How to protect yourself from COVID-19 (Coronavirus) when you rely on others for care

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With everyone being encouraged to practice self-isolation as a precaution against contracting COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – something that many of us living with chronic illness are experts at – how can you protect yourself when you rely on others outside of your home for your care needs? It’s impossible for us to follow the strict instructions to self-isolate when new people are entering our home each day, so what can we do? 

This is something which has been causing me a lot of anxiety recently and there doesn’t seem to be much official advice around about what we should be doing. So I wanted to share the practices I have put in place to reduce my risks. 

10 Tips to reduce your risks when you rely on carers

Whether you rely on care from an agency, a personal assistant, or family member who does not live with you, it can be worrying when someone from outside your home visits during this self-isolation period. You may feel like you have little control over what they inadvertently bring into your home, and the hygiene practices they adhere to. I receive care from an agency and it seems that absolutely no new practices have been put in place, and no guidance has been given to carers or service users. 

I became very concerned observing my carers: They were not washing their hands, or wearing gloves, an apron or masks. To begin with I felt too embarrassed to tell them to change their practices. I’m afraid my British over-politeness, and my desire not to offend, took over. But now is not a time to be timid or awkward – our lives are at stake. Here is what I have done, and my advice to you if you are in this position:

1. Contact your agency and ask what new practices they have put in place. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.

2. Speak to your carers and let them know exactly what you expect from them, e.g. Washing hands on arrival, wearing gloves and an apron, or a mask – and not entering your home if they experience symptoms.

3. Put up signs in prominent places around your home reminding carers what you expect. This has been especially useful for me and my carers. I have a clear sign on my door so carers know what I expect before they enter my room, and this also means I don’t have to have an awkward conversation with every carer individually. 

4. Put a sign on your front door explaining your situation so ALL visitors, and delivery staff know what is expected of them. Chronically Awesome has created some really useful posters to print out and display at your front door if you are high risk and self-isolating.

5. Provide handwash, paper towels, hand sanitiser and disinfectant spray, and masks if you expect carers to wear them. I know supplies of these items are scarce, but we need to provide them where possible. How can we expect carers to follow strict hygiene practices if we don’t provide the tools? 

6. Explain to your carer that these precautions are to keep them safe too, not just you. If it’s a family member that cares for you, please do not be afraid to discuss these safety procedures with them too, it could keep you both safe. 

7. Consider creating a document or handbook explaining your needs and expectations. This may include precautions like carers leaving their shoes and bags at the front door, and washing their hands regularly. Ask all carers to read and comment that they have understood. Encourage them to ask questions if they have any. 

8. If you are unhappy with the way your agency, carers or personal assistant are handling the situation please don’t be afraid to confront them about this. You have every right to make demands that will lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. 

9. Ask your agency or carer what happens if you become symptomatic, will care still be provided? Also ask what happens if your personal assistant becomes sick, can you get a replacement? What about if your carer is a family member, do you have a back up family member or friend who could help temporarily? 

10. Have an open and honest conversation with your carers about your concerns, and the general situation. Talk to them on an equal level, as you would a friend. Please remember they are carrying out a vital service in an extremely stressful situation. They are human and have families too, and they are probably experiencing the exact same worries as you are – these are uncertain times for everyone. I have become closer to my care workers just by talking honestly with them about the scary situation we all find ourselves in. 

If you don’t feel confident in instructing your carers with regards to extra precautions, Carers UK has published an article giving advice to all carers. Ask your carer to read this advice and comment to say they understand and are happy to comply. 

The UK government has released some advice aimed at those who rely on care. Here is a link to Coronavirus (COVID-19): residential care, supported living and home care guidance. 

Lastly, please tell your care agency or personal assistant if you start to experience symptoms, even if you think it’s just a cold. They have the right to protect themselves, and practice additional precautions if they still intend to visit. It is our responsibility to ensure we do what is in our power to stop the spread of this virus. Stay safe (and wash your hands). Take care x

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