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Cocooning during coronavirus: Who needs to do it and what steps should they take?

‘Cocooning’ has now been introduced for those over 70 and people who are extremely vulnerable to coronavirus.

Image: Shutterstock/Halfpoint

Updated Mar 28th 2020, 10:27 AM

AS PART OF further restrictions to stem the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that ‘Cocooning’ will be introduced for those over 70 and people who are extremely vulnerable to the disease. 

The announcement comes after a further 302 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the Republic of Ireland, bringing the total here to 2,121.

But what exactly does this mean for those affected?

According to guidelines published this evening by the HSE, cocooning is intended for use in situations where an extremely medically vulnerable person is living in their own home, with or without additional support or in long-term residential facilities.

It’s essentially a measure to protect people who are over 70 years of age or those who are extremely medically vulnerable by minimising all interaction between them and others.

What does ‘cocooning’ involve?

Essentially, staying at home at all times and avoiding face-to-face contact for two weeks from today. 

This includes:

  • Strictly avoiding contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of Covid-19
  • Do not leave your house and do not attend any gatherings. 
  • Do not go out for shopping and, when arranging food or medication deliveries, these should be left at the door to minimise contact.
  • Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
  • Do use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.
  • Make sure you keep phones and devices charged, and have credit on your phone so that you can stay connected.

Visits are permitted from people who provide essential support to a person cocooning including healthcare and personal support for daily needs. 

Carers and careworkers, however, must stay away if they show any symptoms of Covid-19. 

As is standard in most Irish households right now, people entering must wash their hands for at least 20 seconds after they arrive. 

The HSE also advises a person cocooning to have an alternative list of people who can help them with their care if their primary carer becomes unwell. 

Who needs to cocoon?

The HSE identifies extremely medically vulnerable people as: 

  • People over 70 years of age
  • Solid organ transplant recipients
  • People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
  • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
  • People having immunotherapy
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
  • People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections
  • People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.

The HSE advises that anyone who is unsure whether or not they fall into one of these categories to contact their GP to discuss. 

Cooking, cleaning, bathroom breaks – what if someone else is living with a person cocooning?

Others living with a person cocooning are not required to adopt these measures themselves but should do what they can to support a person cocooning and stringently follow social distsancing measures and reduce their contact outside of the home.

For the person who is cocooning, they should stay away from other people in their home in a well-ventilated room with a window to the outside that you can open.

If a person who is cocooning has go into the same room with other people at home they should try to keep at least 1 metre (3 ft) and where possible 2 metres away from them.

The person cocooning also should clean their hands regularly and practice good respiratory etiquette.

If they can, use a toilet and bathroom that no one else in the house uses. If you can’t have your own toilet and bathroom, the toilet and bathroom you use needs to be kept clean.

Make sure you use separate towels from the other people in your house, both for drying themselves after showering and for hand-hygiene purposes.

And if you share a kitchen with others, avoid using it while they’re there. If you can, you should take your meals back to your room to eat.

If you have one, use a dishwasher to clean and dry the family’s used crockery and cutlery. If that’s not possible then wash them using your usual washing-up liquid and warm water and dry them thoroughly. Do not share cutlery and utensils.

The HSE advises that when using your own utensils, remember to use a separate tea towel for drying these and to clean all surfaces every day with a cleaning product. 

And how does a person cocooning get food and medicine? 

Well, family, friends and neighbours can support a person cocooning once everyone has adhered to the above guidelines. 

If it’s not possible for family and friends to help out, the government is currently putting in place assistance through local authorities to help people who are cocooning with each local authority due to publish contact details in the coming days. 

ALONE is also providing a telephone support line, seven days a week from 8am – 8pm, for all older people and their families.

What about medical appointments? 

The HSE advises everyone cocooning to access medical assistance remotely, wherever possible.

However, if a person has a scheduled hospital or other medical appointment during this period, talk to your GP or specialist to ensure you continue to receive the care you need and determine which of these are absolutely essential.

“It is possible that your hospital may need to cancel or postpone some clinics and appointments. You should contact your hospital or clinic to confirm appointments,” the HSE says. 

What about visitors and those caring for people cocooning? 

Contacting these people to let them know your situation is key. 

It’s important to get in touch with regular family visitors and friends to let them know you are cocooning and that they should not visit you unless they’re providing essential care like washing, dressing or feeding. 

The same advice applies if a person who needs to cocoon is being assisted by a local authority or a care provider. 

If a family member or friends provides essential care then it’s important to speak with them about precautions (outlined above) they can take. 

Informal carers are advised to provide only essential care during this time and to follow hygiene guidelines like washing hands for at least 20 seconds upon arrival, to avoid touching their face and to cover their mouth and nose with a sleeve or tissue when coughing or sneezing. 

If the person providing care is unwell, make alternative arrangements. 

If I am cocooning, how do I look after my mental health? 

The HSE stresses than a person cocooning can still pick up the phone to call a friend or family member during this time and to remain mobile. 

If a person cocooning has a garden or backyard, going out and getting fresh air can help but remember to keep your distance from neighbours. 

Opening the windows and letting in fresh air will also help.

Cooking? Reading? Hobbies? TV? Radio? They’ll all help you through this time and help stave off loneliness and boredom. 

In addition, try eat healthy, balanced meals, drink water and, if you can, exercise regularly and avoid the cigarettes and alcohol. 

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