COVID-19 cases in India have continued to grow exponentially, despite many restrictions on people's movements over the three several months. Indeed, the country has leapfrogged some of the worst-hit nations like Spain and the United Kingdom to become the fourth most affected country in the world with over 3.8 lakh cases (as of 19 June).

Compared to the state of affairs when the nationwide lockdown was imposed on 25 March (when the number of cases was around 600), this rise obviously seems phenomenal. Of course, the rise in numbers is partly reflective of improved testing numbers overall. And a few super spreading events in different states have also taken the count up significantly.

Read more: Study examines the relationship between COVID-19 and superspreaders

There have been several arguments about why the disease has continued to spread despite measures like the lockdown. While the government has to still make a decision on moving the status of the spread of the pandemic to level 3 (which refers to community transmission), hospitals and healthcare centres across the country continue to be stretched beyond their capacity to handle the constantly rising infection rates.

Other theories have also pointed to the rising rate of infection among people indoors, which has been highlighted by the number of people getting infected in the same household after one of them tested positive for the novel coronavirus infection. Others yet have also tried to establish the role of asymptomatic individuals who may have helped the spread of the infection without even knowing they were carriers of the disease.

New research published in the scientific journal The Lancet studying the secondary attack rate of the SARS-CoV-2 virus among household and non-household contacts in the city of Guangzhou in China, found that the estimated attack rate of secondary infection was as high as 12.4%. This suggests that the new coronavirus is more transmissible in households as compared to the coronaviruses that caused the SARS and MERS outbreaks in the past. (Older residents—above the age of 60—remained most at risk of getting severely ill if they contracted the infection as compared to the youngest in the age group, i.e. under 20 years.)

For many of us, the questions that arise now are:

  • With cases on the rise, how do we take the best care of ourselves and our loved one?
  • What do we to protect everyone at home from COVID-19 if any one of us gets this respiratory illness? (We know from experience that it is extremely hard to stop a viral infection like the flu or common cold from spreading if even one person in the family gets it.)
  • What do we do to protect our most vulnerable loved ones: parents and grandparents over 60, children under 10 years and dear ones with chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes?

Despite the steadily rising risk of more people becoming infected, there are a few precautions one can take at home to protect themselves and members in their families. Read on to know the 10 most important precautionary steps to take at home.

Read more: How to protect yourself against COVID-19 infection

  1. Steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at home

"Stay home, stay safe" is still an important idea to contain the spread of COVID-19. However, as the number of cases rises in many cities across India, it is important to fortify the home and take extra measures to protect loved ones.

Various studies have shown the COVID-19 infection to be riskier for older people, particularly those above the age of 60, with a significant rise in their risk of fatality from the disease, as they are more likely to develop the severe symptoms of COVID-19. This is also because senior citizens are more likely to be living with underlying conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease or pulmonary diseases. They are also more likely to have an immune system that may not be as robust as younger people.

Social or physical distancing practices have been beneficial in several countries. India's unique problem of a large population, its density and other factors have not been helpful in keeping the infection in control, especially if recent days of large-scale infection rates are anything to go by.

  • Know how the infection spreads: Droplet transmission is the main problem here. Ideally, everyone in the house should wear a face cover at all times. If this is very difficult, then anyone who feels even slightly sick should wear a face cover (whether they have a fever or not).
    Remind everyone in the family to regularly wash their hands with soap and water and wipe their phones and laptops with disinfectant wipes.
    Unpack any supplies you get from the market by carefully washing and storing away each item. Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
    One of the key measures to prevent infection is to follow all safety protocols and guidelines issued by the local authorities and the country’s government strictly.
    Avoid spreading the infection as well as misinformation about it.
    Keep your contacts and social gatherings limited in these times.
  • Isolate the elderly: It is abundantly clear by now that the older generation of people are more at risk of suffering the severe complications of COVID-19, and it is wise to keep senior members in the family isolated from the rest, possibly with a caretaker they can depend on—the elderly should also maintain a safe distance of one meter from their caretaker at all times. They should remain indoors and get their routine checkups from doctors via video conferencing as much as possible. 
  • Set up an isolation room at home: Do not wait for results. If someone in the family is showing symptoms, isolate them already until the results arrive. Many a time, people living in the same family have contracted the infection through just one member, and the cases have multiplied in a household or community as a result.
  • Disinfect your home and frequent touch surfaces: Floors, doorknobs, computers, phones, books, remote controls, or even the flush of the toilet are frequent touch surfaces that can help spread the infection. Routinely clean these surfaces with disinfectants if there are more members in the family using the same facilities. Recent research has also shown that droplets have spread through flushing toilets, and experts have advised to flush the toilets with the lid closed.
    Disinfecting surfaces with 1% sodium hypochlorite can kill the coronavirus—don't be swayed into buying a floor and/or surface cleaner that does not meet this criterion. (Read more: Best disinfectants to kill coronavirus)
  • Place hand sanitizer around the house: If you have domestic help(s) coming over, give them hand sanitizers and masks to use in your home. Provide them with a fresh set when they have used up the existing ones.
  • Get tested: Asymptomatic patients—who don't show any signs of illness—and pre-symptomatic patients who have contracted the infection but don't show signs of it yet can spread the infection without even knowing it. Which is all the more reason to get tested for COVID-19, whenever testing is available in your area. The government has also recently capped the cost of the tests to Rs 2,400 per test.
  • Follow healthy oral and respiratory hygiene: With crowds returning to marketplaces, streets and even public parks, it is important to follow all the preventive measures when outdoors. Wearing masks religiously, washing hands with soap and water or a hand sanitizer, maintaining physical distance with others, covering your mouth while coughing or sneezing—all these measures become all the more important as the disease continues to spread.
  • Avoid crowding: Many of us were used to vegetable vendors and delivery people coming to our homes for a myriad of tasks. While this will slowly (and organically) resume as time passes, we should take care to avoid crowding around the house or gate. (Read more: Hygiene and social distancing tips when going to the market)
  • Monitor your own symptoms: If you have felt a fever, cough or other flu-like symptoms coming on, monitor your symptoms for the next week or two. Take your own temperature, use over the counter medications as advised by authorities and doctors, and keep yourself away from others even at home.
  • Change of behaviour: Practice isolation of those who are sick at home, even if they do not have COVID-19. This can create a new awareness among people living in the same household for future infections and outbreaks.

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