After two and a half years, we finally had COVID in the house. I’m certainly grateful for science (we’re all fully vaccinated and boosted) because the folks (including me) who were infected had relatively mild cases. And while I knew that at some point we would succumb to COVID, and feel so thankful that it was only a mild inconvenience for those of us who got sick, I was still a little unprepared for the havoc it can wreak on a household (and we are all healthy, young people).
With that in mind, I’m sharing my own learnings from our recent bout with COVID in the house, which I hope help you prepare, or, perhaps feel better if you had the same experience that I did. Keep in mind, I’m a single parent, but I have four older kids (11 to 18), so if you’re partnered, or you have younger kids, not all this may apply.
– This post has been updated for 2023 –
Also: I am not a doctor or a health expert, so nothing here is medical advice nor should be taken as such. This is my own experience as a mom of four kids.
Before I share my tips, I want to add that our experience was pretty typical of what I had been reading from others with the recent variant. I tested positive about 48 hours after exposure (symptomatic); the other folks tested positive the morning after they were symptomatic (the evening before). Everyone who had it, including me, felt pretty ill right away. For us, it wasn’t just like “oh I have a stuffy nose” or “oh my throat is sore,” but rather, “I feel like crap. UGH!” The worst of it was probably Day 2-4 (or so), with chills and aches (and probably a fever).
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To me, this is a no-brainer. Vaccinations protect against serious illness and death, particularly in people with other health complications. I strongly suggest you ensure all family members who are eligible for vaccinations and boosters are up to date on them to protect from the latest variants.
Also, it’s flu season. And RSV season. Get your flu shot!
Stock up on essentials now, when you’re not sick
COVID is not like an impending storm; you don’t know when it might hit, so while you can’t pack your fridge with french toast ingredients (ha), you can make sure you’ve got pantry and household essentials: paper products, tissues (LOTS OF THEM), shelf-stable food items that your kids can make themselves (or you can make quickly without much or any prep), Gatorades, waters (LOTS OF FLUIDS!) that sort of thing.
I’d say, the less work the better. If you’re sick (like I was), you do not want to spend much time in your kitchen, if at all. Yes, you can order items like this from Amazon from your bed, but you’ll be glad that you didn’t have to wait a day or two to get these items. Trust me.
Essentials also mean good masks and rapid COVID tests. Funny thing: All the COVID tests I had originally bought expired (oops), and while they certainly worked (I tested positive the day I had symptoms; my two other family members tested positive the day after), I’d definitely want to make sure my COVID tests were current.
(Update: The FDA has since approved extending expiration dates on home Covid tests. Check here for more info.)
And look, tests are not all created equal. I ordered a bunch off Amazon and I could barely see the darn control line. For us, the Abbott BinaxNow COVID test have been the easiest to use. On/Go COVID tests are a close runner-up, and are much easier to find.
Also, since October of 2022, the FDA authorized health insurance to cover at-home Covid tests. Walk into your pharmacy and pick up a few free!
These Vida masks for kids fit my 11-year-old perfectly
Good masks (aka N95s or KN95s) are a MUST. This variant seems super contagious, and I say this because I was quarantined in my room, save quick trips to get food from my kitchen, and my oldest visited me in my room like 3-4 times, me double-masked and her masked, and she still got it (tested positive a week after I did) so yes. I even had my bedroom window open and an air purifier on with a fan!
Don’t forget OTC meds too. People swear by Mucinex (I like the kids mini melts because the adult stuff makes me anxious). I love Advil Cold and Sinus, Tylenol (which works the best for the aches, in my opinion), sore throat lozenges (for my coughs or my daughter’s sore throats), and melatonin if you need help sleeping, which I did.
And be sure to stock your freezer! This will save you a lot of money if you do get sick because food delivery gets expensive.
Make a quarantine plan ahead of time
I am very fortunate that my kids are tweens and teens, and have their own rooms. Two are in the basement so they don’t even need to come up to my room on the top floor; and of the two kids who are on my floor, one was away the entire time. And, they all pretty much have their own bathrooms. But I recognize not everyone has this kind of setup so it’s good to think through.
I had considered what I might do if my kids did get sick and decided that basically, they would stay in their rooms, and only come out to use the bathroom while masked, then I’d use a combo of Lysol/fan/open window to limit exposures. But, I didn’t really think about me being sick, which definitely complicated matters.
In this case, the kids would have to get their own food — but then how does a sick kid get food from their sick mom? That’s a lot of cross-exposure happening.
My suggestion: Create some kind of “central zone,” which is pass-through only. This is where masks are required, you turn on an air purifier if you have one, and keep windows open on and off.
Whatever you decide, I strongly suggest you make sure your kids understand what the plan is. (At least your older kids.) As a single mom, my healthy kids really had to step it up with chores like dishes and dog walking; if I could do it over, I would have been clearer about these potential scenarios so everyone would have been better prepared.
Download apps to hel p if you’re sick.
Cooking was not an option for me when I was sick, mostly because I didn’t want to expose my other kids by staying in the kitchen longer than a few minutes. Plus, I was beat. Apps can help!
I strongly suggest downloading DoorDash or another food delivery service so you can easily order food, and honestly, I’d stash some money aside for yourself if you can afford to, just in case because it was a lifesaver for me. I also used Instacart to deliver groceries and drug store supplies.
(If you know someone who is sick with COVID now, a really helpful gift is an Instacart or DoorDash gift card. Really, truly the best.)
I’d also suggest using the Teladoc app or a similar service for video visits, just in case you need one. I have used LiveHealth Online for years now; it’s $59 for a visit, or free if you have insurance that they take. It’s super convenient and I’ve never waited longer than 10-15 minutes to see someone. It’s worth getting that set up now, because it does take a bit of time to get it set up. Plus, if you’re like me, you’ll use it way after COVID.
Anti-virals? They’re worth a shot.
I have a medical anxiety, which often manifests as fear of new medicine. So I decided to skip those based on stories of people getting sick from them. But honestly, I really wish I had given them a try because all the research indicate that they can shorten your illness. My 18-year-old, however, was all on board. Except… I couldn’t find the meds anywhere. The pediatrician never even got back to me, and my local drugstore would not prescribe them, , so I used an online service.
She ended up taking Lageverio due to meds she was already on that prevented her from taking Paxlovid, and I was able to get them from CallonDoc.
Lageverio is available for everyone over the age of 12, so if you’re able to get them, I think it’s worth a try. My daughter was fine and only suffered mild stomach issues.
Will I know if they actually helped her, given that some kids have been experiencing milder Covid symptoms? Not sure. But she kicked the virus very quickly and had very mild symptoms, and no side effects from the anti-virals. It seemed like the right choice.
Yes, I was worried about bounceback, but the rates are extremely low.
Think about how you’ll know when you’re ready to come out of quarantine
I’m not going to go through the CDC guidelines here but do please read them!
However I will say that I was testing positive through Day 11, and still symptomatic through Day 14 due to some pre-existing sinus issues. My daughter was totally asymptomatic by Day 5 and took anti-virals, and testing negative around Day 7. She probably would have been fine to be out and about with a good mask after Day 5; no way in heck I would have been.
We all still masked through Day 10, and I did for much longer after that, even after I was testing negative — thanks to my anxious brain plus an impending vacation. We still mask indoors.
All of this is to say: You need to take your quarantine period on a case-by-case basis. Some of you might kick it quickly and be totally fine. Others may take way longer. And there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to the length of symptomatic Covid because that’s just how viruses work. Just follow the guidelines and err on the side of caution to protect the people you love.
Prepare yourself mentally (the best you can)
Admittedly, this was the hardest part for me.
Overall I had it pretty mind — it was a day or two of fevers and chills, then a stuffy nose and a cough. But, when my daughter got sick after a week of me having it, I felt like a failure, and spent way too long trying to figure out what I had done wrong, and then paranoid that everyone else in my home was going to contract Covid too.
Thankfully, I have wonderful friends who were super reassuring (“it’s a virus! it’s super contagious!”), and reminded me that it wasn’t my fault, that I did everything that I could, and that I needed to focus on my health and well-being instead of worrying about all the woulda shoulda couldas.
I also felt guilty doing nothing but bingewatching, but that was all I really had the energy to do, save for the essential work I couldn’t miss. A very loud part of me was like, “you should be working on your next book!” but with the exhaustion and stress of it all, that just wasn’t possible.
It’s not a bad idea to have a few books, game apps, or soft fascination projects ready to go to help keep you busy if you get tired. I also relied heavily on Marco Polos with my friends. And I got super caught up on podcasts. Everyone will have different levels of energy and capacity for focus.
And look: your kitchen will be messy. The dog hair will pile up (ugh). If you have the expectation like I did, that somehow things will just go on as usual and your kids will just magically do all the things you usually do while you’re sick, you will be disappointed and stress out, which is not good for feeling better.
So give yourself some grace, know that you did everything you could, and focus your energy on getting everyone healthy!
Hopefully, my experience will help you prep yourself and your family so you can spend your energy on healing up.