How I Wish I’d Prepared for Catching Covid-19

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On Dec.31, my husband came home with news we’d both been dreading for months: He’d tested positive for Covid-19. A seemingly a run-of-the-mill seasonal cold actually turned out to be the virus. Three days later, a doctor confirmed I too was a New York City Covid statistic. Somehow, even after nine months of the pandemic, we didn’t feel entirely prepared.

Here is what I wish we’d known. 

Be prepared with an at-home Covid kit. Fortunately, my husband and I had relatively mild cases that felt more like head colds in the early days. He briefly ran a fever and neither of us had bad coughs. It wasn’t until day six or seven on our Covid timelines that we lost taste and smell -- that would’ve been our big indicator this was Covid had we not been tested earlier.

I say this because everyone needs to take even basic cold symptoms seriously. It’s critical that you isolate until you can get tested, which means you want a “Covid Kit” of over-the-counter medications prepared at home. This way you don’t have to go to the pharmacy — and risk infecting others — for basics like Tylenol, cough suppressant, cough drops, VapoRub, sinus decongestants and nighttime relief medication. We read labels to see how ingredients interacted with each other, and we kept track of when we took medications with a notepad on the fridge. 

Other things you’ll want in your kit are a thermometer and perhaps an oximeter, rubber or latex gloves, and wipes or spray to disinfect common areas. This is particularly important for those who live in apartment buildings and may still need to go outside (e.g. to let out a dog).

Create a support plan. A lot of families create “disaster plans” laying out a protocol for what to do in an emergency. It’s good to have one outlined in case a family member, especially one you live with, tests positive. If parents are sick but the children remain healthy, discuss a strategy for how to keep them safe and isolated from you.

Realistically, not everyone in the same household can isolate. Like many New Yorkers, we don’t have a second bathroom nor a guest bedroom, so once my husband tested positive it felt like a matter of time for me. But at the very least, everyone can wear masks and gloves in communal spaces at home. You can also make a plan for how to get food dropped off by friends, neighbors or delivery services. You should also keep some canned or dried goods on hand just in case it takes a day or two to sort everything out.

Look for free testing sites. Part of your Covid plan should include knowing exactly where and how you can get tested. Ideally, those who suspect they’re positive should seek out drive-through testing sites to avoid being in enclosed spaces with others. You can also research if your area provides free testing to reduce the potential cost. Be sure to search through government websites to avoid potential scams

By the time I was able to get a testing appointment, I was fairly confident about the outcome. So I wore rubber gloves in addition to my mask when I went to CityMD to get tested. Even for the check-in process, I only used a gloved hand and brought wipes to disinfect things like iPads I had to touch. 

Prepare to negotiate medical bills. Many people will not have the same fairly mild Covid experience that I did and may end up needing hospitalization or additional visits to a doctor. Should you end up with medical bills, it’s important to know you have the power to negotiate. First, you should request an itemized bill to check for possible errors or incorrect medical codes. Second, call the hospital directly and ask about income-based reduction programs. If you’re not eligible, you could ask to set up an installment plan or, if able, see if you can get a discount for paying the lump sum upfront. 

You should also call your doctor’s office within 60 days after your visit to follow up about any bills in order to avoid items being sent to collections and damaging your credit score. 

Don't discount your mental health. This is one of the hardest parts about having Covid-19. The isolation, combined with shame about contracting the illness and fear about who else you could’ve endangered, can be overwhelming. Then there’s the stress that at any point your illness could become worse and put you on a ventilator. For those already prone to anxiety or depression, this can be a dangerous mix. Do not dismiss the need to take your mental health seriously, especially if you live alone.

Make plans to have regular, virtual contact with loved ones. There are also resources out there for affordable teletherapy, such as Open Path Psychotherapy Collective, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine or apps like Talkspace or Betterhelp. Your state may offer options too (New York State has a Covid-19 Emotional Support Helpline).

I’m optimistic that mass vaccination will allow the U.S. to safely re-open and bring us into a new normal. But that could be many more months away. We all still need to be cautious, take cold symptoms seriously and be prepared for what may lie ahead.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Erin Lowry is the author of “Broke Millennial,” “Broke Millennial Takes On Investing” and the forthcoming “Broke Millennial Talks Money: Stories, Scripts and Advice to Navigate Awkward Financial Conversations.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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