Coronavirus

My roommate was exposed to the coronavirus. Do I need to be in quarantine too?

Experts say that if your roommate has been exposed to or has Covid-19, you should self-quarantine under the assumption you have it too. 

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Question:

My roommate was exposed to the coronavirus and is self-quarantining for 14 days. Do I need to quarantine myself too? Our NYC apartment is small and we share a bathroom, which makes things difficult.

Answer:

Experts say that if someone you live with has been exposed to the virus that causes Covid-19, you should be in quarantine too.

At this point you can assume that you have been exposed to the disease—whether or not you or your roommate have symptoms—and now must work to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Roommates are considered to be household members, like a family, and the official guidance given to families to self-quarantine together applies to roommate-households as well, says a spokesperson from the city’s Department of Health.

The difficultly of obtaining a test is driving this cautious approach. 

“If testing was abundantly available, you would go to get tested,” says Philip Alcabes, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at Hunter College. 

But it's still hard to get tested, and the testing centers have their own changing criteria about who has enough priority to get tested. If [you cannot get tested] then it would make sense to self-quarantine for a week to 10 days, unless it turns out that the roommate does not have Covid-19,” Alcabes says.

And if you are ill, there are more specific instructions: Anyone who is sick should stay home for seven days after symptoms started, or three days after your fever stops.


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Most New Yorkers are staying home these days anyway, if they can. And you’re really not missing out—since much of NYC is shut downor deserted, thanks to New Yorkers heeding the advice of the Center for Disease Control and practicing social distancing. 

It can be difficult if you live with roommates who you aren’t very close with in a small NYC apartment. You might even have to step in as a caretaker if your roommate starts showing symptoms—or vice-versa.

Here are some extra precautions to take while you’re stuck inside together. 

Keep your distance 

The city’s DOH and CDC recommends that anyone who is sick isolate themselves from those they live with by having their own bedroom, and bathroom, if possible.

If you have to share a bathroom, there are some precautions to keep in mind. For starters—don’t be in the bathroom at the same time. Whoever is sick should completely clean and disinfect the bathroom after each use. If that’s not possible, the designated caretaker should wait a sufficient amount of time and then proceed to clean and disinfect the bathroom before anyone else uses it. Make sure you wear gloves while cleaning and whenever you're handling clothing, towels, or linens.

 

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If you have to be in the same common area, you should stay at least six feet away from others, which is considered social distancing, and wear a face mask. 

The CDC also recommends that anyone who has tested positive limits their interaction with pets. 

Don’t have visitors, and that goes for a girlfriend or boyfriend who doesn’t live with you, especially if someone in your apartment has the coronavirus. 

Step up your cleaning and disinfecting

The CDC has an online guide on how to effectively clean and disinfect during the pandemic, with extra measures if you live with someone suspected or confirmed to have Covid-19.

In general, you should increase routine cleaning with household cleaners and disinfectants of frequently touched surfaces like tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks. It’s important to remember that cleaners simply remove germs, but do not kill them. Disinfectants use chemicals to kill the germs, which prevents the spread of the virus.  

If you live with someone suspected or confirmed to have the coronavirus, in addition to cleaning frequently touched surfaces, the CDC also recommends daily cleaning of surfaces in your common areas like tables, chairs, and remotes. However, you should reduce how much you clean in the area where your sick roommate or family member is isolated in order to reduce your exposure.

Some experts say the virus can remain stable in the air for hours and live on surfaces for days, so even if you’re staying inside, wash your hands frequently, especially after you cook, eat, or come in contact with pets or those who are positive for Covid-19 and need your assistance. 

And don’t forget to wash or sanitize your hands after coming in from throwing out the garbage or checking the mail because of all the knobs and surfaces you touch in the process.