can be re-infected with germs.) If your roommate or partner is actively ill, it’s always best to quarantine them or minimize touching the same surfaces, otherwise you’ll be wiping down the remote every time they fast-forward through a commercial break. But when separation can’t be avoided, disinfect whatever you can, whenever you can. 

Start washing your hands religiously 

Whenever you touch something a sick person has touched (including your pets), wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds immediately after. If for some reason you can’t get to the sink for a hot second, absolutely avoid touching your face until you can. Droplets spread when you touch something infected and then touch your nose, mouth, ears, or eyes. (Hand sanitizer can be used in a pinch, but hand-washing is best.)

Be more careful with laundry (and do it more often)

Since germs can survive on clothes (and other fabrics, like sheets and blankets) for a while, you’ll definitely want to wash them frequently. But when you do clean soiled laundry, you’ll want to be more careful than usual: wear disposable gloves, keep the dirty items as far away as possible from your face and body, and avoid shaking soiled laundry any more than you need to. The CDC also recommends washing your hands immediately after removing your laundry gloves, and disinfecting your hamper. But good news: It’s fine to wash a sick person’s laundry together with items from other members of the household.

Don’t share personal items

You obviously know not to share cups and silverware with a person who’s sick, but you’ll want to opt out of sharing any personal items, including dishes, towels, and blankets. If possible, confine the sick person to their own space with their own things—including their own lined trash can—to avoid the unnecessary spread of illness in your home.