Caring for someone with COVID-19 at home

Isolation advice to keep families safe

UNICEF South Asia
09 July 2021

“What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?”

Quarantine and isolation are both ways of reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Quarantine is separating people who are not ill themselves, but may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The goal is to monitor symptom development in those who are not ill and detect new cases.

Isolation is separating people who have tested positive for COVID-19, or have symptoms of the virus, from other people.

“How do I look after a family member with COVID-19 at home while keeping the rest of the family safe?”

If someone in your family has COVID-19 and is recovering at home:

  • The whole household will need to quarantine for 14 days.  


  • The person with COVID-19 will need to isolate from the rest of the household for a minimum of 10 days from the start of their symptoms. Before they leave isolation they need to have shown no symptoms of the virus for at least 3 days.

This is to reduce the risk of other people in the family becoming infected with COVID-19 and stop the virus from spreading further.


During this time:
  • The person with COVID-19 should stay in a separate room from the rest of the household (if possible).
  • Ideally, no-one in the household should leave the house or interact with others from outside the household. Seek advice from your health worker for further guidance.
  • No visitors should enter your home (with the exception of health workers who may be helping to care for your sick family member.)

When a family member living in your home has COVID-19, the risk of other household members becoming infected with the virus is even higher.

Because of this increased risk, we recommend that everyone in the house follows even more thorough precautions than usual when washing their hands — and washes their hands for at least 40 seconds (in line with guidance for healthcare facilities), rather than 20 seconds (as we normally recommend).


Talk to your health worker for support

Caring for your loved one with COVID-19 should be done in consultation with your health worker. Speak to them to get personalized care recommendations, based on your situation.

You should also talk to your health worker about testing the whole family for COVID-19 (you could already have the virus, even if you don’t have symptoms).


Plan ahead and stock up

You should also:
  • Make childcare plans in case all caregivers in the household become ill.
  • Plan for how you will manage food and grocery deliveries to your house during isolation.
  • Stock up on:
    • Surgical masks
    • Household disinfectant containing at least 0.1% bleach (also known as sodium hypochlorite)
    • Soap (for handwashing) 

You can take the following steps immediately to keep the rest of the family safe:


1. Isolate the sick family member

Move the family member with COVID-19 to a separate room from the rest of the family (if possible) immediately.

If possible:
  • Choose a room that has natural ventilation, such as a window that can be opened.
  • Add a handwashing station or ensure there is plenty of hand sanitizer in their room.


While your family member is isolating:
  • They should stay in their room as much as possible. 
  • They need to wear a mask before anyone enters the room or comes within 1 meter’s distance of them.
  • They should have their own personal garbage bin inside their room, with a lid that closes. Any personal waste, including used tissues and masks, should be disposed of in this bin.


If they do need to leave the room, for example to go to the toilet, make sure they:
  • Wear a surgical mask.
  • Keep as much distance from others in the household as possible.
  • Wash their hands with soap and water for at least 40 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, before leaving the room.

You should also ensure good ventilation in all communal areas.


If your family is unable to stay in separate rooms:
  • Take whatever steps you can to limit contact between the sick family member and everyone else.
  • Everyone in the room should wear a surgical mask as much as possible.
  • Everyone should wash their hands regularly with soap and water for at least 40 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer
  • Arrange the room so that everyone in the household can keep at least one metre from the sick family member’s bed.
  • Do not share a bed with the sick family member.
  • Do not share any utensils or personal items (e.g. forks, spoons, dishes, toothbrushes) with the sick family member.
  • Clean the room with bleach, including all surfaces, at least once a day.
  • All surfaces must be rinsed with soap and water or detergent, before rinsing and applying bleach.


Ventilating the room

  • Open the windows to keep the room well ventilated.
  • Natural ventilation is best, but air conditioning can also be used. However, if you are using air conditioning in the room, the air conditioning unit needs to be regularly inspected and cleaned. Do not use it on recirculation mode.
  • Do not use an air fan — as these can blow air directly from one person to another and help spread the virus. 
Photographer Anita Khemka
Photographer Anita Khemka views her mother through a glass door in an apartment in Delhi, India, in May 2021.

2. Identify one carer for the sick family member

To reduce the chance of COVID-19 spreading in your home, it’s important that only one person in the house cares for the sick family members who are isolating.

At the start of your family member’s isolation, you need to identify who will be their designated carer. This should be the person in the household who has the lowest risk of developing severe COVID-19.

  • The carer should be the only person in the house who enters the room where the sick family member is isolating.
  • Most people with COVID-19 will only develop mild illness and won’t need any direct care while they are isolating. In this situation, the carer won’t need to enter the room where the family member is isolating at all. Instead, they should interact with the family member from outside the room and leave food outside their door.
  • If your family is sharing a room, the carer should be the only person who goes within one metre of the sick family member — and only when necessary.
  • It’s crucial that both the carer and the family member with COVID-19 wear a surgical mask whenever they interact and perform hand hygiene after every interaction.  
WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region
COVID-19 home care.

3. Mask up correctly

During your family member’s isolation it’s really important that the whole family wears surgical masks correctly to help prevent infection.


When to wear a mask
The family member with COVID-19 should wear a mask:
  • Whenever anyone comes into their room.
  • At all times when outside their room.


The person caring for the family member with COVID-19 should wear a mask:
  • Whenever they provide any care to the sick family member. Including leaving food outside the family member’s door.
  • Whenever they enter the room where the family member is isolating.
  • While they are in any communal spaces in the house shared with the family member (e.g. the toilet, hallway).


The rest of the household (including children) should wear a mask:
  • Before they come into any close contact with the person with COVID-19.
  • While they are in any spaces in the house shared with the family member (e.g. the toilet, hallway).


If you are sharing a room with the family member with COVID-19:
  • Everyone in the room should wear a mask as much as possible.


Some countries in South Asia have different guidance. Check with your local health authority or health worker.

If your child under 5 is required to wear a mask, make sure they are always within a direct line of sight to you, or supervised by an adult.


How to wear masks safely during isolation

Surgical masks can only be used once. This means they must be changed and disposed of safely after every use and when they get soiled or wet.

At the beginning of the isolation period, make sure you have enough surgical masks in the house for every family member to change them when dirty or wet every day for the whole isolation period — and a plan to get more delivered if you run out. Speak to your health worker if you are unsure how many surgical masks you will need.

You also need to make sure the whole family are wearing their masks correctly and that all masks that have been used are disposed of safely and immediately.


Safely putting on your surgical mask:
  • Do not use a mask that has previously been worn.
  • Before touching the mask, clean your hands with soap and water for at least 40 seconds, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Inspect the mask for tears or holes. If it is damaged do not use it.
  • Use the straps to place the mask on your face covering your nose, mouth and chin.
  • Make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
  • Place the straps behind your ears or head.
  • Do not cross the straps over your ears or head, or tie the straps. There have been examples of people doing this to try and make the mask tighter, but instead it can cause gaps at the sides of the mask.
  • Pinch the metal strip so it molds to the shape of your nose.
  • Do not touch the front of the mask while you are wearing it. If you accidentally touch it, clean your hands.


Safely taking off your surgical mask:
  • When you are ready to remove your mask: clean your hands with soap and water for at least 40 seconds, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Remove the straps from behind the head or ears, without touching the front of the mask.
  • As you remove the mask, lean forward and pull the mask away from your face.
  • Discard the mask immediately into a strong garbage bag inside a closed bin.
  • Clean your hands again. 
World Health Organization (WHO)
How to safely wear a surgical (medical) mask.

4. Limit all direct and indirect contact with the sick family member

While your loved one is isolating, they should spend as little time outside of their room as possible.

Limit the number of rooms they share with other family members, the time they spend in there and the spaces they have to pass through to get there.

The family member with COVID-19 should use a separate toilet, bathroom and kitchen from the rest of the household, if possible.


If you have to share a toilet or bathroom:
  • Ventilate the room by opening windows.
  • Spend as little time in the room as possible.
  • Use the room individually. No one in the house should be inside at the same time.
  • Clean the sink, taps and toilet after every use by every person.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 40 seconds after every use.
  • Clean things that the sick person and other people have touched (e.g. door handles, the toilet flush and surfaces) every day.


If you have to share a kitchen:
  • The carer should prepare the meals for the sick family member and take them to the family member’s room for them to eat there, where possible.
  • Avoid using the kitchen at the same time as other people in the household.
  • Ventilate the room by opening windows.
  • Clean the kitchen every day, paying particular attention to things people touch (e.g. taps, fridge, door handles, surfaces, kitchen tops and tables).
  • If this sick person has to use the kitchen, clean all surfaces and things they’ve touched immediately after use.
  • Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 40 seconds after every use. 


Separating physical items

While your family member is isolating they shouldn’t share any physical items with the rest of the household.

They need to be given separate utensils to eat with from the rest of the household. These should also be cleaned separately.

Also, make sure they don’t share any of the following:

  • Toothbrushes
  • Cigarettes
  • Cups
  • Crockery
  • Cutlery
  • Washcloths
  • Bed linen
  • Towels
  • Washcloths
  • Tea towels

Speak to your health worker to get more tailored isolation guidance for your home and family situation.  

5. Clean your home and dispose of waste safely

During your family member’s isolation you will need to clean your home regularly, especially high-risk areas.

As most COVID-19 infections are mild, the sick family member should clean their own room, where possible, to minimize the risk to other family members.

Thorough and regular cleaning, with household detergent containing bleach, is especially important if you have an elderly person, or someone at a high risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, in your household.


How to clean surfaces and what to use

To clean surfaces effectively:

  • Use regular household soap or detergent first.
  • Rinse.
  • Then use a disinfectant containing at least 0.1% bleach (also known as sodium hypochlorite) to wipe surfaces.


What to wear when cleaning

You should wear either utility gloves or disposable gloves, depending on what you have available at home and what you are cleaning.

Utility gloves are usually made of leather, nitrile or heavy latex. They are designed to be strong and long-lasting and provide good protection from chemicals and punctures from sharp objects. They can be worn multiple times if cleaned and disinfected correctly.

Disposable gloves are usually made of thin natural rubber latex. They are designed to be form-fitting, to give the wearer more dexterity when handling smaller objects. They provide excellent barrier protection against blood, saliva, oils and grease, but do not provide adequate protection against punctures. They are widely used in laboratories and healthcare settings and should only be used once. If you have any allergies to latex, talk to a health worker about alternative options. 


Wear utility gloves and a plastic apron:
  • When cleaning the sick family member’s room.
  • When handling the sick family member’s clothing or linen.
  • When cleaning any surfaces the sick family member has touched and rooms that they have been in.
  • If you need to mix bleach solutions.

You can also wear goggles or a face shield, as an extra measure to protect yourself from splashes while cleaning. After use, wash googles and face shields in soap and water and dry thoroughly.


Wear disposable gloves and a plastic apron when:
  • Handling any of the sick family member’s rubbish or tissues.
  • Handling any bodily fluids.


Using gloves and protective clothing safely
  • Wash your hands before putting on and after removing gloves.
  • Don’t touch your face while wearing gloves.
  • Throw away plastic aprons, disposable gloves and other disposable PPE (e.g. apron, mask) after one use.
  • Utility gloves can be used again, if cleaned with soap and water and then decontaminated with bleach.


Cleaning the sick family member’s room

As most COVID-19 infections are mild, the sick family member should clean their own room, where possible, to minimize the risk to other family members.

The surfaces in the room should be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day. Including:
  • Bedside tables
  • Bedframes
  • Furniture
  • TV remote controls

Pay close attention to high-touch areas, such as light switches and door handles.


Disposing of waste from the family member’s room

Your sick family members should have a separate waste bin in their room for their personal waste (e.g. used tissues and masks) with a lid that closes.

Dispose of their personal waste, along with any cleaning cloths and any PPE you have used while caring for them (e.g. disposable gloves) in disposable rubbish bags.

These bags should be placed into another bag, tied securely and put aside for at least 72 hours before being put with your external household waste bin.

Make sure all household waste is stored in a strong and completely closed garbage bag before removing it from your home.

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 40 seconds, after removing any gloves or handling any waste.


Washing the sick family member’s bedding and clothes
  • Clean the family member’s clothes, bedsheets and towels regularly using:
    • Regular laundry soap and water, OR
    • a washing machine. Wash at 60–90 °C with a common household detergent.
  • When handling the sick person’s laundry, hold it away from your body and wear utility gloves.
  • Do not shake dirty laundry, as this could spread the virus through the air.
  • Dry laundry completely before using it again.


Cleaning items that the family member with COVID-19 has used

Utensils (dishes, cups and cutlery) that the sick family member has used need to be cleaned thoroughly after they have been used. You do not need to throw them away.

When the sick family member has finished using their utensils, they should ideally wipe them down themselves, before putting them outside their room.

If utensils cannot be washed inside the room, it’s important that the carer wears utility gloves before handling them.

To clean utensils effectively:

  • Wash them with soap and water.
  • Make sure all items have dried before using them again.
  • Dry thoroughly using a separate tea towel, or in the sun.
  • Ensure other members of the household don’t use them.


Cleaning high-risk areas

Clean and disinfect the highest risk areas of your home at least once a day. This includes:

  • Any shared spaces or rooms.
  • Any frequently touched surfaces or objects e.g. door handles, remote controls.

If you are sharing a bathroom/toilet, it needs to be cleaned after every use, by every person, paying particular attention to surfaces and things people touch - for example, taps and the toilet flush.

Dispose of all waste from high-risk areas in disposable rubbish bags. These bags should be placed into another bag, tied securely and put aside for at least 72 hours before being put with your external household waste bin.


Safely disposing of waste from your home

It’s important that you dispose of all waste from your household while isolating in a safe way.

  • Dispose of all household waste in a strong and completely closed garbage bag before removing it from your home.
  • Make sure the bag is not damaged or won’t get damaged during disposal.
  • Your waste should ideally be collected by the waste service in your municipality.
  • If this service doesn’t exist in your area, you can also bury waste.
  • Burning waste should be a last resort.

Make sure all household waste is stored in a strong and completely closed garbage bag before removing it from your home, according to your local authority’s waste management guidance. 

12-year-old Ashok Thapa studies at home in Nepal.

6. Introduce safety routines for everyone in the household

Everyone in the household should:
  • Wear a surgical mask correctly in the situations described above.
  • Wash their hands with soap and water, for at least 40 seconds, even more than usual, especially:
    1. Before and after preparing food.
    2. Before eating.
    3. After using the toilet, or changing children's diapers.
    4. Whenever hands look dirty.
    5. After any contact with the sick family member, or areas of the house where they have been.
    6. After touching face masks.
  • Dry hands using disposable paper towels or clean cloth towels (don't share cloth towels and replace them every day).
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. If they do not have a tissue, they should cough or sneeze into the crook of their elbow, not into their hand.
  • Treat all waste in the house as infectious material. Used paper towels, tissues and surgical masks should be disposed of immediately into a strong bag, in a bin with a closed lid. Then immediately wash their hands.
  • Avoid touching their faces.

If you have young children in the family, develop a new routine that incorporates these actions. Try to make these routines simple and fun, where you can, to help keep everyone safe and help children feel more in control.

Five steps to wash your hands properly and avoid dangerous diseases.

7. Care safely for the family member with COVID-19

COVID-19 affects different people in different ways and people need different levels of care while recovering. 85% of people get mild illness from the virus and will be able to recover at home with little assistance from their carer.

Talk to your health worker for support and guidance on your loved one’s situation and the best way to care for them.

While your family member is isolating, help them to:
  • Rest
  • Stay well-nourished
  • Stay hydrated


If your family member is too sick or weak to care for themselves and you need to enter their room to care for them, take these steps before you do:
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 40 seconds.
  • Put on your surgical mask correctly, making sure it is covering your nose and mouth.
  • Avoid touching your mask when wearing it.
  • Make sure the sick family member is wearing a surgical mask before you enter the room.


After you have finished caring for the family member:
  • Remove your mask by the straps and dispose of it immediately.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 40 seconds.


While caring for your family member avoid any direct contact with their body fluids (especially those from their mouth) and their stool.

If you need to provide any direct care to your loved one (for example to feed them) or handle bodily fluids (for example when changing soiled sheets or handling tissues), make sure you are wearing disposable gloves and a disposable apron (if available).


Use disposable gloves safely by:
  • Washing your hands before putting on and after removing your gloves.
  • Only using disposable gloves once.
  • Disposing of the gloves in a strong garbage bag that is closed completely after use.


As mentioned, most people will recover from COVID-19 at home without needing any medical help. But some people do develop more severe symptoms that require medical attention (especially those who are older or have pre-existing health conditions).

While your family member is isolating monitor their symptoms every day, paying special attention If they are in a high-risk group.


Seek urgent medical help if they develop any of these symptoms:
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion
  • Trouble waking up
  • Chest pain


Using pulse oximeters

You can also monitor the severity of your loved one’s symptoms through using a pulse oximeter. Pulse oximeters are fingertip devices used to monitor oxygen levels.

Talk to your health worker for more information and guidance on using pulse oximeters.

Care package
Care package provided by the neighbourhood committees to people isolating at home because of COVID 19. The package comprises health and hygiene supplies provided by UNICEF, basic medicines, and nutritious food items. 14 May 2021.

“What medicines or treatments should I give my family member to help them recover from COVID-19 at home?”

Fever, muscle pain and headaches can be treated with paracetamol (always follow the dosage advice from the pharmacy).

A fever can also be soothed with a cold wet cloth on the forehead.

Do not use antibiotics unless prescribed by a medical doctor. This is because antibiotics treat bacterial infections and COVID-19 is a virus. This means antibiotics have no effect in treating COVID-19.

However, if your doctor suspects your loved one might have a bacterial infection on top of COVID-19, they may prescribe antibiotics to treat this additional infection.

“Can I use steroids, herbal remedies and oxygen to treat my family member at home?”

Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) only recommends one steroid — Dexamethasone — to treat COVID-19. However, they only recommend that this drug is used to treat very serious COVID-19 cases and this should be done in a hospital or a medical facility, not at home.

They also currently recommend against using Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir to treat COVID-19. This is because there is currently no evidence that proves there is a benefit to using these drugs to treat COVID-19.

Additionally, there is no evidence that herbal home remedies can treat COVID-19.

WHO also do not recommend giving oxygen to COVID-19 patients at home. Oxygen needs to be administered by a professional to be effective and safe. However, due to the strain on health facilities in South Asia there may situations where health workers prescribe oxygen for people who have been discharged from hospital, to be used at home.

World Health Organization (WHO)
LIVE Q&A on home care for a COVID-19 patient

“How can I protect my family’s mental health during quarantine and isolation?”

An experience with COVID-19 in the family can be a lonely and difficult experience, especially for your loved one with the virus.

It’s normal to feel sad, stressed, scared or angry. You can help protect your family’s mental health during isolation and quarantine by:

  • Staying connected through phone calls, video chats and messaging.
  • Talking about how you are feeling — and really listening.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle — eating properly, sleeping well and exercising regularly.
  • Encouraging yoga and meditation.
  • Looking for online classes or courses that can help you exercise at home.
  • Planning your quarantine in advance and setting goals for what you would like to achieve while at home.
  • Reaching out to friends and family for support in delivering supplies.
  • Avoiding too much news and social media.
  • Cooking.
  • Reading.
  • Watching films.

“My child has COVID-19 and I don't. How best can I care for them?”

Detailed information on caring for children with COVID-19 at home can be found here.

“If everyone in the family has COVID-19, what should we do?”

If your whole family has COVID-19, you need to isolate until you are no longer symptomatic. This is a minimum of 13 days for each person.

During this time:

  • Children can stay with their parents, unless they are too sick to care for them or are hospitalized.
  • The family do not need to stay in separate rooms.
  • The whole family should still follow preventive measures to protect other people.
  • Mothers should continue to breastfeed infant children as much as is possible and feasible.

“When can my family member with COVID-19 stop isolating?”

Your family member needs to isolate at home until they are no longer infectious to other people. The time this takes differs depending on how severe your family member's illness from the virus is.

WHO recommends that:
If your family member had no symptoms but tested positive for COVID-19:

They need to stay in isolation for 10 days after testing positive for the virus.


If your family member tested positive for COVID-19 and had symptoms:
  • They need to stay in isolation for a minimum of 10 days after the symptoms first began.
  • Before they leave isolation they need to have shown no symptoms of the virus for at least 3 days (including fever and coughing).

This is general guidance from the WHO and does differ in different countries. It's important to check with your health worker the guidance for your country and make sure you are following this.

“Someone in the house had COVID-19. When can the rest of the family leave quarantine?”

If a member of the family has COVID-19, the whole household will need to quarantine for 14 days and keep away from the infected family member during this time.

If at any point while quarantining other family members show symptoms of COVID-19, they should get tested.

If at the end of the quarantine period, the other family members have had no contact with the sick family member and have no symptoms, they can end quarantine without taking a test.

Again, these are general guidelines and local guidance across countries does differ. Speak to your health worker about the guidance and when your family can leave quarantine.