29 May 2020
As the pandemic spreads, planning for the possibility of getting sick is worth taking seriously.
Professor Shabir Moosa, a family physician with the Johannesburg Health District and University of Witwatersrand, says that while about 80% of people will get mild symptoms, it is important to plan in case there is a need for hospitalisation, and especially if one is living alone.
Professor Shahana Rasool, at the Department of Social Work at the University of Johannesburg, says that thinking through the details can be very beneficial if it helps someone feel more prepared in the face of uncertainty. She says: “For some people who want a sense of control, it could actually help, but for others it could increase anxiety.”
“The isolation area is a particular problem,” says Moosa. He recommends that every household designate a room or part of the house where a sick person could stay separated, but acknowledges that this will be very difficult for many South Africans who live in crowded conditions. If this cannot be accommodated, he recommends wearing masks inside the home and moving particularly vulnerable but healthy family members to another household if possible.
For single parents or those living alone, Moosa says there is a vulnerability from that isolation and that support systems matter greatly.
Rasool says, ”it would be really important that there’s someone who has regular contact with the [ill] person who maybe lives alone.” She recommends designating a person for this and asking them to check in once a day or regularly via text or a call.
Rasool says that there should also be someone ”who maybe has a list of things that you have put in place that they are aware of”. This includes having the details of medical schemes or other important documents. The person should know about chronic medication and whether there is a preference for which hospital the ill person would want to go to.
Rasool also advises for those people who live alone to have an extra set of keys available somewhere in case they get sick and are not mobile. This may include speaking to your neighbours about what to do in an emergency situation.
If there are children, the contingency plans should be explained to them, and the person who would take care of them in an emergency should be someone the children trust.
Practical precautions could include making sure that there is some basic medication in the house, such as painkillers, as well as reasonable amounts of non-perishable foods that would lower the need to restock while sick. Moosa says: “Just have a little bit extra in the house assuming that you may be stuck for two weeks, if not a month.”
The key for mild cases is to keep the sick person comfortable and to treat symptoms, but it may be useful to locate or decide on the nearest health facility or health provider in case of a more severe case.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) advises that the primary point of call during the illness is one’s local clinic or general practitioner. The NICD says: “If you have any warning signs, you or a member of your household should call your nearest hospital or emergency services immediately.”
These emergency warning signs include chest pain and coughing up blood, but Moosa advises that there is one key symptom to look out for: “If they have even the inkling of shortness of breath, they should get to the hospital because that can deteriorate very quickly.”
Rasool says that one can prepare for this by keeping a small clothes bag ready in case there is need for hospitalisation.
While there are designated hospitals in each province for managing Covid-19 cases, Gauteng spokesperson for the Department of Health Kwara Kekana says that one can approach any hospital in an emergency, because most of them have dedicated Covid-19 wards. She says, “If they cannot treat you or handle the case you will then be taken to another facility.”
Moosa says this may also be a time to think about estate planning and drawing up a will.