Credit: PEXELS

CHICAGO — Health care workers across the country are on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis. As they ration masks and urge the public to stay home, they are also jumping through hoops at home to protect their families when they come home for the day.

Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

So it’s important for healthy people who need to leave the house for their jobs to help protect any at risk family members or roommates who are sheltering in place at home.

Nurse Miriam Ramirez has worked in Chicago for almost 20 years at places like Mount Sinai Hospital and Stroger Hospital of Cook County, in addition to teaching nursing at City Colleges of Chicago.

“When I first started nursing, I used to work in a pediatric intensive care unit. There were often pathogens in that unit from the patients we were treating that are much harder to disinfect against than this virus. That’s why medical professionals take these precautions, we don’t want to bring something home with us to our families,” Ramirez said. 

Here are some ways to protect family members if you’ve had to work in recent days:

  • Put a clothes hamper lined with a garbage bag just inside the home’s entrance. Clothes worn outside which may have come in contact with the coronavirus should be placed inside the garbage bag. Throw them directly in the wash (on hot or warm) if you can.
  • Shoes can be placed in another garbage bag or left outside the home if possible. 
  • Clean keys, cell phones and other items you’ve been carrying with disinfecting wipes.
  • Door handles and light switches near the entrance should also be disinfected. 
  • Shower immediately upon returning home from work

“I’m really traveling light right now,” Ramirez said. “I’m not wearing jewelry. I’m minimizing the amount of stuff I have with me so I don’t have to disinfect it when I get home. I have my basic necessities with me and I wear clothes that I can throw in the wash when I come home. Nothing that needs dry cleaning.”

She said setting aside some space near your home’s entrance is vital.

“I essentially set up my decontamination area by the entrance and tell my kids I can’t talk until I’m done showering. Once I do that then I feel safe enough to resume contact with my family.” 

Ramirez recommends anyone working outside the home right now use a thermometer to take their temperature twice a day — once in the morning before they go to work and again once they come home for the day — in order to monitor for any slight fevers. 

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

Before the spread of COVID-19, Ramirez had used these same precautions during the H1N1 influenza pandemic from 2009. 

“But the most important and most basic thing someone can do to help stop the spread of COVID-19 is washing hands and staying at home right now,” she said. 

Masks are badly needed by first responders and medical workers, and should not be used if possible to free up the supply.

Healthy people using masks and gloves may also feel a false sense of security, which may lead people to take risks which increases their chance of exposure to the virus, Ramirez said.

“For someone living with someone immunocompromised or elderly, anyone at risk to this virus, please follow these additional precautions. But for everyone else, it’s much more important to wash your hands, don’t touch your face and to stay home,” Ramirez said. “If you’re not feeling good please call your doctor.”

How To Protect Yourself

The CDC only recommends those who are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.