With coronavirus cases exceeding 125,000 as of March 12, 2020, and increasing daily, you may be considering a self-quarantine. Staying home and avoiding contact with others until cases start to decline could help stop the spread of COVID-19, but doing so requires financial preparation for most people.
Making the Decision to Stay Home
Staying at home isn’t possible for everyone, particularly health care workers, some government officials and other people who serve the public. For the rest of us, it’s something to seriously consider in an attempt to stop the spread of the illness and keep vulnerable people safe and healthy.
What Is Self-Isolation or Self-Quarantine?
Self-isolation means staying indoors and away from others after being diagnosed with a contagious disease such as the coronavirus. Self-quarantine is the same thing for people who aren’t sick but may have been exposed to the virus — people who have recently traveled through affected countries, for example. Someone in isolation or quarantine stays home, avoiding social gatherings, public transport and the workplace.
Why Does Quarantine Help?
An increased number of sick people will place extreme stress on the health care system. But if the spread of the virus is slowed, hospitals will be better equipped to handle the situation. Epidemiologists call this “flattening the curve.”
People should stay home for at least 14 days after they have been exposed to the virus because scientists believe that’s how long the symptoms of COVID-19 can take to appear.
Who Should Stay Home?
If you are diagnosed with the coronavirus, CDC advice is clear: If you’re well enough to stay home, self-isolate, and if you need a doctor, tell them you have the virus before seeking care.
For the rest of us, it’s a bit more complicated. As of March 12th, the CDC recommends that people coming from severely affected countries, like Iran, stay home and monitor themselves for symptoms. They also suggest that people at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 stay home during outbreaks in their community.
If you’re not sure what to do, seek guidance from a health care professional. Check if your local government has a coronavirus hotline, or call the CDC at 1(800) 232-4636.
Preparing for Quarantine
In a perfect world, the decision to stay home would be purely medical. In reality, money plays a role. Facing the consequences at work, taking a hit to savings and spending too much money on supplies are just a few concerns that someone considering a quarantine might have. Whether you’ve already made the decision to self-isolate or just want to be ready for the possibility, there are some simple steps you can take to be financially prepared.
If you end up staying home due to the coronavirus, you’ll want to have the supplies you need to live comfortably for 14 days. That means food, water and essential medicine for you and all members of your household.
The phrase to remember when stocking up is “within reason.” Don’t buy every box of pasta or roll of toilet paper on the shelf. In emergency situations, people often overreact by hoarding essentials. Taking more than you need for a few weeks is both socially irresponsible and an unnecessary expense that will bust your budget. Prepare, but don't panic.
When the subject of quarantine comes up, the first question on many people’s minds will be about work: “Will my boss pay for me to stay home?” In the United States, the average worker has just seven days of paid sick leave per year, which is half of the recommended quarantine period.
While we wait for word from the government on emergency sick leave policy, talk to your employer. They may surprise you. Walmart, the United States’ largest private employer, is offering two-weeks of paid sick leave to both full- and part-time employees who are required to quarantine or test positive for the coronavirus. Google is asking most of its workforce to work from home.
Whether your employer supports your self-quarantine plans or not, knowing where you stand can help you plan ahead.
If you can’t work from home but decide to self-quarantine, you may be able to take time away from work unpaid. While the federal government may be working to put some guardrails into place for people who are forced into quarantine or isolation, that may not include people who choose to do so voluntarily.
In the event that you do end up quarantined without pay, now’s a good time to pick up a side hustle. Many common side hustles, like ridesharing and babysitting, are not compatible with self-quarantine. Instead, consider work-from-home gigs. Freelance writing and online English teaching are popular options that don’t require in-person contact.
Unexpected situations such as the coronavirus pandemic are why starting and growing an emergency fund is important. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have a healthy emergency fund. According to the Federal Reserve, about 40% of adults in the U.S. would have difficulty covering an unexpected $400 expense. Pooling resources with other members of your household is a good way to help bridge any income gaps that may occur because of the coronavirus.
Now is a good time to check your savings account. If you wouldn’t be able to cover your expenses for two weeks without work, build up your savings now to prepare for the possibility of self-isolation or quarantine later. Be sure to read your account’s fine print to ensure that you can access your funds when needed.
Pandemics aren’t always covered by insurance. To see if you’re covered for coronavirus-related expenses, it’s important to read the fine print of your policies.
The last thing a person in self-isolation should do is get on a plane. But travelers who want to cancel travel plans may be disappointed to discover that at least one travel insurance provider is reminding policyholders that “Claims due to known, foreseeable, or expected events, epidemics, or fear of travel are generally not covered.”
The good news is travel insurance providers may provide exceptional cancellation coverage as a result of the outbreak. Allianz Travel has announced that emergency medical coverage will apply to customers who become ill with COVID-19, and trip cancellation coverage will apply to some customers who booked tickets to highly-affected areas.
Major health insurance providers in the United States, including Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Humana, have announced that they will waive costs of diagnostic testing and expand telemedicine coverage. That means there’s a good chance you could consult a health care professional without leaving the house.
Ciara McLaren is a writer based in the Southwest of France. She is currently self-quarantining.
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World Health Organization. “Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19).” Accessed March 12, 2020.