In the last couple of weeks, plenty has been written, shared and spoken about what we should be doing to flatten the curve and help stop the spread of COVID-19.
We all know about washing our hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, whilst joyfully singing two choruses of happy birthday (although, this is less advisable when there are little ones around who then get very upset that there is no cake. Try ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen instead). We know to avoid unnecessary travel or social contact, to work from home if we can, avoid mass social gatherings and to self-isolate if we have any symptoms.
Once we’ve got past the confusing direction from governments, the hysteria-induced panic buying, the neurotic-fear inducing social media scrolling and the click-bait headlines from non-trustworthy “news” sources; let’s stop for a minute and think about the bigger picture, about how we can help and support each other, the importance of kindness and compassion in times of crisis and what to do if you are showing symptoms of Coronavirus and need to self-isolate. I’ll cover all of this in this one article.
1. Do I have Coronavirus? How to self-assess according to the UK and AU governments
(Note: All information is correct at the time of publication.)
As of 19 March 2020 in the UK: the National Health Service (NHS) has updated its online survey (https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19) to include additional questions about breathlessness, confusion and existing conditions.
The advice is still to stay at home for at least 7 days if you have either:
- A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
If you have these symptoms and you live with other people, they should also stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home. This applies to everyone, regardless of whether they have travelled abroad.
If you are unsure, head to https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19, and take the step-by-step survey to assess whether you need to call NHS 111 about your symptoms for further medical attention. (Please do not call NHS 111 if your symptoms are mild/manageable with at-home recovery to keep the lines open to deal with the life-threatening cases).
In Australia, the advice is that people with coronavirus may experience:
- Flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and fatigue
- Shortness of breath
The Australian government advise if you are concerned you may have COVID-19, to use this symptom checker on healthdirect. If you want to talk to someone about your symptoms, call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 for advice. If you have a confirmed case, you will need to isolate yourself to prevent it spreading to other people, unless you have severe breathing difficulties, in which case you need to call 000 and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival about your recent travel history.
2. I’ve been told to ‘self-isolate’ – what does that mean?
Think back to a time before Coronavirus. You’re at work and a colleague comes in who is obviously poorly. They are coughing and spluttering all over the place and, although you are concerned for them, you’re also thinking “why have you come in today?! I don’t want to catch whatever you have!” Well, that.
Of course, the most important reason to ‘self-isolate’ when you have symptoms of Coronavirus is that staying home means you are staying away from others and much less likely to pass on the virus.
But, taking away all of the unknowns about Coronavirus and how we transmit it to each other (let’s leave that up to the amazing scientists around the world researching this exact topic right now); it’s important to remember that for the vast majority of us that get the virus, it will just be a mild illness, and one that we can recover from – and tens of thousands have done just that already (globally, the survival rate is currently at 96.6%). All that said, it is a virus and we’re still gonna feel like poop if we get it.
The reason we are told to rest when we are sick is because our bodies are amazing – when we get sick, our immune system kicks into gear to fight off the nasties off for us. But our immune system works best* when we look after it and give it the chance to work – that means staying healthy, eating well, getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
Early indications show the body responds to Coronavirus in a similar way to the flu. If you were to get the flu (which about 5 million of us get each year), the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to:
- Stay at home and rest.
- Avoid close contact with well people in your house so you don’t make them sick too.
- Drink plenty of water and other clear liquids to prevent fluid loss (dehydration).
- Treat fever and cough with medicines you can buy at the store.
- If you get very sick or are pregnant or have a medical condition that puts you at higher risk of flu complications (like asthma…), call your doctor.
Sounds pretty familiar, right? So, it makes sense to follow similar practises if you have mild, flu-like symptoms of coronavirus that don’t require hospitalisation.
*Some people don’t have fully-functioning immune systems, due to illnesses such as Lupus, cancers such as Leukemia, diabetes, malnutrition, and certain genetic disorders. These are called immunocompromised conditions, and mean the people with them have a reduced ability to fight infections and other diseases, hence are more at risk from viruses like Covid-19. Immunity also tends to get weaker with age, which is why countries like the UK have advised the over 70’s to stay home as much as they can during the coronavirus outbreak.
3. What to do if you need to self-isolate because of Coronavirus
If you have symptoms of Coronavirus and you have been told to stay home until you are well by a health professional, OR you have made the responsible decision to self-isolate because you have symptoms of coronavirus, here are some tips on looking after yourself and others during this time:
Follow the advice from the health services and government:
- DO follow government guidelines. Whatever your personal opinion of the pandemic (or indeed of the government!), be a responsible citizen (more on this later in this article) and follow directions from the government, who are consulting with medical experts daily. That means in the UK if you have symptoms of coronavirus, your whole-household must stay home for 14 days (more here); and in Australia current advice is to seek medical attention and then self-isolate for 14 days (more here).
- DO protect the elderly and vulnerable.If you can, move any vulnerable individuals (such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions) out of your home, to stay with friends or family for the duration of the home isolation period. If you cannot move vulnerable people out of your home, stay away from them as much as possible.
- DO ask for help. If you run out of supplies, reach out to your friends, family, employer or local network to help you. Avoid the temptation to ‘nip out to the shops’ during your isolation period, even if you feel well again, as you are putting others at risk. If anyone does drop you off groceries or you order an online shop or takeaway, request that the goods are left on your doorstep for you to collect (many online services are offering this as a standard option now).
- DO keep washing your hands. Regularly for 20 seconds, each time using soap and water, or use hand sanitiser if no soap and water is available.
- DO practise good home hygiene. Your usual disinfectant will be effective at getting rid of the virus on surfaces. Soap and water also works – the soap removes the viral particles that have attached themselves to surfaces – whether it’s your hands, face or countertops – and suspends them in the water, so they can be washed away. Rubbing alcohol products that are at least 70 percent alcohol will kill the coronavirus with less potential for damage to your home, health or the environment than bleach. With all of these products, a good scrub is needed, not just a wipe. Clean frequently-touched surfaces such as door handles, handrails, remote controls and table tops. This is particularly important if you have an older or vulnerable person in the house.
Look after yourself like you would if you had flu.
- DO rest. Like with any viral illness, get yourself to bed, rest, allow your body to fight the illness. Sleep alone if possible and stay at least 2 metres (about 3 steps) away from other people in your home whenever possible.
- DO drink plenty of fluids. We are typically terrible at drinking the recommended daily intake of water (about 2litres) at the best of times, but when you are ill or have a fever, it’s even more important to make sure you are hydrating. Sip water or juice throughout the day, but stay well away from the booze!
- DO wrap up, but not too much. If you have a fever, you’re likely to be very hot, but you might feel very chilly. Make sure you keep warm with a blanket or duvet, but don’t go overboard with the covers or hot water bottles, as you’ll risk increasing your temperature even more.
- DO consider taking paracetamol if you are distressed with a fever (i.e. you have flu-like aches and pains) up to the maximum-daily dosage, as per the instructions on the packet. The key word there is distressed. A fever is the body’s natural response to killing the infection, so don’t dose yourself up unnecessarily.
“Fever helps your body fight infections by stimulating your immune system: your body’s natural defence. By increasing your body’s temperature, a fever makes it harder for the bacteria and viruses that cause infections to survive.” – NHS Inform
4. Don’t forget to practise self-care and look after your mental health
Whether you have symptoms of Coronavirus or not, self-isolation (including working from home), along with the constant barrage of news and social media posts about the pandemic is likely to generate feelings of anxiety and stress. There are some simple steps you can take to make sure you structure your time, which can help you feel more in control:
- DO keep up with your routine, as much as possible. Making a plan for how you will spend each day of your isolation can feel very empowering. Get up at the same time as normal, follow your usual morning routines, and go to bed at your usual time. Or perhaps see this as an opportunity to do things a little differently, in a positive way – you could go to bed earlier than you usually would, or spend more time cooking, reading or learning that language you’ve always wanted to. If you’re well, but working from home, it’s equally important to keep up with your routine. It might be tempting to get up just in time for the start of your work day and spend the whole day in your pyjamas (indeed, do that for the first couple of days, while it’s still a novelty!); but I can tell you as someone who has worked from home for the last three years, that novelty soon wears off and soon enough you just start to feel blue. You’ll be much more productive, and therefore feel more in control, if you get up at the same time that you would if you were going into the office, have a shower, put on some clothes (they don’t have to be what you’d usually wear to work, just make sure they are not your pyjamas!), eat your breakfast, make your coffee and then go and sit at your desk. And BAM! You’re in work mode – here’s to a great day ahead.
- DO stay connected. Get on the blower, mate! If you can, choose video calling over a phone call, as seeing someone else’s face can really make a huge difference when you’re feeling poorly, or lonely, or just a bit down. You don’t HAVE to talk about coronavirus on the call, in fact, you can ask the other person to talk about anything but! This will help you both remember that there are things happening in the world, and in your lives, other than the pandemic. Staying connected with friends and family is beneficial for them too!
- DO do something. Cooking, reading, painting, gardening, writing letters, learning a new language, writing that best-seller you’ve been meaning to get around to, having a sort out of your possessions, doing a house clean, writing in your journal, having a financial spring-clean, give yourself a manicure, learning something new, getting those odd-jobs done, having a digital clear out… keeping yourself and your mind busy will help you feel less anxious. Hobbies and tasks that require you to concentrate solely on one thing are a great way to practice mindfulness.
- DO meditate or take up yoga. There are THOUSANDS of guided meditations on YouTube, or on apps like Calm or Headspace. Practising meditation helps train your mind to not be absorbed by thoughts, to understand that you are not your thoughts. Our monkey minds and lizard brains just love to focus on the drama; meditation can help you let those thoughts go, to find peace within yourself, which in turn will help ease anxiety.
YouTube is also a mecca for at-home yoga practises. Yoga focuses on breathing with movement. Aside from being a practise you have to concentrate on fully (see above), learning yogic breathing is a great way of easing anxiety. Yoga breathing ‘tricks’ the body out of fight, flight or freeze response, so you feel calmer.
- DO stop scrolling. I get it, I do it too. It’s addictive to constantly open those social media and news apps on your phone and scroll through clickbait headline after clickbait headline. There have been more than a BILLION mentions of COVID-19 in the media since it first made the news, and 6.7 million people mentioned it on social media in ONE DAY. Amongst all this, of course there is going to be fake news, conflicting information and scaremongering. Reading too much of this is going to make you feel panicked. Try to limit your scrolling and instead, decide you’re going to watch or listen to the news once or twice a day, or tune in for the daily press conferences with government officials. Hear the updates from the horses mouths, as it were, rather than what’s summarised and dramatised in the media.
- DO get outside. It may not be possible to go out and about as normal, but this does not mean you cannot enjoy some fresh air – providing you keep a safe distance from people. Get out into your garden or balcony if you have one, or open your windows and breathe in the fresh air. If you are well and venturing out for some fresh air, fill up your reusable coffee cup and reusable water bottle at home before you go, so you can maintain control of using your own clean products.
- DO exercise. Multiple studies have shown how important exercise is for our mental health. I’ve already talked about yoga, which is my preferred indoor exercise option. If that’s not your jam, there are tonnes of at-home exercise videos on YouTube. Even doing the housework is good to keep you active – perhaps add an extra lunge or two when you’re vacuuming! Lots of exercise apps are offering discounts right now – why not see if your wishlist exercise programs and apps are running any deals at the moment? What a great time to finally kick-start that home exercise program you’ve always been wanting to try!
- DO eat well. If you’re poorly, you might not feel like eating. But it is vital we give our bodies the right nutrients to feed our immune systems. Plenty of fresh fruit and veg if it’s available to you and if not, consider topping up with a daily multivitamin – these are easy to buy online.
5. How to be a responsible citizen in the age of coronavirus
If you don’t have symptoms of coronavirus, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Every single one of us has a responsibility to look after each other and flatten the curve. Together, we are stronger and together, we can fight this thang…woo! Here are some tips:
- DO act like you’ve already got it. As Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling, Graham Medley succinctly put it “most people have a fear of acquiring the virus… a good way of doing it is imagine you do have the virus, and change your behaviour so you’re not transmitting it. Don’t think about changing your behaviour so you don’t get it, think about changing your behaviour so you don’t give it to somebody else”.
- DO check in on the vulnerable. Do you have an elderly relative or neighbour who might need some supplies delivered? Do you have a friend who is self-isolating and might need some help? Why not wash your hands and pop this postcard into your neighbours’ letterboxes to offer your assistance, if you are well and able. Let’s look after each other and our local communities. It’s not only helpful and kind, but it will give you a sense of purpose in a time of crisis, which is empowering and good for mental health.
- DO practise social distancing. This means, avoid physical contact, no handshakes, stay at least 2 metres (that’s about 3 steps) away from other people even if you don’t have any symptoms (see point 1 above). Work from home if you can. Stay away from vulnerable individuals. This last one is hard if you, like me, have parents in that group. I have dealt with this by committing video calling them every day and even having chats with them from their first floor balcony, while I’m stood on the ground floor front garden. I’ve seen one man visit his elderly father in a care home, having a phone call with him whilst looking at each other through a window! Think outside the box, do not cut yourself or your loved ones off.
- DO be nice to frontline workers. This includes healthcare workers, nurses, doctors, paramedics, shelf-stackers, delivery drivers, checkout assistants, couriers. The people who are basically keeping the country running right now. Say thank you. Gift them some cookies. Be considerate – they are humans too, with families, and are just as at risk as the rest of us to Covid-19.
- DO donate to Food Banks. Food Banks are an essential community service and are anticipating a greater demand as more people are unable to work. More than 30% of the trust’s project managers are 65 or older, which makes them more vulnerable to coronavirus. If you are not in an at-risk group and have time on your hands, consider volunteering. If you can’t volunteer, you can still donate. Check with your local Food Bank to see what they are in need of, because it will vary from day to day.
And finally a reminder, if you have to stay home (self-isolate), this means you:
- DO NOT go to public places such as work, school, shopping centres, childcare or university;
- DO NOT go to the shops – ask someone to get food and other necessities for you and leave them at your front door; and
- DO NOT let visitors in — only people who usually live with you should be in your home.
It’s unclear how long the current pandemic is going to impact our ordinary lives. But while it does, it doesn’t mean we have to feel like we’ve lost control, buy all the loo roll and pasta, or be mean to each other. Now is the time for kindness, community compassion, helping your neighbour and looking after each other. Who knows, we might all just learn some valuable lessons from this pandemic that we can carry forward into our post-coronavirus lives.