You’re not alone: network of tips and advice for those stuck in COVID isolation

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There are now more than 150,000 active cases of coronavirus in Australia, rising by tens of thousands each day.

Most people who contract COVID-19 are managing it at home. But how do you do that exactly?

Ferdi Hepworth and her daughter Olive in their home in Kingsville. Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Resources abound, from state health departments to the World Health Organisation and lately, increasingly from the faces behind the case numbers, offering practical tips on how best to cope.

Conversations and social media feeds are now peppered with a view from the inside; those who’ve received a positive result and the friends and relatives offering help.

Melbourne woman Ferdi Hepworth just came through a nasty bout of the disease, including having to spend Christmas Day alone.

At one point, she could not get out of bed, was struggling to breathe and had migraines, and aside from official medical advice, she says what comforted her was the love of friends.

They dropped off meals and groceries. They rang to check on her after she was so sick her daughter, Olive, 9, who had mild COVID-19 symptoms, had to stay with Olive’s father for five days.

And now, with active cases in Victoria over 30,000, Ms Hepworth is helping her friends who have the disease, and sharing tips on what helped her, pointing out that with the Health Department under pressure “the more we can all get ourselves in front of it, the better”.

Ms Hepworth is not a medical professional. Her personal list of things to have on hand include:

  • Nuromol and Panadol
  • Enough regular medications to last you through isolation
  • Hydralite tablets
  • Fruit icy poles to help cool the throat
  • Ginger, lemon, and honey for tea
  • Face hydration masks (“don’t laugh they really helped cool down hot eyes and migraine head”.)
  • Rapid antigen tests, if you can find them, for testing household members
  • A packed hospital go-bag including charger, book, change of clothes, etc
  • A plan for childcare/pet care arrangements in case of emergency, and make sure someone has spare keys
  • A list of emergency phone numbers and people to be contacted.

Celebrity chef and columnist Adam Liaw said on Twitter last week that “it’s worth having a family discussion about your plan for if/when someone in your household gets COVID”, then outlined his plan, for followers.

It involved having a thermometer, blood pressure monitor and pulse oximeter at home.

Liaw said there should be “RATs [rapid antigen tests] for all in the house.”

Health advice

Health bodies said that medical aspects like medication and equipment (like an oximeter, which measures blood oxygen levels) should be discussed with your GP or other health professionals.

Narelle Walker, a facilitator for community health service cohealth’s positive pathways program which supports COVID-positive people in Melbourne’s west, warned rapid tests were hard to get hold of and could sometimes provide inconclusive results.

Cohealth’s advice says most people will get mild symptoms like fever, sore throat, coughing and body aches. To manage these symptoms:

  • Take medication like paracetamol, ibuprofen or throat lozenges
  • Drink plenty of water so that your urine is a pale, clear colour
  • Get plenty of rest and avoid strenuous activity while you are unwell.

Cohealth also urges people to take care of their mental health while recovering from COVID-19:

  • Stay connected with friends and family virtually via telephone, social media, or video chat.
  • Keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy foods.
  • Avoid news and social media if it is causing you distress.
  • Seek support if you need it. Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Karen Price said the need for a pulse oximeter should be determined by a health professional.

However Dr Price said “everyone should think about what they’re going to do if they or someone in the household, or all of them, get COVID”, such as how to get food, and who would look after pets.

Dr Price said one issue to think about in advance might be the need to plan for, say, one COVID-positive person needing to isolate from others who were in the house.

However, this may not be possible in households with not enough space or extra facilities. Local public health units might be able to help with providing accommodation.

When to contact your GP

Federal health authorities advise people at home with COVID-19 to ask themselves these questions, three times a day — morning, afternoon and night: Can I get my own food? Can I drink? Can I go to the toilet normally? Can I take my regular medication? If you answer no to any of them, call your GP.

The government’s health direct site says you should also contact your GP if you feel dizzy or lightheaded or your symptoms start to worsen.

What friends can do

Ms Hepworth, 42, who along with Olive has been given the all-clear to stop isolating, but who still gets tired and out of breath walking around the house, feels she can at least help COVID-19 positive people with grassroots advice.

She said during her illness, her friends were “so thoughtful” to her, giving her icy poles that helped cool her throat, and a subscription to audiobooks service Audible “when I was too sick to watch anything”.

She listened to the novel Piranesi and said it soothed her sleep. Another friend sent a playlist of happy songs, which changed the colour of her day.

One friend dropped a home-made vanilla sponge. Another sent freshly barbecued chicken.

Ms Hepworth is now paying it forward, dropping off a box of goodies to a COVID-positive friend, a fellow single mum isolating in Williamstown. “I just knew she was in the same situation that I’d been, stuck at home and not able to go out,” she said.

For others wanting to help friends, she advises: “In the early days, drop off full meals as they probably won’t be well enough to do anything but eat until they get a bit better (eg, no preparation required) but lots of fresh fruit is always good”.

More help

State health department advice on managing COVID-19 in isolation can be found here for:

  • Victorian residents
  • NSW residents
  • Queensland residents

Forms for claiming the pandemic leave disaster payment are available at Services Australia.

With staff writers

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