You’re Sick and Live Alone During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Now what?

Apr 23, 2020

There’s a multitude of guides for how families or groups of people can manage everyday life during the COVID-19 pandemic. While it can be hard enough to manage an illness among family and friends, those who live alone and get sick are in a particularly tough spot. Here are some questions you’ve likely pondered during this pandemic.

I heard most people just get mild cases of COVID. How mild is “mild”?

The answer to that question merely depends on the individual. “Most cases of COVID-19 are reportedly “mild,” but that term can be misleading. As the World Health Organization adviser Bruce Aylward clarified last week, a “mild” case of COVID-19 is not necessarily equivalent to a mild cold. Expect it to be much worse: fever and coughing, sometimes pneumonia—anything short of requiring oxygen. “Severe” cases require supplemental oxygen, sometimes via a breathing tube and a ventilator. “Critical” cases involve “respiratory failure or multi-organ failure. The disease can sometimes escalate unexpectedly, and even healthy young patients will need people checking in on them. They may be fine at home initially, but would need to know precisely what to watch out for, and when to seek care.”

I live alone and I’m not feeling well. Is it COVID-19?

According to Dr. Suneet Singh, Director of Clinical Education at Remedy, while there are a lot of different symptoms patients are having that don’t necessarily fit the classic diagnosis, there are a few symptoms to generally watch out for. First among them is a fever, usually 100.4 or over, and any “symptoms of a lower respiratory infection–sharp or burning chest pain when taking a breath, a cough (productive or not) and fevers, chills, sometimes shakes. If it gets bad enough, people tend to get a little short winded.”

With remarkable timing, COVID-19 has arrived smack dab in the middle of seasonal allergies and flu season, both of which can present superficially like COVID-19. So if you’ve got a dry or wet cough and nasal congestion, it might be the usual spring fever. On the other hand, it might not—some COVID-19 patients have also presented with these symptoms as well. Generally, Dr. Singh says, pay special attention to a fever and shortness of breath. People know their bodies better than any healthcare provider can—so if things seem off and wrong, don’t feel constrained by general recommendations. If you have symptoms that are concerning to you, by all means reach out to a healthcare provider to check in.

How do I see a healthcare provider? I can’t go anywhere.

Remedy offers insurance-covered video visits appointments that are often free at the point of care. If you’re self-pay, Remedy still provides video visits at a much more affordable cost than most telehealth services. With an appointment, a provider would be able to help you figure out if you need further testing or, if necessary, to head to the hospital.

I don’t have a primary care physician or insurance. Who am I supposed to contact?

Hospitals often have an ask-a-nurse line for free. These will help direct patients to care options and are a good first place to start. There are also healthcare outfits that work with clinics that provide access to care on a cash-pay basis. Remedy offers care to people without insurance, whether via telemedicine ($49 for self-pay), an outdoor clinic, or same-day house calls in DFW and Austin ($199 for self-pay).

Can I get a test if I’m feeling sick?

While testing capacity is growing, availability is still somewhat limited in the United States. Check to see if drive-thru tests are available—See map of TX locations—and what the requirements are for getting tested. Many test sites are requiring either a doctor’s referral, a referral from the public health department, or for you to be a current patient in the system. Be warned: there is a possibility that you may not get tested despite presenting symptoms. Plan for that eventuality, and if you feel seriously ill, don’t wait for test results to act.

So can I just ride this out?

It depends on how you’re feeling. If you’re having comparatively mild symptoms—a dry cough, a fever that comes and goes—but feel like you can manage it, then treat it like you would another seasonal illness.

  • Monitor your symptoms carefully—If they get worse, call a healthcare provider immediately.
  • Rest as much as possible, and give your body a chance to recover. Drink a lot of water, sports drinks or pedialyte to keep your hydration and electrolytes up.
  • Hot showers or baths—anything that makes steam—can help relieve symptoms of congestion. Ice packs and cold compresses can help bring down fevers: make sure if you go this route that you properly wrap ice so you don’t cause skin damage.
  • In terms of fever reducers, Tylenol is your best bet: there’s some disagreement among experts about whether ibuprofen has adverse effects on COVID-19 patients, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Keep a notepad and pencil by your bed and record the time, amount and type of medicine you’re taking. Also keep a record of symptoms: this will help you when you talk to medical professionals.

I don’t need to go to the hospital, but I need help.

There’s no shame in that. If you can, reach out to friends and family over social media and see if they can drop off groceries outside your door. But whether you’re sick or not, now is also a good time to start engaging in mutual aid—strangers in a community banding together to help each other. There’s a growing number of groups all over the country where you can sign-up to either request or give help to others. Whether that’s delivering groceries, picking up supplies, running errands, or anything else that helps keep at risk people from going outside and getting themselves or others sick. Texas-based mutual aid societies can be found on this list.

Ask people to check in on you regularly when you’re sick, and be honest about your symptoms when you talk to doctors via telemedicine.

So how will I know if I need to go to the hospital?

First, an important note: Hospitals are slammed right now, and are asking many people who doesn’t have an emergency to seek alternative routes to care. However, if you present with serious symptoms, that counts as an emergency—Don’t hold off on going to the hospital.

With that out of the way: The most commonly agreed-upon warning sign is severe shortness of breath, the kind that makes it difficult to carry out everyday activities like climbing stairs, going to the bathroom, or walking across a room. These are signs that your oxygen level is dropping dangerously, and you should get treatment. The CDC also warns of persistent pain or pressure in the chest; confusion delirium or inability to arouse; and bluish lips or face, which are signs of dropping oxygen levels. If you’re suffering any of these symptoms, or a combination of them, get to the nearest hospital immediately.

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