explainer

Someone in your home has tested positive to COVID. Now what?

As COVID case numbers across Australia continue to climb, more and more households are being left to unravel a dilemma: what happens if one or some under your roof are COVID-positive, while others residing in the same space are negative?

While it's common for whole homes to be taken down by the virus, this is the other reality — and it's a tricky one to unpack. 

Watch: "The biggest policy failure of the pandemic so far," explained by an epidemiologist. Post continues after video.


Video via Sunrise.

RELATED: So, you have COVID-19. Here’s exactly what you should do next.

Our social media manager, Lily Allsep, managed to isolate from her COVID-negative partner under the same roof as she recovered from the virus over Christmas via some carefully executed strategies. 

Alternatively, Melbourne influencer Tully Smyth this week decided to expose herself to her COVID-positive partner by bunking down with him, in the hope of getting infected so at least they have it at the same time. 

So, is there a right way to tackle a housemate, partner or family member testing positive while you're still returning negative results?

Here are all your questions, answered. 

If someone I live with has COVID-19, is it inevitable that I will too?

If one person in your home has tested positive to COVID-19, the reality is there is a significant chance that you already have it.

The virus spreads between people through predominately close contact, and as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee explains, "Household or household-like contacts are the key group who should be required to quarantine as these individuals are the most likely to develop disease."

As a close contact it is mandatory that you quarantine in case you do also contract the virus, but it is possible to live in the same house and not contract COVID, particularly if you're double or triple vaccinated. 

As a close-contact, what do I have to do?

Originally, New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Queensland had agreed close contacts and confirmed COVID-19 cases would only need to isolate for seven days, if a rapid antigen test taken on day six was negative. 

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The national approach stated that a close contact meant someone who has spent four hours or more with a confirmed case in a household-like setting. 

South Australia has since backed away from that, with their definition of close-contact reduced to a 15-minute window.

In Western Australia, you still have to isolate for 14 days if you're a close contact.

Listen to the latest episode of The Quicky, discussing predictions for 2022. Post continues after podcast.

How do I stop the spread when we live under the same roof? 

NSW Health advises that if you live with other people, you must keep completely separated from them during your self-isolation period.

This means:

  • Stay and sleep in a separate room.
  • Use a separate bathroom if available, or clean a shared bathroom after use.
  • Do not be in the same room as another person (even if they are also in isolation).
  • Do not share household items including dishes, cups, towels and bedding. After using these items, wash them thoroughly with soap/detergent and water.

In addition to the above, Victoria Health specifies, "People who are household contacts who are also isolating in the house can have contact with each other (but not with you) so long as they don’t have symptoms."

As Lily wrote for Mamamia, at her place this was made easier by having a two-storey apartment. While she stayed downstairs in the home office and spare room, her COVID-negative partner stayed upstairs with the bedroom, kitchen, lounge room and bathroom.

If she needed to go to the bathroom, she did so wearing a mask and would wipe down any surface she touched with disinfectant. She didn't enter the kitchen - her partner did all meal preparation and would leave food for her halfway down their shared stairwell. 

"Getting COVID doesn't have to be inevitable. Follow the health advice - it's there for a reason," Lily wrote. 

"Social distancing, masks and sanitising WORK. Don't be complacent."

What if it's my child that's COVID-positive?

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute says that within households, it appears that children are at low risk of passing on the infection to other members, and in turn at low risk of picking up COVID-19 from adults. 

Designate one adult - ideally one who is not in a high-risk population - to monitor and interact with the sick child.

As Kristin Moffit, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital shared with The Washington Post, if co-sleeping or room-sharing must occur, sleep head to toe if children are old enough or rearrange the furniture to reduce transmission and maintain good ventilation with open windows and fans.

If you're breastfeeding Moffit suggests wearing a mask and carefully washing your chest, nipples and hands with soap and water after every feed.

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Obviously with a young child or baby, staying isolated from them is near-impossible. But you can reduce your risk. 

Why should I bother? Shouldn't I just try to have it at same time as my partner/family/housemate?

While it can be tempting to just "get it over with" in this new reality we're faced with where it feels like getting COVID is inevitable anyway, this is not advised. 

As Dr Yumiko Kadota shared on social media: "If you catch it there's no guarantee you get a mild form of it."

"Catching COVID when it's convenient for your social schedule is really silly and selfish. You can get very sick and end up in ICU. You might have long-term complications i.e, long COVID.

"'I've probably got it anyway' is not a good reason to go over to a COVID-positive person's home." 

Image: Instagram. 

As Dr Kadota further explains, you can't choose which strain of the virus you get, and right now in New South Wales 74 per cent of those in ICU have Delta, not the generally milder Omicron. 

It's not just that you could get very sick, it's that purposefully infecting yourself is burdening an already under pressure health care system. 

"Our healthcare system is not coping with the tsunami of cases we are currently seeing," wrote General Practice Gold Coast Chair Dr Kat McLean on Twitter.

"Stay safe. COVID is not ‘necessary’, nor inevitable."

You can keep up to date with Gemma Bath's articles here, or follow her on Instagram,   @gembath.

Feature image: Getty.