Elon Answers: Handling a sick family member

This is part of a series of articles featuring responses by Elon University faculty members to questions about the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) submitted by Alamance County community members.

If one family member gets sick, what should I do with the rest of my family?

If someone in your household gets sick with COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19, isolate the sick person as much as possible. Most people with symptoms can be cared for at home. Consult your doctor to decide whether the sick person needs hospital care or medicine.

If someone needs to be isolated at home, here is what you can do:

  • Set up a separate space for the sick person, such as a bedroom. No one else in the household should use that space while the person is sick.
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    If possible, set up a separate bathroom for the sick person. If a bathroom must be shared, keep disinfectant cleaning products in the bathroom. Wipe down bathroom surfaces every time the sick person uses the bathroom.

  • Don’t share towels with the sick person.
  • The sick person should stay home unless they must see a doctor.
  • If the sick person must come out of the isolation room, they should wear a mask.
  • When you bring food or supplies to the sick person, you should wear a mask. Also wash your hands before and after bringing food or supplies.
  • Disinfect surfaces the sick person touches, such as doorknobs, remote controls, cell phones, faucets, etc.
  • Monitor the sick person for changes in health. Contact a doctor if the person gets sicker.
  • Monitor yourself and other household members for symptoms.

Where can I find unbiased, nonpolitical information about COVID-19?

There are several good options for keeping up with the epidemic. Here are some websites that give information on self-care, and some that provide scientific information to track the epidemic.

For general advice and the current recommendations from state and local officials:

To understand the global pandemic and track what is happening worldwide:

I heard on the news that coronaviruses have been endemic for decades. What does endemic mean?

Endemic means where a disease occurs naturally. A disease can be endemic to a place or to a specific population. For example, Lyme disease is endemic to the northeast area of the United States, but not the west or southwest. It would be very rare for someone to get Lyme disease in those areas of the country.

Coronaviruses are a type of virus named for the crown-shaped spikes on their surface. Seven known coronaviruses can infect humans. Four types are very common around the world and cause the common cold. These four types are endemic to most of the human population. The other three, including the one that causes COVID-19, spilled over to humans from the animal world.

There are many more coronaviruses endemic to animal populations. Those viruses could someday mutate and spill over to humans just like COVID-19. Scientists are studying and tracking those viruses to watch for that possibility, and to be more prepared for the next new disease.

Jen Kimbrough is an assistant professor of Public Health Studies at Elon University. Reach her at jkimbrough@elon.edu.


To submit a question to our team of scientists, visit tinyurl.com/eloncovid19, email us at eloncovid19@gmail.com, or use social media with hashtag #eloncovid19. Answers will be published as available in the Times-News, at www.thetimesnews.com, and on Today at Elon.