“This is a risk-balance issue,” said Dr. Nolt. “If you are mildly sick, who is going to take care of the kids in your home? The risk of transmitting an infection to a child is not going to result in a whole lot, because kids do well. But if you are sick and have an older household member, that might tip the issue of isolation differently.”
Another bonus? Infections within a family home are usually staggered, which can help, noted Dr. Mathew. Even if you do transmit the infection to your partner, it will come after yours has receded.
“The parent who is further along in the course of the illness could take on the primary caregiver role for the children to help minimize the chance of transmission,” said Dr. Mathew. “It’s important to remember that the risk of transmission is highest in the first few days of illness, when the symptoms are more pronounced.”
Not everyone has a second home if they get sick. But no matter how tempting, none of the experts we talked to recommended retreating to a hotel or an Airbnb. “Asking those that are SARS-CoV-2 positive … to be quarantined in an Airbnb or hotel is not up for debate right now, as our efforts are focused on social distancing and staying at home as much as possible,” said Dr. Soni. “Hotels and other venues like this are still considered public places and could significantly increase spread.”
Keep High-Traffic Areas Clean
There are plenty of smart ways to clean and disinfect your home, but you don’t need to go nuts. If your spouse is quarantining in the bedroom, you don’t need to wear gloves and dump his contaminated soup bowl into a vat of boiling bleach. “We don’t want you doing disposable trays or anything like that,” said Nolt. “We know this virus is very easily cleaned by household cleaners. You don’t have to mix your own detergents or buy anything super strong.”
The important exception is the bathroom. “Several studies have come out regarding the role of feco-oral transmission of this virus, in addition to respiratory droplets,” said Dr. Soni. In other words, when he uses the bathroom, your sick loved one is shedding virus in the form of gross flying poop particles.
If a separate bathroom isn’t possible, all the experts we consulted suggested to wipe down your bathroom every day, and especially after the sick person has used it—along with putting disinfectant in the toilet bowl, and wiping down high-touch surfaces like the faucet handles and toilet handles with disinfectant. And make sure your sick loved one closes the toilet bowl lid and washes his hands.
“When you flush the toilet, there’s an aerosol that’s generated, a splashing of water out of the toilet, and that may contain virus. So you know it’s important to keep toothbrushes and so forth away from the toilet. [Everyone should] close the lid when they flush the toilet,” said Dr. John M. Townes, the medical director of infection prevention and control at OHSU Healthcare. “And wash their hands after going to the bathroom, for sure.”
Take Care of Yourself
Nolt also made one last important point: The best way to prevent both parents from falling ill is to take care of themselves. Many of us are adjusting to new routines and new realities, of becoming full-time work-from-home employees as well as full-time caregivers.
It’s easy to let things like eating well, exercising, decreasing our stress, and getting enough sleep fall by the wayside when we’re coping with a dozen new and different demands on our time and energy. If you find yourself getting the urge to finish one last work assignment or do one more load of laundry … don’t. It’s now a public service to make sure that we stay healthy and able to take care of our kids and each other.