Containing COVID-19 at Home

Over the past year, we have learned that COVID-19 spreads easily within households, possibly making our homes one of the riskiest places. You can even spread the virus without having any symptoms. Now that more contagious variants have been detected in the United States, including one in Washington state, this may be even more true.

For those of us who live with others – whether family or housemates – a positive COVID-19 diagnosis can be scary and overwhelming. How can we protect the people we live with from getting sick, both before and after COVID-19 enters our home, especially if they are at high risk for severe disease?

The good news is there are several actions we can take to protect everyone in our household. Alone, each of these will offer some protection, but they will work best when practiced together and when everybody in the home is in agreement. Have an open and honest conversation with your household to learn about everyone’s comfort levels and how much risk is acceptable to them. Then, decide which steps are feasible for your household to take. Even if you don’t have a positive case of COVID-19 at home, these steps will also protect people living together who leave the house often for work or other reasons.

Wear a mask, especially inside your home. We know that this may seem odd when home is often a place to relax. However, this is the most effective thing to do to prevent spread of COVID-19 within a household. Make sure your mask fits snugly against the side of your face and has at least two layers.

If everyone in the household works from home and never interacts with other people, always wearing a mask may not be necessary. However, if household members often leave the home, it may be a good idea to make at-home mask-wearing a habit – at least at times when housemates may interact, such as watching television or passing each other in the halls.

Wearing masks is one of the most impactful ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The rest of this list is helpful, but not nearly as important as wearing a mask. If you can only do one of these things at home, try to make it this one.

Editorial credit: ronny_y /

At home, keep a distance from others. The person with COVID-19 should avoid interacting with others as much as possible. This might include using different bathrooms or using shared spaces at different times throughout the day. For example, in the kitchen the person with COVID-19 should use the space as necessary and wipe down surfaces or utensils they touched. Before other people in the house use the kitchen, they should wait 15 minutes before entering the kitchen.

This might not be realistic and we recognize that avoiding interaction with friends and family can be isolating. Make sure to take your situation into consideration and do the best you can, while also taking care of your mental and social wellbeing.

Improve ventilation in your home by opening windows or using an air purifier. There are many ways to achieve better airflow in your home that cost little or no money, like these suggestions from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Do not open your doors and windows if it’s unsafe, including if you live next to a freeway with high levels of pollution or if you have young children or pets. Instead, consider using air filtration, including bathroom and stove exhaust fans. Remember that these strategies will work best when used with other practices like wearing a snug mask and correctly washing your hands.

Avoid sharing items with the people you live with. This includes utensils, television remotes, exercise equipment, towels – the list goes on. Labeling or separating utensils, for example, could be a useful way to avoid sharing the same items. If there are not enough of a certain item for each individual to use their own, wash or clean these items after each use. Dishes and utensils can be cleaned either by hand or in a dishwasher. If you are washing by hand, make sure to use hot water and dish soap. The CDC has more information on cleaning and disinfecting.

Wash your hands often with soap and water. Everyone at home should frequently wash their hands to protect themselves and others, not just the person with COVID-19.

Whenever anyone leaves home, remember to wash your hands when you get home and before you touch surfaces that may be touched by more vulnerable household members.

If someone falls ill with COVID-19, these steps will help prevent transmission at home. Each offer some level of protection, but practicing them together is more effective than any of them alone. They also would help prevent the spread of disease if someone is positive for COVID-19 but doesn’t have symptoms. It may be worth deciding as a household which of these steps are do-able at home all or most of the time. Even if you just choose one of these five suggestions, your household will be more protected from COVID-19. Which will you try (we recommend wearing a mask at home!)?

The infographic below summarizes these tips for how to protect households when someone knows they have COVID-19. These actions can also help prevent spread within a household, even if someone doesn’t know they have the disease.

This blog is also available in Spanish.

Originally posted February 11, 2021