Coronavirus: self-isolating in a flatshare? Here’s the best way to do it

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We should all be social distancing and staying indoors over the next few weeks to help delay the spread of coronavirus. But what happens if you need to self-isolate in a flat share? Here’s everything we know

Updated: 25 March

The government has announced that everyone in the UK must stay at home to help stop the spread of coronavirus. You should only leave the house for one of these four reasons:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with another member of your household.
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

Even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household.

But what do you need to do if you live in a flatshare? And what happens if you show symptoms and need to self-isolate in a flatshare?

What is self-isolation?

If one person in a household starts to display flu-like symptoms – defined as a fever of above 37.8 C or a persistent cough – everyone living there must self-isolate by staying at home for 14 days.

If one person in a household has recently been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, they will also need to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they don’t show symptoms.

Boris Johnson said this means avoiding leaving the house “even to buy food or essentials”, adding that people could go out to do exercise, but only at a safe distance from others.

Can I self-isolate in a flatshare?

Thanks to the renting crisis, self-isolating in a flatshare or houseshare is going to be a reality for a lot of people around the UK, particularly in London. Is it really possible to self-isolate under these common but less-than-ideal circumstances?

It is do-able, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park (literally). We’ve rounded up what to do if you need to self-isolate, tips on looking after your mental health, and advice for getting on with flatmates during this tense time. 

How to self-isolate in a houseshare 

According to the government’s guidelines, you should stay in a well-ventilated room with an open window, separate from other people in your home and with the door closed.

Using the bathroom 

The government advises you to use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household. As most people usually battle it out over the one bathroom, just make sure you clean it properly after each use. It also suggests drawing up a rota so that the person in self-isolation uses the bathroom last. And ensure any isolated people use separate towels for drying themselves after bathing, showering and washing hands.

Pink bathroom accessories: H&M soap dispenser
Self-isolating: clean the bathroom after each time you use it and keep separate towels.

Using the kitchen

Avoid using the kitchen while your flatmates are in there. If that’s not possible then wear a facemask if you have one. The guidelines also say to take your meals back to your bedroom to eat and (which you can use as an excuse for a Netflix series marathon in bed). If you have a dishwasher, use it to clean and dry your used crockery and cutlery. If not, wash them by hand using detergent and warm water and dry them thoroughly, using a separate tea towel.

Looking after your mental health

It’s really easy to cocoon yourself in the doom and gloom of sensationalist headlines and rising figures. But you really need to look after your mental health right now. 

This piece on how to stay calm about coronavirus provides some important pointers to remember: breathe, write down your worries, distract yourself, get outside for five minutes (if you have a balcony or garden) and try to laugh and smile.

Self-isolating: stay in your bedroom, but make sure you also look after your mental health.

And to help combat the loneliness, talk to your friends, family and flatmates about what’s happening over the phone, on WhatsApp or through the safe barrier of your bedroom door. They really will not mind you chatting to them a bit longer than usual – everyone is in need of comforting right now.

Also, try use this period to do things you usually don’t have time to do: read that 1000-page book you’ve been meaning to start, rewatch that really crappy, problematic 90s TV series, write a damn novel, Marie Kondo your room, practice the perfect headstand – you do you. Conversely: don’t feel pressured to do anything big and bold with this time. Just do whatever makes you feel good. 

If you are worried about your mental health, you can find information on the Mind website.

How to get on best with flatmates during the coronavirus panic

Things could be a little tense in houseshares right now, even if you get on well with your flatmates. Cate Murden, founder of wellbeing and performance company PUSH, shared some helpful tips with Stylist on how to get on and work from home alongside each other.

“Now, more than ever, we need to be clear on how we’re thinking and feeling as well as setting our own and understanding each other’s boundaries,” she says. “During challenging times, boundaries help ensure that assumptions aren’t made when tempers are already shortened – which could easily lead to frayed edges and blow ups. Setting boundaries will ensure that relationships can be mutually respectful, appropriate, and caring.”

Self-isolating: communicate well with your flatmates and you'll be back to hanging out in the kitchen together in a couple of weeks.

So, how do you do exactly this with a flatmate? Murden advises three key things to remember when communicating throughout this period:

1. Acknowledge what you’re feeling and listen (properly) to the other person too.

2. Decide together how you want to handle the situation. Once you’ve got clarity on this agreed behaviour, action it.

3.  Stay firm in your conviction – so your flatmates have consistency in your relationship. However, these boundaries aren’t walls – you can move them if you need to. Just be clear with people about that too.

She adds: “We’re all finding our way through this unchartered territory in the best way that we can, and it’s our friendships that will see us through it most. If we approach everything from a place of love and compassion it will be an entirely different experience than one fuelled by fear and separation. And, it is this that I believe will see us through.”

What if I have mild coronavirus symptoms?

People are being advised not to ring NHS 111 or their GP to report their symptoms unless they are worried. The NHS website gives helpful precautionary measures for self-isolating:

  • Try to keep at least two metres (three steps) from other people in your home, particularly older people or those with long-term health conditions.
  • Ask friends and family and delivery services to deliver things like food shopping and medicines – but avoid contact with them.
  • Sleep alone if possible.
  • Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Try to stay away from older people and those with long-term health conditions.
  • Drink plenty of water and take everyday painkillers, such as paracetamol to help with any symptoms.
  • Do not have visitors (ask people to leave deliveries outside).
  • Do not leave the house, for example to go for a walk, to school or public places.

This isn’t how anyone wants to be living, but it is important that we do things properly, and hopefully things will get better soon.

If you’re not sure whether you should be self-isolating, check your symptoms and call 111 if you’re really concerned. But it’s advised that you don’t turn up at your GP if you’re displaying symptoms.

And don’t worry, we’re here to keep you entertained and informed for as long as it takes.

Find more information on coronavirus on the NHS website here.

Sign up for our essential edit of what to buy, see, read and do, and also receive our 11-page Ultimate Guide To Making Your Home Feel Bigger.

Images: Getty

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…