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Controlling household spread of COVID-19

When someone becomes infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, those who reside in the same home have a strong chance of also becoming infected. New research data shows just how quickly household spread of COVID-19 can occur and reinforces the need to act quickly when someone tests positive or shows symptoms.

COVID-19 is caused by a highly contagious virus that spreads easily from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. These droplets can be spread in a number of ways, including when someone who has been exposed to the virus speaks, coughs or sneezes. This is the reason health officials urge members of the public to wear masks, social distance and use proper hand and cough hygiene.

Although COVID-19 can be contracted anywhere people share space, health experts say transmission of the virus is especially fast and furious among those who live together. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a study of 100 people who tested positive for the virus in Tennessee and Wisconsin between April and September 2020 found that more than half of their household members also became infected, most within five days. 

“Once the virus that causes COVID-19 is introduced into a close setting such as a household, the likelihood of the virus spreading to others is extremely high,” said Deborah L. Goldsmith, M.D., a specialist in infectious disease on the medical staff at Maury Regional Medical Center. “It is important to take immediate steps to reduce exposure and do everything possible to prevent other members of the household from being infected.”

To reduce the spread of COVID-19 in a household, the CDC recommends:

  • An individual who suspects they may have COVID-19 (either exhibiting symptoms or having been in close contact with someone suspected/confirmed to have COVID-19) should immediately seek testing and stay at home, isolating from others in the household to the extent possible until test results are received.
  • The individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should use a separate sleeping area and bathroom if possible.
  • All members of the household, including the person suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, should begin wearing a mask at home, especially in shared spaces where distancing is not possible.
  • Use proper hand hygiene, washing hands before eating or preparing food, after using the restroom and after caring for someone who is sick. Avoid touching your face with hands.
  • Sanitize all surfaces, including frequently touched areas like faucet handles, toilet handles, light switches, countertops and doorknobs.

In addition to protecting those who live within the home, those with a family member who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is displaying symptoms should self-quarantine to the extent possible and certainly stay away from those at higher risk of severe effects of the virus.

“The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within a household is to prevent being exposed through social distancing, wearing a mask and using proper hand hygiene,” said Dr. Goldsmith. “However, if someone in your household does begin exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or is exposed to someone who has the virus, quick action may help to reduce the spread of the virus to other family members.”

In addition to household spread, experts have recently cautioned that being in small group settings, including gatherings of extended family and friends from multiple households, can enhance the risk of spreading COVID-19.  Learn more here.