The Philippines is now under a state of public health emergency due to reports of local transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). With limited testing kits available, the Department of Health (DOH) directed patients with mild symptoms to self-quarantine at home to prevent overcrowding in hospitals.
COVID-19 can be easily spread through contact with an infected person or their secretions (e.g., cough droplets) and touching contaminated surfaces or objects then touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth, without first practicing proper hand hygiene.
Symptoms of COVID-19 may start to show as early as two days up to two weeks (14 days) after a person is exposed to the virus. It's understandable that some people may find having to home quarantine scary and daunting.
Here, we outlined the DOH’s guidelines on who should be home quarantined and how to make sure other household members will not get infected as well.
Who should be home quarantined
Persons Under Investigation (PUIs) are individuals who have symptoms of COVID-19 (Click here to check your symptoms) and 1) had traveled to or visited countries with issued travel restrictions, as well as areas visited by a confirmed patient, or 2) had exposure or close contact (at least one meter or within close confinement) with a confirmed patient. They should seek hospital admission to manage their symptoms.
Persons Under Monitoring (PUMs) typically do not exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 but had:
- Traveled or visited affected countries and areas
- Traveled or visited affected countries and areas and had exposure or close contact close with confirmed patients
- Had exposure or close contact with a confirmed patient even without any travel history to affected countries or areas
If you need to be home quarantined, coordinate with your local government’s Epidemiologic Surveillance Unit to inform them about your “logistical, administrative, and clinical parameters.” Inform them where you’ve been, what you have been up to, and your health situation, especially if you develop symptoms, so the authorities can refer you for consultation or hospital admission. PUMs should not leave their isolation room and their house for 14 days.
People who have signs and symptoms of respiratory illness but have 1) no travel history to affected countries or areas, or 2) exposure or close contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients, are less likely to be infected. They should continue to monitor their symptoms, practice preventive measures, and consult their doctor if their condition becomes worse.
How to home quarantine effectively
Ideally, PUMs who need to be home quarantined should be confined and isolated in a well-ventilated room with its own toilet and bathroom. The DOH encourages PUMs to clean and disinfect surfaces they’ve touched daily and frequently with a household disinfectant or diluted bleach solution. (Click here for the list of products you can use.)
The PUM's utensils, dinnerware, glassware, and other personal hygiene essentials such as toothbrushes and bath towels should be stored separately, and must not be shared with other household members. The PUM may reuse these items after they have been cleaned.
Only one person should be assigned to care for the PUM. As much as possible, the caretaker should refrain from entering the isolation room. They are not required to wear a mask, but should always wear disposable gloves when handling anything that the PUM touches; for example, the meal trays left at or near the door of the PUM's isolation room.
Clothes, bedclothes, and towels of the PUM should be cleaned with regular laundry soap or machine-washed at 60 to 90 degrees Celsius and sun-dried. The DOH stressed not to “shake soiled laundry.” When cleaning or handling surfaces the PUM had contact with, always wear disposable gloves.
After every close contact with the PUM or after handling anything they touched, the caretaker should practice proper handwashing with soap and water, or rubbing the hands with at least 70% alcohol or hand sanitizer.
What to do if the PUM does not have their own room at home
If the PUM does not have their own room with a toilet and bath, or if they need to move around the house and interact with other members of the household, the PUM should wear a mask that fully covers their nose, mouth, and chin to prevent them from possibly infecting others and contaminating household surfaces. The DOH advises that shared bathrooms and toilets should be disinfected once daily.
The PUM should practice proper mask use. Change and properly dispose of a mask after eight hours or every time is it gets wet with secretions. Do not touch the inside of the mask and practice hand hygiene after disposing of it. Make sure to also designate one trashcan for used masks, gloves, and other trash handled by PUMs.
When handwashing, using disposable paper towels for drying the hands is ideal. If not available, use dedicated cloth towels and replace them once they’re damp or wet. If soap and water are not available, use 70% alcohol or hand sanitizer.
Other household members should maintain at least one meter distance with the PUM. They must practice preventive measures to prevent infection. Practice hand hygiene before and after preparing food, before eating, after using the toilet, and whenever hands look dirty. They should also practice proper cough etiquette, and make an effort to strengthen their immune system through daily vitamin intake.