Self-Quarantining and Your Family: A Pediatrician Answers Your Questions

As communities work to stop the spread of coronavirus, many parents may hear instructions from their physician to self-quarantine themselves, their child or their whole family for 14 days. That may sound daunting. However, there are steps you can take to make the process more manageable and less stressful.

Nancy Trout, MD, a primary care pediatrician and co-director of Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right program, joins the blog with helpful information.

Why would my family be told to self-quarantine?

A physician may encourage you to quarantine a member of your family, or your entire family, if they think you’re at medium or high risk for coronavirus. This may be because one of you has:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, dry cough and trouble breathing, or
  • Been in close contact (within six feet) with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or recently traveled from a place with a large number of infections like New York City or Italy

What does it mean to self-quarantine?

  • It means taking voluntary steps to isolate yourself from others to avoid spreading disease, and to allow proper time to determine whether you get sick.
  • In other words: Remain in your home unless you need to visit a health center.

What’s the difference between self-quarantining and social distancing?

From the outside, they look very similar. In both situations, you’re staying home and away from other people.

  • Social distancing is motivated by social responsibility. You stay away from public places as much as possible, and limit your contact to the people you live with – even when everyone feels perfectly healthy, and no one has any known exposure to COVID-19. You may still leave the house for essentials like groceries, but you’ll make one big trip instead of several smaller ones, and you’ll try to go at a time of day when few other people will be there. Check out social distancing FAQs here.
  • Self-quarantining happens when there’s a good chance someone has been infected with COVID-19. It’s often accompanied by a physician’s instructions, but many individuals and families take it upon themselves to self-quarantine if they have symptoms or know they’ve been around someone who was tested positive for COVID-19. When self-quarantining, you take additional steps to prevent passing on any germs. For example, rather than leaving the house for essentials, you would ask a friend or neighbor to run the errand for you, and leave the goods on your doorstep.

How long is the quarantine for COVID-19?

Right now, the recommendation from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that anyone who has had known exposure to COVID-19 or a positive COVID-19 test should self-quarantine for 14 days. It takes on average 3-5 days for symptoms to appear after infection and about 8 days more for infected people to no longer be contagious.

Besides staying home and away from other people, does my family need to do anything specific during self-quarantine?

  • Keep at least a six-foot distance between people living together. See the next question for additional tips on how to isolate a sick person within your household.
  • Wash your hands well and often. All members of the household should avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands.
  • Encourage family members to clean all high-touch surfaces daily, such as counters, tables, doorknobs, bathrooms, phones and keyboards.
  • Take temperatures two times each day to determine whether anyone has developed a fever. Watch for symptoms to appear, such as a dry cough or difficulty breathing. If you or your family member gets sick, stay home and call your doctor.

Can we go outside to take out the dog or get the mail?

  • Yes, but wash your hands before leaving the house and immediately upon returning, and wipe down anything you touch (like the mailbox) so you don’t spread your germs to other surfaces and people.
  • Depending on how everyone is feeling, you can also get outside for fresh air and exercise – just be sure to maintain a six-foot distance from others, and avoid public places.

I’m a parent. What happens if I get sick?

Your caregiving responsibilities as a parent can make it seem particularly hard to self-distance from your family. But if you come down with COVID-19 symptoms (or symptoms of any other contagious illness), there are steps you can take to protect children and family members who live in the same household.

  • To whatever extent is possible, hand over childcare responsibilities to another family member in your household – such as your spouse or an older sibling.
  • Cover your nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing.
  • Stay in a single room or area of a house to keep as much separation as possible from other family members. If possible, use a separate bathroom. If you share a bathroom, use soap and water or disinfectant wipes to clean any surfaces you came in contact with after each use.
  • Don’t share household items, including dishes, glasses, utensils, towels or bedding. Any items used by a sick family member should be washed thoroughly.
  • Sanitize high-touch surfaces daily, like phones, doorknobs, keyboards, fridge door handles and bathroom fixtures.
  • The CDC website offers additional helpful guidance.

What if both parents are sick?

  • Whichever parent is further along in the illness may be able to provide care for children, as the virus is most contagious early on.
  • However, depending on the severity of symptoms, you may need to designate another caregiver. Keep in mind that you should assume your children may also have the virus. That means grandparents may not be ideal caregivers, because the children could pass the virus on to them and the disease causes more severe symptoms in older adults.

How should my family prepare for the possibility of self-quarantine?

  • Think through what you would do, where you would stay and how you would get through the 14-day period in terms of supplies, activities, medications and food.
  • Brainstorm plenty of activities for your child to do on self-quarantine, especially if they don’t have any symptoms. They’ll need plenty to keep them busy! Check out 23 Indoor Activities for Heart-Healthy Kids for suggestions.
  • Think through who would take care of your children and pets, if need be. Make sure they are not at high risk of severe complications from COVID-19 and that they are interested and able to help.
  • Finally, follow healthy habits from the Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right program to boost your immune system: Eat nutritious food, remain physically active, drink plenty of water and get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

How can we stay connected to others during self-quarantine?

One of the most important things to remember is that being in self-quarantine does not have to mean being in social isolation. Children and adults are still able to use technology to connect with others, engage in learning opportunities and pass the time with these types of activities:

• Make phone calls or engage in video chats
• Write letters, emails or text messages
Keep up with schoolwork
• Play games
• Read books
During a self-quarantine, it’s important to be creative – so take advantage of the downtime to maintain social connections and cross long-planned projects off your list. It’ll brighten your mood and help make the days pass a little quicker.

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