COVID-19: Caring for Someone Who Is Sick

COVID-19: Caring for Someone Who Is Sick

British Columbia Specific Information

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an illness caused by a coronavirus. COVID-19 has spread worldwide, including to British Columbia, and has been declared a global pandemic. Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to other respiratory illnesses including the flu and common cold. 

To learn more about coronavirus disease (COVID-19), including how to reduce your risk of infection and what to do if you think you have coronavirus disease, and to access coronavirus disease-related resources see our Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) health feature. For additional information on coronavirus disease, visit BC Centre for Disease Control - COVID-19.


Most people who get COVID-19 will recover with time and home care. Here are some things to know if you're caring for someone who's sick.

  • Treat the symptoms.

    Common symptoms include a fever, coughing, and feeling short of breath. Urge the person to get extra rest and drink plenty of fluids to replace fluids lost from fever.

    To reduce a fever, offer acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). It may also help with muscle aches. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

  • Watch for signs that the illness is getting worse.

    The person may need medical care if they're getting sicker (for example, if it's hard to breathe). But call the doctor's office before you go. They can tell you what to do.

    Call 9-1-1 or emergency services if the person has any of these symptoms:

    • Severe trouble breathing or shortness of breath
    • Constant pain or pressure in their chest
    • Confusion, or trouble thinking clearly
    • Pale, grey, or blue-coloured skin or lips

    Some people are more likely to get very sick and need medical care. Call the doctor as soon as symptoms start or the person tests positive for COVID-19. This is especially important if the person you're caring for is not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, is over 65, smokes, or has a serious health problem like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, or an immune system problem. They may need medicine to prevent serious illness.

Protecting yourself

When you're caring for someone with COVID-19, keep the sick person away from others as much as you can. The virus spreads easily from person to person, so take extra care to avoid catching or spreading the infection. Here are some ways to protect yourself and others.

  • Have the person stay in one room.

    If you can, give them their own bathroom to use.

  • Have only one person take care of them.

    Keep other people—and pets—out of the sickroom.

  • Have the person wear a well-fitting mask around other people.

    This includes when anyone is in the room with them or if they leave their room (for example, to go to the bathroom).

  • Don't share personal items.

    These include dishes, cups, towels, and bedding.

  • Wash your hands often and well.

    Use soap and water, and scrub for at least 20 seconds. This is especially important after you've been around the sick person or touched things they've touched. If soap and water aren't handy, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Wear a well-fitting mask when caring for someone who is sick.

    And wear a mask when you're around other people after you've cared for someone who's sick.

  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • Take care with the person's laundry.

    It's okay to wash the sick person's laundry with yours. If you have them, wear disposable gloves when handling their dirty laundry, and wash your hands well after you touch it. Wash items in the warmest water allowed for the fabric type, and dry them completely.

  • Clean high-touch items every day and anytime the sick person touches them.

    These include doorknobs, light switches, toilets, counters, and remote controls. Use a household disinfectant or a homemade bleach solution. (Follow the directions on the label.) If the sick person has their own room, have them disinfect it every day.

  • Avoid having visitors.

    If you have to have visitors, everyone needs to wear a mask and stay at least 2 metres (6 feet) away from you. And keep the visit as short as possible. To help protect family and friends, stay in touch with them only by phone or computer.

  • If you haven't tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 3 months or aren't up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines, you may need to quarantine. This means you need to stay home and away from other people. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or visit your provincial health authority website.


Current as of: April 28, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine