Message from Berkeley health officer: How to care for a sick family member

City of Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez shares recommendations for how to care for a sick relative.

The city of Berkeley has been sharing public health news and recommendations about COVID-19 on its website. Berkeleyside is reprinting some of these items with permission.

As COVID-19 spreads in the Bay Area, including Berkeley, the City’s health officer urges every household to learn how to take care of someone at home who is ill.

Many people will get mild symptoms, and we need those individuals to stay home entirely. This will slow the spread so hospitals can manage the flow of those with severe COVID-19 illnesses.

We will need the rest of us, including those who are caretakers for the ill, to take steps to also stay home for all but essential activities. This further reduces the spread and tempers what would otherwise be an uncontrollable surge for hospitals.


If you are sick

Call your doctor: If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider for medical advice.

Many, however, will experience mild symptoms. Not everyone needs testing. There is no medicine to cure or vaccine or prevent COVID-19. Follow CDC advice on preventing spread at home and caring for yourself while ill.

  • Stay home except to get health care

When you leave home, you expose others to your illness. Leave only to get medical care, and call your provider before visiting. Take advantage of alternatives to in-person visits. Many providers, including Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, and UC Berkeley University Health Services offer phone consultations, e-visits or online symptom assessment tools.

If possible, walk or drive yourself to your appointment. Avoid public transportation, ride sharing, or taxis to avoid exposing others. Wear a facemask, and stay 6 feet away from other people as much as possible.


  • Stay away from others in your home

While sick, you should stay in one room and use a separate bathroom, if available. COVID-19 is highly contagious and spreads easily between people in close contact. Avoid other members of your household as much as possible. Don’t share personal items, like plates, cups, utensils, towels, or bedding. Wear a mask when you are in a common area.

  • Monitor your symptoms

Use the CDC self-checker, if your provider has not given one for you, to help assess whether you need medical attention. For people with mild symptoms, it is best to stay home rather than risk exposing others by visiting a medical facility. If your symptoms worsen, seek medical advice by phone. Contact your doctor or an urgent care clinic.

People over 60 and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes have the greatest risk of severe complications from COVID-19. Plan ahead talk to your doctor before you get sick. If you are at high risk for serious illness, contact your doctor at the first sign of symptoms.

  • Wash your hands

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Remember to wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, going to the bathroom, and before eating or preparing food.

  • Cover coughs and sneezes

Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough, then immediately throw the tissue away and wash your hands. If a tissue is not available, cough into your elbow. Do not cough into your hands.

Do not leave your house right away once you feel better. You may still be contagious. Continue to isolate yourself until your fever has been gone for at least 72 hours and it has been 7 days since your symptoms first appeared. For more information, see CDC guidance on when to end home isolation.

  • If someone in your home is sick

If you are caring for someone who may be infected, follow CDC guidance for preventing spread within your home.

  • Watch for worsening symptoms

Monitor their condition and look out for emergency warning signs. Seek medical attention immediately (call 911) for:

* trouble breathing
* persistent pain or pressure in chest
* bluish lips or face

  • Clean “high touch” surfaces daily

Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces every day. This includes doorknobs, light switches, faucets, toilets, phones, remote controls, counters, and tabletops. The person who is sick should clean the surfaces in their room. Another member of the household should do the same for surfaces in common areas.

First, clean surfaces with a regular household detergent and water. Then, use an EPA-approved household disinfectant. Make sure to follow the instructions on the label.

  • Practice healthy behaviors

Keep yourself safe by being vigilant about everyday healthy behaviors that prevent the spread of disease. Wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, clean frequently touched surfaces daily, and wash laundry thoroughly. Wear disposable gloves while handling soiled items, and wash your hands immediately after removing gloves.

We all need to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Visit cityofberkeley.info/covid19 for additional information on COVID-19, recommendations from Berkeley Public Health, and changes to City services.