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CDC coronavirus update: When and why you need to wear a face mask at home

CDC coronavirus update: When and why you need to wear a face mask at home
(Image credit: Getty)

Adding more fuel to the pro-mask argument, the CDC has released new data showing how easily the novel coronavirus spreads indoors, and why people with coronavirus symptoms as well as those they live with should wear face masks at home. The CDC-supported study, carried out by researchers at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, found that over half of people living with a person infected with COVID-19 then also caught the virus.

According to the study, the spread of the virus between people in the same household occurs soon after the onset of illness. As a result, for people living with an infected person, the CDC recommends following the same measures indoors as we use when meeting with people outside our household. This includes wearing face masks in shared rooms, maintaining social distancing, and frequent hand washing to help slow the spread. 

This summer, the World Health Organization issued new face mask guidance, recommending medical masks for people infected with COVID or for those living with someone who had the virus, as well as for over 60s living in areas with active virus transmission. Cloth face coverings remain suitable for use in general settings where the virus isn’t active.

This new CDC-supported study, which looked at infection rates inside the household, discovered that:

  • 53% of participants who lived with a person infected with COVID-19 became infected themselves within a week.
  • 75% of secondary household infections happened within five days of onset of illness in the index patient (original patient).
  • 69% of respondents reported spending more than four hours in the same room with one or more household members the day before they fell ill. 
  • 40% of these patients reported sleeping in the same room as someone else.
  • Researchers observed ‘substantial transmission’ whether the original patient was a child or adult, showing that children are also key players in the spread of infection.

CDC coronavirus update: When and why you need to wear a face mask at home

(Image credit: Getty)

This 53% infection rate is higher than estimated by previous studies such as the study on household transmission in China, published in the BMJ Global Health journal, which found a 23% infection rate within the home.

In light of the new findings, authors of the new COVID study suggest that: ‘Persons should self-isolate immediately at the onset of COVID-like symptoms, at the time of testing as a result of a high risk exposure, or at time of a positive test result, whichever comes first. All household members, including the index case [original patient], should wear masks within shared spaces in the household.’

The most common coronavirus symptoms include a new and persistent cough, general fatigue, a fever, which can be monitored with a digital thermometer, and a loss of smell and taste. 

Origins of the new COVID-19 infections at home study

The CDC-supported study was carried out by a team of medical experts from the  Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, who studied households based in Nashville, Tennessee, and Marshfield, from April through September. Participants submitted either nasal swabs and saliva samples (or both) each day for 14 days, in addition to completing a symptoms diary.

"An important finding of this study is that fewer than one half of household members with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections reported symptoms at the time infection was first detected," the researchers said in the report. "Many reported no symptoms throughout seven days of follow-up, underscoring the potential for transmission from asymptomatic secondary contacts and the importance of quarantine."

CDC coronavirus update: When and why you need to wear a face mask at home

(Image credit: Getty)

How to protect yourself if you live with a COVID sufferer

While these are higher rates of infection at home than previously thought, it makes sense as we naturally let our guard down when caring for those we live with. But the researchers warn that, “Because prompt isolation of persons with COVID-19 can reduce household transmission, persons who suspect they might have COVID-19 should isolate and use a separate bedroom and bathroom if feasible.”

But what if you live in a small home with only one bedroom, or even a studio apartment? Social distancing is difficult in such circumstances, so this is where good face mask use and hand hygiene become even more vital. "All household members, including the index patient, should start wearing a mask in the home, particularly in shared spaces where appropriate distancing is not possible," the researchers say.

Dr Keipp Talbot, one of the study’s lead researchers, told News Channel 5 that, “what we found is COVID spreads very rapidly and very quickly inside a home. Once it’s in your house, it’s very hard to keep from spreading, and you don’t know who in your home will be susceptible, and they’ll need to be hospitalized.”

To help slow the spread of infection when sharing your home with a person infected with COVID-19, health officials now recommend:

  • Wearing a face mask around the infected patient, with them wearing a mask when entering shared spaces too.
  • Maintain proper social distancing where possible.
  • Try to limit the amount of rooms the infected person uses.
  • Give them their own dishes, cutlery, towels and toiletries to use and keep them separate from yours.
  • Frequently wash your hands, and avoid touching your face and eyes while handling objects touched by the infected person.
  • Disinfect ‘hotspot’ surfaces in your home, including door handles and light switches in shared spaces.
  • Regularly clean your bed if the infected person is sleeping in it, as research shows that beds are COVID-19 hotspots.
  • Open windows to encourage fresh airflow, and consider using a HEPA air purifier to help cleanse the air of floating virus particles.

Many Americans are worried about the possible cost of COVID treatment, so if you don’t yet have coverage, take a look at our guide to the best health insurance companies to see how coverage could help you. For help with medicine costs, take a look at our guide to the best Medicare Part D plans.

Claire is Health and Wellness Editor at Top Ten Reviews and covers all aspects of health, wellbeing and personal care. With over 17 years' experience as a qualified journalist, writer and editor, Claire has worked across some of Future's most prestigious, market-leading brands. Due to past struggles with insomnia, she is particularly passionate about the role quality sleep plays in our physical and mental health, and loves helping readers to sleep better. Claire is always keen to hear from brands regarding products and services that can help readers feel healthy, happy and empowered.