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Tips on living in a shared space, plus how to cope if someone at home does get COVID.

It’s nice to have some company during the pandemic, whether you’re living in an apartment with friends, a dorm at school or splitting your time between households — but make sure to do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19.

If your housemates aren’t being safe or if someone you live with is diagnosed with COVID-19, you may be wondering what to do next. Courtney Mackrell, a certified registered nurse practitioner (CRNP) at Geisinger, offers guidance.

How to be safe in a shared living situation

Being safe in a dorm or apartment — or when separate households are brought together (such as visiting two parents’ homes or co-parenting with someone in a different household) — starts by following basic COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“By practicing common precautions, you can help lessen your chances of getting sick with COVID-19,” explains Ms. Mackrell.

To keep safe in a shared living situation, follow these best practices:

  • Keep your hands clean: Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds. You can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wipes with at least 60% alcohol when soap and water aren’t readily available.
  • Wear your mask: Your mask, when worn correctly — over your mouth and nose — helps reduce the spread of COVID-19 by protecting both yourself and others. But they work best if everyone wears them. Do your part by grabbing yours whenever you leave the house.
  • Keep your distance: It’s still important to practice social distancing. Sticking close to home is safest, but when you’re walking through a grocery store or another public area, stay at least 6 feet away from others.

What to do if someone you live with isn’t being safe

What if those you live with don’t take COVID-19 seriously or aren’t practicing preventive measures to keep others — and themselves — safe?

“It’s important to focus on what you can control,” says Ms. Mackrell. “While you can’t control others’ actions, you can practice safety measures and disinfect high-touch areas of your home on a regular basis, for example.”

You can also rely on highly trusted sources, like Geisinger’s Coronavirus Resource Center, for sharing information with your family or friends.

“Educating yourself on the facts is important so you can share them with those who aren’t taking the pandemic as seriously,” says Ms. Mackrell. “You can reference this trusted information when talking with those you live with.”

Try not to be combative. Rather than starting an argument, focus on sharing your concerns and encouraging your housemates to think about the greater good.

“The most important thing is to listen to the other person’s side and share your concerns using a calm tone,” adds Ms. Mackrell. “And recognize when it’s time to move on in the conversation.”

Thanking them for taking the time to talk with you and listen to your concerns can’t hurt either, she says. Remember, no matter what actions others take, you can still take steps to keep yourself and others safe.

How to safely self-isolate if a roommate has COVID-19

Despite your best efforts to keep yourself and your roommates or family safe, someone at home may still get sick. And if that happens, it’s important for everyone you live with to stay home.

Some people who have COVID-19 never show any symptoms. If one person at home has the virus, it’s possible that others who live there do also — even if they don’t have symptoms.

“If someone you live with is infected with COVID-19, they should stay secluded and away from others in their household to prevent the virus from spreading,” explains Ms. Mackrell. “And you should also self-quarantine (stay home and avoid going out in public) whether or not you have any symptoms.”

In a shared-housing situation, self-isolation can feel difficult, but it’s not impossible.

Here’s what to do:

Discourage unnecessary visitors

“Start by prohibiting people who don’t live with you to visit if someone in your home is sick,” says Ms. Mackrell. “Let friends and roommates know that you’d rather not have visitors so that the person who is sick doesn’t spread the virus.”

Roommates, or anyone else delivering necessities, should avoid coming into physical contact with anyone in the house when someone is sick. Have them leave groceries, takeout or personal items outside the front door.

“If someone absolutely needs to enter your home, they should avoid touching their face, nose or mouth, and wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water,” says Ms. Mackrell. “For extra protection, make sure everyone is wearing a facemask when in shared spaces.”

Avoid sharing rooms and household items

Don’t share a room with someone who is sick. And if possible, the sick person should have their own designated bathroom.

If having separate rooms or bathrooms isn’t feasible, be sure to disinfect high-touch surfaces often throughout the day. The goal is to avoid surfaces the virus may have been in contact with.

It may be difficult to completely self-isolate, but anyone who is sick should keep to one designated room as much as possible.

“Avoid sharing household objects like plates, utensils, towels, cups, dishes and bedding,” says Ms. Mackrell. Always maintain a distance from those who are sick until 7 days after symptoms first appeared, or 3 days since a fever has ended. “But remember that not everyone has a fever if they have COVID-19. If you’re feeling sick, it’s best to isolate from others for 10 days and until you haven’t had symptoms for at least 24 hours.”

By taking the right steps and having important conversations with the people you live with, you can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and stay as healthy as possible.

Next steps:

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