How to Treat COVID-19 At Home

Darcy McConnell, MD
Medically Reviewed
April 9, 2020

While no one is free of the risk of contracting COVID-19, it remains true that most infections are manageable—with as many as 70 percent of cases in the United States being reported as mild or asymptomatic—allowing for most individuals to recover safely in the comfort of their own home.

Treating COVID-19 at home helps to stop further spread, reduces additional overwhelm on the healthcare system, protects people who are at risk of getting seriously ill, and allows people to recover in the place they really want to be: their own bed.

Ensuring you’re prepared to treat at home and have a plan of action in place if you or someone in your household falls ill is crucial to ensure safe and speedy healing. Read along to find out what you should consider before, during, and after home isolation for COVID-19.

How can you prepare for treating COVID-19 at home?

Even if no one in your family is currently sick, creating a plan of how you and your loved ones would care for someone in your home if they did contract COVID-19 is wise.

Preparation Checklist:

  • High risk individuals: Identify members of the household that may be at greater risk including older adults or those with severe chronic conditions.
  • Sick room: Choose a room in your home that would be best for isolation of the sick individual—a space farthest away from others is ideal.
  • Essential products: Purchase household disinfectants, tissues, and cleaning products to have on hand to help prevent illness from spreading in your home. Be mindful not to overbuy essential goods at this time—but get what you need.
  • Fabric masks: Create face coverings or buy non-surgical masks. Leave the N-95’s for the healthcare workers but having the sick individual and caregiver wear a fabric mask will help prevent further spread in your household.
  • Thermometer: Ensure you have a working thermometer to track improvement and resolution of fever, one of the hallmark symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Pulse Oximeter: This painless and noninvasive monitor measures the oxygen levels in your blood—which can be important to track for respiratory illnesses like COVID-19. We recommend a fingertip monitor you can purchase online or at your local pharmacy.
  • Emergency contact: Post the phone number for each family member’s healthcare provider and local emergency room in a communal spot in your home so that everyone knows who to call in case symptoms arise.

What do I do if I start getting symptoms of COVID-19?

If you start feeling sick including classic COVID-19 symptoms of fever, dry cough, or shortness of breath, immediately self-isolate in your designated sick room and contact your healthcare provider to alert them of your illness. Once sick, do not leave your home unless you are in need of seeking medical care.

How to treat:

We’ve likely all nursed ourselves back to health when we’ve previously suffered from a bad cold or flu. When it comes to treating a mild case of COVID-19, the way in which you’d support recovery looks about the same. Without currently approved medications for treatment outside of the hospital setting, treating COVID-19 at home looks like this:

Fluids: When you’re sick, it’s easy to get dehydrated from both the body’s uptick in mucus production and the dry out effects that accompany fever. To help replenish, drink plenty of fluids including water, herbal teas, and bone broths. Aim for at least 2.5 to 3.5 liters per day. Steer clear of sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, and caffeine as they can suppress immune function and further tax the body .

Whole foods: Eat whole foods as much as possible. Focus on consuming ample vegetables, fruit, well-sourced animal and plant based proteins, and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocado, and olives. Specifically, anti-inflammatory fats from omega 3 rich foods like salmon, walnuts, chia, and flax seeds in addition to vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc rich foods such as citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, bell peppers, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, and almonds can help support the immune system .

Do your best to avoid highly processed and packaged foods and limit dairy , refined sugar, and wheat as they can exacerbate inflammation . As groceries can be in short supply at this time, opt for frozen or canned foods if fresh options are unavailable with a goal of selecting products with as few preservatives and added chemicals as possible—the fewer ingredients listed, the better.

Rest: Sleep helps you heal. When you sleep , your brain releases hormones that encourage tissue repair and boosts the body’s production of white blood cells—the immune cells responsible for attacking the virus.

Ensure you are getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night and more as needed during the day to support your recovery. Keep in mind that not just any sleep will do—restorative sleep, which means deep quality rest, is key to get the body back into fighting shape. For optimal sleep, ensure your bedroom is dark , quiet , and cool (studies show the ideal temperature for deep sleep is around 65°F).

Gentle movement: While we don’t recommend rigorous exercise or heart-rate raising activity that can put a strain on the heart and lungs while sick, gentle movement in your designated space such as seated stretches, as tolerated, can help to stimulate blood flow —making the body more efficient at mobilizing immune defenses and essential nutrients that help fight infection.

Immune support supplements : High quality, well-sourced nutritional supplements may help reduce the severity of symptoms. Currently, use of certain immune supportive nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin D , and zinc have been deemed safe to add in while sick with a mild case of COVID-19. However, we always recommend getting approval from your Parsley Health doctor or personal healthcare provider regarding an appropriate brand, dosage, and formulation that’s right for you.

Fever-reducing medications: While we don’t recommend regular use of over-the-counter pain relievers, to help manage higher fevers (over about 100°F) that can accompany COVID-19, fever-reducing medications are encouraged to ease symptoms. Due to ongoing controversy surrounding ibuprofen and COVID-19, we recommend sticking to acetaminophen based pain relievers like Tylenol. Limit yourself to the dosage on the bottle and if fever continues to worsen (spiking above 102°F), seek medical care immediately.

If you live alone:

In addition to the above areas to focus on for treatment of COVID-19 at home, if you live alone it’s important to consider a few additional factors to support you on the road to recovery.

No contact deliveries: Since you’ll be relegated to your home, ask a trusted friend or family member to drop off groceries, meals, or supplies at your door as needed. To protect both parties, only retrieve them once they’ve left. If you have no close contacts that live nearby, opt to use grocery delivery services in your area to get the supplies you need and ensure to select the “no contact” drop-off option.

Entertainment: While actively working to support your physical health, it’s important to keep tabs on your mental health too—especially if you’re at home alone. As it can often take about two weeks to recover from COVID-19 , ensure you have ample entertainment options for yourself including games, movies, books, and scheduled check-ins with friends and family via FaceTime or Zoom to make sure you’re still socially connecting while self-isolating.

If you live with others:

Living in a household with many family members or roommates has its own unique set of challenges when it comes to treating COVID-19. Here are some things to consider if you live with others:

Designate a caregiver: To prevent contact with as many people in your home as possible, designate a caregiver that will assist in preparing and delivering meals and supplies to you. If able, try to practice no contact deliveries and have them leave supplies outside your door.

Wear non-surgical protective equipment: Wear a mask or mouth and nose covering and gloves when leaving your room to use the bathroom or if your caregiver comes into your space to drop off food or supplies directly. This will help prevent you from spreading the illness to others in your home. Your caregiver should also wear a mask and gloves when coming into close contact with you and wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with warm water and soap after they leave.

Use a separate bathroom: If your living arrangements allow, use a separate bathroom that is designated just for you while sick. This will help prevent potential spread in areas you frequent outside your room.

Clean high-touch surfaces: Clean surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, phones, toilets, faucets, and sinks with approved disinfectants or soap and water regularly—ideally everyday or after each use.

Do laundry regularly: While surfaces can easily be disinfected, clothing and fabric cannot. Pull out the spare sets of sheet, towels, and pajamas you have and change them everyday. Wash used linens daily if possible or have your caregiver assist if able.

What do I do if someone in my household starts getting symptoms of COVID-19?

It’s important to monitor both your own symptoms and the symptoms of those that live in your household closely. If you notice a housemate getting sick, encourage them to immediately self-isolate.

If someone in your home is at high risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19 , meaning they are an older adult or someone with a serious underlying medical condition such as chronic lung disease, heart disease, or diabetes, they should seek care as soon as symptoms start by contacting their healthcare provider for screening and best next steps.

What do I do if symptoms become more severe?

If your personal symptoms or the symptoms of someone you are caring for worsen such that you notice fever spiking higher than 102°F, difficulty breathing at rest, severe pressure in the chest, become difficult to wake up, or appear to have blue-colored lips or face, seek immediate medical care from your nearest emergency room. Call 911 and notify them you have a suspected case of COVID-19 or have a trusted friend or family member drive you, and to protect yourself and others, wear a mask.

When can I stop home isolation?

If you were not tested for COVID-19, you can leave the home after you’ve been fever-free for at least 72 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medications), other symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath have improved, and it’s been at least one week (7 full days) since the onset of symptoms.

If you were tested, you can end self-isolation when you no longer have a fever (without the use of fever-reducing medications), other symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath have improved, and you received 2 negative tests in a row—24 hours apart.

Ultimately once recovered, keep in mind that while you may be free to leave your room and interact with those in your home safely, continuing to practice social distancing , regular handwashing, and avoiding the sick is of the utmost importance to contain the spread—especially while long-term immune protection for re-infection remains unknown. If interested, look into local healthcare services that are collecting blood from those that have successfully recovered from COVID-19 to help use your antibodies to support those that are currently critically ill.

At Parsley Health, we are actively staying in touch with our members while supporting them in treating mild cases of COVID-19 at home. Our care team is here to support our members through messaging 7 days per week and online visits as needed. If you do need to be seen by a local urgent care or healthcare facility, we can help route you to the right place and be sure to get you proper care if you start experiencing more severe symptoms.

Darcy McConnell, MD

Dr. Darcy McConnell is a board-certified Family Medicine Physician and Functional Medicine Practitioner certified through the Institute for Functional Medicine. She received her medical degree from Stony Brook University School of Medicine and completed her residency at Overlook Hospital in Summit, NJ. After residency, she served as Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Stony Brook, where she taught medical students and residents, and worked at a busy primary care practice. Prior to joining Parsley Health, Dr. McConnell spent four years at a Functional Medicine practice, concentrating on autoimmunity, cardiometabolic disease, gastrointestinal issues, and prevention and wellness.  Dr. McConnell leads the clinician team at Parsley Health.

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