How to Care for Someone With COVID-19

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A member of your household begins to experience the symptoms of COVID-19. He or she may have a fever or a dry cough but isn’t feeling too sick or having trouble breathing. What should you do to help?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people exposed to the coronavirus will only feel mild discomfort. Your family member will likely be able to recover at home. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are caring for someone who has COVID-19.

First, Call the Doctor

If your family member has a dry cough, fever, or shortness of breath and you suspect it is COVID-19, have them call his or her doctor and describe the symptoms. The doctor should be able to confirm if the symptoms match the virus and will tell him or her either to go to the hospital — if symptoms are severe — or to stay home.

If advised to stay home, there are a few steps you should take to ensure you and your family member stay safe. Read the steps below.

  • Monitor your family member for red-flag symptoms (see below)
  • Prevent the spread of germs
  • Manage the symptoms
  • Carefully consider when to end home isolation

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Monitoring the Symptoms

Watch to see if the person you are caring for gets sicker. If he or she does, contact his or her doctor again. Red-flag symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or lethargy
  • Bluish lips or face

The doctor will tell you if it is still OK for the person to recover at home or if a higher level of care is needed.

Minimizing the Spread of the Virus

Use these tactics to prevent the spread of the virus:

  • Isolate the person in one room and have him or her use a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Clean all frequently touched surfaces — such as tabletops, countertops, and doorknobs — with disinfectant wipes every day.
  • Avoid sharing household items like towels, dishes, or bed sheets. Ensure used linens are frequently washed.
  • Have the sick person wear a facemask and wear a facemask yourself when you are around him or her.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after interacting with the sick person.
  • Do not accept visitors into your home.

Treating COVID-19 at Home

Mild symptoms of COVID-19 are like that of the common flu. In most cases, these symptoms last a few days and get better after about a week. To treat the symptoms:

  • Make sure the sick person is well-hydrated and gets plenty of rest
  • Use over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen for pain and cough syrup for coughing. Acetaminophen is the preferred anti-fever medication in favor of NSAIDs.

Home Isolation for COVID-19

If the sick person has not been tested to determine if he or she is still contagious, keep him or her isolated until a doctor confirms otherwise. Three conditions must be met prior to ending isolation:

  • The person has not had a fever for at least 72 hours and has not used any fever-reducing medication AND
  • The person’s other symptoms have improved AND
  • At least seven days have passed since the person’s symptoms first appeared.

If your family member has been tested to determine if they are still contagious, the same rules apply. He or she can leave isolation if:

  • He or she no longer has a fever without medication AND
  • Other symptoms have subsided AND
  • He or she received two negative tests in a row 24 hours apart

It is important to understand that COVID-19 can be managed by home medicine. You should only go to a hospital if you experience severe symptoms or are advised to do so by your doctor.

To help keep our health care workers safe on the job and ready to manage the crisis, we all must do our part. Stay home and isolate, and only go to the hospital if it is necessary. For more information on caring for someone with COVID-19, visit the CDC website.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Infectious Diseases

If you have a disease caused by bacteria, fungi, parasite, or virus, the UPMC Center for Care of Infectious Diseases can help. Our team of experts is specially trained in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, including of HIV-AIDs, postsurgical and transplant infections, illnesses caused by international travel, and more. We research infectious diseases and participate in clinical trials to learn more and develop better treatment and prevention methods. Visit our website to find an expert near you.