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When I’m Self-Quarantined, What Happens to the People I Live With?

Basically, do they need a self-quarantine from me?

Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of epidemiology and public health at Ball State University, was teaching 100 germy, occasionally coughing young adults up until earlier this week. His wife works at a bank and had recently gone to the salon. While they both feel fine at the moment, there’s no way to really know if either of them has been exposed to the coronavirus, of which there are 1,629 cases in the U.S. already (a number, of course, that’s climbing daily). 

“You never know what you or your immediate family has, so you have to be extra cautious,” Khubchandani tells me. Even without any symptoms, couples and cohabitants should definitely wash their hands when they get home from work, but also probably shower before sharing a bed or close quarters. However, if you’re sick, unable to get a test due to shortages and/or imposing a self-quarantine, Khubchandani suggests separate rooms, food, clothing and a distance of 6-feet or more, the amount of space recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That’s based on an average human’s amount of projection from a cough and droplets,” he says, stressing that anyone with flu-like symptoms should be avoided as well. “Generally, when someone has the flu at home, we’re casual about it, but now is not the time to be casual.”

For couples in one-bedroom or studio apartments, the healthy party should consider staying with friends or family, until the other person’s symptoms dissipate. Khubchandani discourages going to a hotel because of the high volume of travelers, and lack of control over how clean the facilities are. The same goes for the ill party. Sick people who go to hotels just put other innocent bystanders in danger, which isn’t great either. “I’d say if you’re sick, stay home,” Khubchandani advises. “Why go to a hotel and cause more trouble for everyone? Going anywhere unnecessarily right now poses additional risk.” 

Parents are probably the most screwed, because kids are dependent on adults to enforce basic hygiene. Even though children appear to be contracting COVID-19 at lower rates with less severe symptoms, they’re not immune to it. Plus, if parents get sick, they still have to take care of their kids. And on the flip side, if children are sick, parents can’t quarantine their way out of caring for them.

“The best you can do is wear a mask and some gloves before getting them in the shower, and cleaning where they are. Before that, you have to sanitize yourself,” Khubchandani recommends. “It’s difficult and you don’t know if you’ll be affected, but you can avoid them as much as possible outside of that.” 

Although Khubchandani is clear that it’s important to be much more cautious than typical flu season, he also reiterates that it’s still important to remain as calm as possible. The best way to do so is by staying up-to-date on coronavirus rates in your county. If there are no cases and you feel fine, wash your hands and stay vigilant about hygiene anyways. But if you feel sick, or there are cases in your county, start mapping the square footage of your home in increments of 6 feet.