7 lessons on self-isolation from COVID-19 survivors

Vernise Tantuco
7 lessons on self-isolation from COVID-19 survivors
From living with others in small spaces to dealing with mental health problems – here's what these survivors have to say about fighting COVID-19 at home

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to whirl and government isolation centers fill up, Filipinos have been encouraged by the Department of Health (DOH) to quarantine at home, provided certain requirements are met. 

According to the DOH, home quarantine is encouraged only if the patient has his or her own room and toilet, does not live with elderly persons, and is regularly monitored by their Barangay Health Emergency Response Team. The DOH and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also provided guidelines on how to isolate and quarantine at home. 

However, putting self-isolation into practice may be difficult, depending on each patient’s living situation. (READ: How to take care of mild coronavirus symptoms at home)

To get an idea of what it’s like to live with the disease while living with others, Rappler spoke with 3 COVID-19 survivors about their experiences with self-isolation. Here’s what they advise anyone who might have to deal with the same.

Disinfect what you share

Philip Matel, 23, was confirmed infected in July and recovered in his parents’ house in Metro Manila. Their house is small, he said, and he usually sleeps in the same room with them on the second floor of their house. They share a bathroom on the first floor, which is also where the kitchen and living area are located.

To avoid getting infected, Matel’s parents slept downstairs and let him be isolated in the bedroom. Matel had to inform his parents every time he would go downstairs to use the bathroom so that they could keep their distance. He also disinfected everything – even the door and doorknob – before and after he used the bathroom. 

If a household shares a toilet with a COVID-19 patient, the DOH recommends cleaning the toilet after each use. Frequently touched surfaces should also be disinfected frequently using a solution of 1:100 of bleach containing sodium hypochlorite and water or disinfecting agents containing at least 70% alcohol. 

Both the WHO and the DOH also recommend frequent hand washing with soap for at least 20 seconds at a time before and after preparing food, before eating, after using the toilet, and whenever hands look dirty. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol can be used if soap and water aren’t available.

Communication is key

It was important for Matel to be in constant communication with his parents to coordinate their movement within the house.

It’s also important, said Danielle*, 32, to communicate with your doctor regularly. Danielle tested COVID-19 positive around the time Luzon was placed under “enhanced community quarantine” in mid-March. At the time, doctors didn’t know a lot about the disease, so she spoke to her doctor on the phone every day to discuss every symptom and health marker that they were monitoring. 

“The better you can paint a picture of your current situation to a doctor via teleconsulting, the better it is for you,” Danielle said.

Have a pulse oximeter handy

Aside from a thermometer to monitor body temperature, both Danielle and Matel said that a pulse oximeter is a useful tool to have when battling COVID-19 at home. 

A pulse oximeter is a clip-like device that measures the oxygen level or oxygen saturation in the blood. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, pulse oximetry is used to check the health of people with conditions like heart attack, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, anemia, lung cancer, asthma, and pneumonia.

According to Matel, his doctor advised him to go to the hospital only when his oxygen level dipped below a certain number. He monitored his oxygen level through a pulse oximeter on his phone, but these devices are available in drug stores as well. 

Wear face masks and shields

What do you do when your space is too small for any sort of social distancing? This was the problem Christine Saavedra, 26, and her husband encountered when they discovered she was sick. The couple lives in a condominium unit that’s around 22 square meters, and save for utensils, they had to share everything, even a bed. 

“We don’t exactly have space for an extra bed, we don’t have an extra bathroom. So during the first two weeks, when the symptoms were the worst, we would wear masks at home,” Saavedra said. “Actually, my husband even had to wear a mask while sleeping, [but] I couldn’t sleep with a mask on.” 

Saavedra’s husband tested negative for both a COVID-19 antibody rapid test and a swab test. (READ: FAST FACTS: What’s the difference between PCR, rapid antibody tests?)

Meanwhile, Matel’s parents also tested negative for COVID-19 and he said that it could be because they all consistently wore face masks and face shields at home. “Tinatanggal lang namin ‘pag naliligo or kumakain,” he said. (We only remove them when we take a bath or eat.)

Have a transportation plan

Matel would have asked his parents to drive him to the hospital if his oxygen levels dipped below safe number, while Danielle had her spouse. 

But Saavedra and her spouse don’t own a private car that could take her to the hospital in case of an emergency. She didn’t want to put others in danger either by taking public transportation. “We were in a very difficult situation where we couldn’t go to a hospital even if we needed to.” 

Their contingency plan, she said, was to walk to one of the clinics near their home if she was having too much difficulty, but she didn’t reach a point where it was necessary.

Stock up on supplies

For all 3 COVID-19 survivors, it was imperative for them to stock up on groceries because they knew going to supermarkets and even deliveries would put others at risk. 

Both Danielle and Saavedra bought two weeks’ worth of groceries at the beginning of their isolation. Whenever they had necessary deliveries, their spouses would be the ones to pick up the packages at the lobby of their condominiums. 

Matel’s parents bought groceries for their household on the day he took his swab test because they were anticipating a positive result. He added that many people offered to buy groceries for them as well. 

The Australian Department of Health recommends asking family or friends to leave food or medicine at the door, arranging for a food delivery service, and arranging for a pharmacy to have your medicine delivered to your house. 

Care for your mental health

When asked for advice for people who are trying to recover from COVID-19, Danielle said it would be best for them to talk to people. 

Because Danielle got the disease early on, she was concerned about the stigma that came with having it and the possibility of having infected her senior citizen dad and her spouse. “The fact that I didn’t tell anybody, I did get depressed for a while,” she said.

For Saavedra, it was discouraging not to be able to taste or smell anything, which is one of the symptoms of the disease listed by the WHO. “It helps to imagine tasting what you’re eating and looking forward to eating something nice once your smell and taste are back,” she said. 

Support from others also helped her through her ordeal, said Saavedra: “Having lots of people pray for me helped a lot mentally.” – with reports from Pia Rodrigo/

*Name has been changed to protect the individual’s privacy

Vernise Tantuco

Vernise Tantuco is on Rappler's Research Team, fact checking suspicious claims, wrangling data, and telling stories that need to be heard.