Under the red traffic light system, it’s a good idea to prepare your home for the possibility that someone you live with may contract the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron.
If you do test positive, you will have to isolate for at least 14 days in your home, or other suitable accommodation.
Household members of anyone who is infected will need to remain in isolation for at least 10 days after the positive case has been released from isolation.
Omicron can be in your system for a while before symptoms appear, and it’s unclear how infectious you might be during that time, so having a plan in place before you need it can help make your home as safe and comfortable as possible for everyone living in it.
* Covid-19: Travel under the red light setting
* What being prepared for omicron means for your family at home and school
* Covid-19: Vigilance urged as community Omicron case confirmed in Auckland
* What to have in your at home Covid-19 medical kit
“Think about the logistics for the whole whānau,” says Immunisation Advisory Centre professor and GP Nikki Turner. “It’s not just about you, but how would other family members manage?”
Think about how you could arrange your space. Can you free up a room in your home to isolate if you or someone else becomes ill? Can the Covid-positive person sleep by themselves?
Do you have a sleep out or spare bedroom or study that can be used as an isolation room?
The whole household will need to stay home. Do not go to work, school or public places – even to exercise. If you need food, prescriptions or essential items get friends or family to leave them on your doorstep, or get supplies delivered.
Try to stay 2m apart within the house if you can. “Be diligent about mask-wearing in close environs. Use hand sanitisers and practice good hand-washing,” says Turner.
Know what you need
You don’t need to go overboard, panic-buy or hoard food, medicine or other supplies. But you could prepare a basic family covid kit ahead of time.
The Ministry of Heath (MOH) suggests keeping a reasonable supply of non-perishable food items such as two-minute noodles, canned soup and frozen meals in your freezer or pantry.
A large box of paracetamol should be enough to see you through, you will be able to order more if you need it.
Your basic home medical kit could include paracetamol and Ibuprofen, a thermometer, medical, KN95 or N95 masks, a menthol rub, hand sanitiser, and possibly an oximetre, which monitors your heart and blood oxygen levels.
You can buy a similar kit from most online supermarket or chemist shopping sites.
A group of Australian Covid sufferers combined their experiences to create a spreadsheet of items that helped them get through isolating at home. Their list also included rubbish bags for keeping used tissues and wet wipes separate from other household trash, tissues, nasal spray and cooling packs for alleviating fever.
In terms of cleaning supplies, Health.govt.nz advises using “hypochlorite disinfectants” such as bleach, products that contain more than 70 percent alcohol, or “products that state on the label that they have antiviral activity, meaning they can kill viruses”.
The biggest issue facing people isolating at home with other family members or flatmates is airborne contamination.
“We do know it is a disease that is transmitted through the air via aerosols, so airflow within your house is extremely important,” says aerosol chemist Dr Joel Rindelaub, of Auckland University.
“It’s just so transmissible. If you don’t have proper airflow, there’s a good chance that everyone in the house] is probably going to get it.”
Opening windows and pointing a fan towards the outside could help towards reducing airborne transmission in the rest of the home.
“That will take all the dirty air within that room and suck it outside the house, and keep it away from other rooms. That’s actually going to be pretty effective as far as making sure that the virus doesn’t escape throughout the house,” said Rindelaub.
It’s important that that fan is pointed out the window, instead of in. If the fan is blowing in, you might actually be pushing that air under the door to other parts of the house.
A towel or door snake along the bottom of the door may also help to reduce airflow back into the house.
You can test your home airflow – if someone burns incense in one room, and you can smell that in other parts of the house, then that means there’s airflow out of that room and around the house. “Those smells are aerosols. So that’s a good test to see how effective your ventilation strategy is.”
However, even with the best ventilation, know that Omicron is highly transmissible, so household members will still need to follow all MOH guidelines, and self-isolate.
You don’t necessarily need to spend money on a fancy filter system. There has been some research into the use of HEPA air filters to limit household exposure to virus aerosols, but Rindelaub said it’s not simple.
“These will be helpful, but how helpful depends on the size of the room, humidity and the actual airflow they’re operating at. So it’s a little bit more complex equation.
“Also, air filters might be more difficult to come by here in New Zealand and might be a bit more expensive as well. So I would say the most economic and efficient method would be to have a fan blowing out of a window, if possible.”
Early in the pandemic, there was a lot of concern about transmission through touching infected surfaces, but most transmission is now thought to happen through close contact with an infected person when they cough or sneeze.
There has also been some encouraging research on how long Covid can remain in aerosol form and still be effective, Rindelaub says.
With that said, it’s still worth being mindful of potential spread. The positive person should wear a mask if their leave their room.
“If someone does need to leave the room to use the bathroom, try to time that with other residents in the house to make sure that you aren’t sharing communal spaces at the same time,” says Rindelaub.
”I would recommend if someone uses the bathroom, give it some time to air out, maybe an hour or so, certainly at least 20 minutes.”
Rindelaud advises other household members to avoid the sick room as much as possible.
Perhaps you could prepare any food the isolating person needs for them, and put a small beer fridge with cooling packs, water and cold isotonic drinks near to the positive person’s isolation room, so they don’t need to go further into the house, and others don’t need to enter their room as much.
But if you do need to go in, then wear a mask and gloves, and where possible, have the positive person sit outside for a while before you enter the room.
Adhere to government cleaning guidelines. If someone goes to hospital, the MOH recommends waiting at least 12 hours or overnight before you clean and disinfect surfaces in the areas that the sick person used, such as the bedroom and bathroom.
You can use general supermarket detergent/disinfectant products – clean surfaces with detergent and then use disinfectant. Clean and disinfect highly touched surfaces such as door handles, light switches, computers and tabletops more frequently.
Avoid shaking bed linen and clothing. Using clothing detergent, wash items using the warmest water temperature the clothing and bed linen can withstand, then dry as usual.
If you test positive, you will get instructions and advice directly from a public health official that is specific to your individual situation and your needs.
You will get a care pack with advice on looking after yourself, which may include a pulse oximeter if you need one.
If you have moderate symptoms or are more at risk, you will get a virtual health check, like a phone call, from your health provider every day to check on your progress. If you are at low risk and only have mild symptoms, that will be every second day.
If you need urgent medical help or cannot breathe properly, you should call 111 immediately, and tell them you have Covid-19.