With all the restrictions placed on your daily life during the pandemic, it may be tempting to think of home as a safe haven, free of risk. Unfortunately, studies show that letting your guard down at home could lead to viral spread within the household, a fact that could spell disaster for your more vulnerable family members—especially those of advanced age. That's why some experts are recommending that in addition to wearing masks in public, those who live with individuals over the age of 60 should wear them while at home, too. Read on to learn more, and for more up-to-date tips on staying safe from COVID, check out Almost All COVID Transmission Is Happening in These 5 Places, Doctor Says.
According to Deborah Birx, MD, Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, many of us may be falling short of protecting our older family members at home. "If you're in multi-generational households and there's an outbreak in your rural area or in your city, you need to really consider wearing a mask at home," Birx explained in a recent interview with CNN.
This makes sense, given that your odds of contracting COVID come down to a virtual coin flip if someone else in your home has it. One recent study by the CDC found that once one individual in the home is infected, there's a 53 percent infection rate for others in the household. While age was an insignificant factor in whether the virus spread, those over 60 are at a higher risk of severe symptoms and complications. "COVID-19 can spread anywhere, even places where you feel safe, like your home," the agency advised. "If even one person in your household gets COVID-19, it can spread to others in your home."
William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, has also endorsed wearing a mask at home. "The value obviously would be that you are providing additional protection to people of advanced age and people with serious underlying illnesses," Schaffner told Yahoo! News. He further added that home is "where there is much more frequent contact, and closer contact, for prolonged periods of time."
As we head into a challenging winter with a vaccine still months away from general distribution, experts agree that now is a good time to fortify our safety practices. Read on for expert advice on how to take extra precautions at home, and for more on mask safety, check out This Type of Face Mask Isn't Protecting You From COVID, WHO Warns.
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Wearing masks at home can reduce your risk by nearly 80 percent.
One study published in the journal BMJ Global Health analyzed the cases of 460 members of 120 families from Beijing to assess various methods of stopping secondary infections in home settings. They determined that wearing a mask at home is 79 percent effective at stopping coronavirus transmission between family members. And for more on stopping COVID in its tracks, find out When You Should Be Able to Get a COVID Vaccine, According to Dr. Fauci.
You need to be wearing masks before anyone is symptomatic.
Unfortunately, if you wait until someone in your home is showing COVID symptoms, you're likely too late to stop transmission with a mask. Researchers at MIT estimate that the highest risk of COVID transmission occurs between 24 and 48 hours before the average person's first symptoms emerge. And for more on this, check out This Is When Someone Is Most Likely to Give You COVID, Study Shows.
Disinfecting your home can have similarly effective results.
The same BMJ study found that disinfecting household surfaces every day with ethanol or chlorine-based solutions was 77 percent effective at reducing secondary infections at home. Incorporating these into your routine could greatly reduce the risk of serious illness within multi-generational homes. And for more regular coronavirus updates, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Social distancing at home can also help.
The BMJ study found that families who had regular, close daily contact—including eating meals or watching TV together—were 18 times more likely to spread COVID within the home. Being particularly mindful of this and adjusting everyday habits in multi-generational households could help reduce the risk of severe illness among your senior family members. And for more on staying COVID-free, check out If You Have This Common Condition, You Might Be Safe From COVID.