Analysis & Opinions - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Within Your Home

| Jan. 04, 2021

As the unrelenting toll of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, household transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, continues to increase. As a result, more and more households are faced with the challenging situation of caring for a loved one with COVID-19 while trying to avoid spreading the infection to others within the home.

Transmission of SARS-Co-V-2 increases by 10 fold among household members when living with a person infected with the virus compared to other contacts. However, it is possible to care for a household member who has COVID-19 and not catch the virus yourself.

To reduce household transmission, a multi-pronged mitigation approach needs to be adopted including prompt isolation of persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, adjustments made to shared living space (i.e.: separate bedroom and bathroom when possible), mask-wearing inside home when distancing is not feasible and more. Here are some practical strategies households can take to minimize the risk of spread.

Stay Distant

Maintaining a distance of at least six feet whenever possible is one key to decreasing the risk of viral transmission, recognizing that living circumstances vary significantly and having enough space to isolate is a privilege. Keep at least 6 feet of distance in between the housemate who has coronavirus disease and others and open windows for airflow. 

When direct care is needed, dedicate one member of the household, ideally someone who themselves is not high-risk for severe illness from the virus to care for the person who has COVID-19. Both caregiver and housemate with COVID19 should wear a mask that covers nose and mouth when interacting.

This is the time to avoid visitors to the home and interaction with household and non-household contacts. The individual who tested positive for COVID-19 should stay at home in isolation for at least 10 days after their positive test result or onset of symptoms and all other household members should also limit contact with non-household members and quarantine.

The caregiver should stay home during duration of providing care to person who has COVID-19 in addition to quarantining 14 days after their last close contact with person who was COVID-19 positive.

Stay Clean

If possible, dedicate utensils and dishes for use by the housemate who is COVID-19 positive and wear gloves while handling personal items. Avoid sharing personal items like towels, bedding or electronics.   When sharing a bathroom, open a window or turn on a fan and wait as long as possible after the housemate with COVID19 positive to use it. 

Prior to use, disinfect the toilet, sink, and other surfaces with products registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (you can find out whether your disinfectant product is effective here). 

Everyone in the household should practice hand hygiene frequently – prior to eating, after touching common surfaces, and certainly after every interaction with the housemate who is COVID-19 positive. Regardless of whether you think they have been used or not, clean and disinfect surfaces like doorknobs, railings and other routinely touched surfaces daily

Stay Vigilant

Thankfully many individuals who have coronavirus disease can recover at home. Make sure to look for warning signs of worsening condition such as trouble breathing, bluish lips or face, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or  persistent pain or pressure in chest and seek medical attention immediately if those symptoms occur or any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

All other individuals in the home should monitor for a temperature >100.4 and other symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days after exposure to housemate with COVID-19 and behave as if they’ve been infected, including informing outside contacts that they may have been exposed. All household contacts including caregiver should seek testing based on local public health guidance.

To reduce quarantine time, testing coupled with ongoing symptom monitoring can be considered (example: after last exposure to housemate with COVID-19, testing after day 5 of quarantine, if negative, ending quarantine on day 7 or ending quarantine after 10 days without testing if you don’t have symptoms with both options requiring ongoing symptom monitoring for 14-days).

We encourage each household to make a plan as to what it would do if someone has a positive COVID-19 test.  The three “S”s above – Stay Distant, Stay Clean, and Stay Vigilant - provide a simple roadmap to mitigate the risk of transmission from member of the household to another.

Statements and views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not imply endorsement by Harvard University, Harvard Kennedy School, or the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Bajaj, Komal and Syra Madad.“Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Within Your Home.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, January 4, 2021.

The Authors