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So you think you have the COVID-19 virus? Here’s what to do next

Don’t go to the emergency room, Health Ministry says; below is all you need to know about home quarantines and public gatherings

Workers inside a building at Tel HaShomer Hospital that  was converted to receive the Israelis who were under quarantine on the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan due to the spread of the coronavirus, February 20, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Workers inside a building at Tel HaShomer Hospital that was converted to receive the Israelis who were under quarantine on the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan due to the spread of the coronavirus, February 20, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

How can you tell if its COVID-19, or just a cold? Should you call the doctor or check into a hospital? How can you protect your family members during a home quarantine? Will your AliExpress order infect you? And do those facemasks even work?

Amid widespread misinformation about the COVID-19 virus in Israel and with Health Ministry directives updated daily, it can be confusing to know what symptoms you should be looking out for — and how to proceed if you believe you’re carrying the coronavirus.

For those in Israel, here’s what you need to know.

What are the symptoms?

The Health Ministry says that if you’ve recently returned from abroad, or been around someone who has (within six feet, for 15 minutes at a time), take note if you develop the following symptoms: Fever of at least 38C (100F), coughing, difficulty breathing, or any other respiratory symptoms.

I recently returned from abroad and now I’m coughing and feverish. Should I go straight to the emergency room?

No! To prevent the spread of the infectious disease, the ministry urges those who suspect they may be sick with the virus to call 101 (the Magen David Adom emergency service). If there is reason to believe you are carrying the coronavirus, medics will come to your home to administer lab tests. Do not go to a local health clinic or emergency room, the ministry warns.

For further questions, you can contact the ministry hotline at *5400. Israelis can also consult with their personal physicians and HMOs by telephone.

I recently returned from abroad. Do I need to self-quarantine for two weeks?

As of March 9, all Israelis returning from any destination abroad must enter a 14-day home quarantine.

For non-Israelis, the directive goes into effect on March 12, and foreigners must show they have a place to stay that accommodates the two-week quarantine rules.

I attended an international conference. But it wasn’t in a country listed by the Health Ministry. Must I enter home quarantine for 14 days?

Yes, if you returned after March 4.

My friend was in contact with a person who has contracted the virus. And I was in close contact with my friend. Do I need to enter quarantine?

No.

I’m in home quarantine after returning from abroad, but my family members are not. What are the restrictions on my movement within my home? 

According to the Health Ministry instructions, those confined to their homes should remain in a separate, well-ventilated room, and use a bathroom not accessed by other family members, if it is a possibility.

If you must leave the room do so “for very short periods only” and “cover your mouth and nose with a facemask,” the ministry says.

It also recommends frequent washing of hands to avoid infecting others.

I need to assist the quarantined person. Can I enter their room? What precautions must I take?

Says the Health Ministry: “There should be only one person who enters and exits the room of the isolated person, this person should be a healthy person with no other diseases which might further increase their risk.”

The person entering the room should be wearing a facemask and gloves and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards. The quarantined person’s laundry should be stored and washed separately. Discarded tissues and the like should be placed in a tightly sealed bag before being thrown in the trash, it says. Contact with bodily fluids of the quarantined person should be avoided entirely.

The ministry also recommends disinfecting bedside tables and other surfaces in the quarantined room on a daily basis.

Do I need a doctor’s note for my employer in order to be compensated for the time I wasn’t working while in quarantine?

No. The Health Ministry has published a general form for those placed in quarantine, which can be accessed and filled out here.

Should I be concerned about packages ordered from China or other infected areas?

According to the Health Ministry, there is currently no reason to believe the virus could be transmitted through mail orders.

Should I wear a facemask?

Not unless you’re carrying the virus.

The Health Ministry says: “The effectiveness of a facemask in protecting from a coronavirus infection is limited. With extended use, it wears out and gets moist. There is no recommendation to routinely use a facemask for protection from respiratory illnesses, including the infection caused by the novel coronavirus, unless a healthcare professional recommends it. People who are showing symptoms or people suspected of a coronavirus infection or confirmed patients should wear a facemask (in order to avoid spreading the infection to others), as well as people who have contact or are taking care of suspected or confirmed patients (in order to protect themselves).”

I arrived in Israel from abroad (not from the quarantine-listed countries) and have a wedding coming up. Should I attend?

Sorry. The Health Ministry says all international travelers in the past 14 days must avoid gatherings of 100 people or more.

Can my dog keep me company in quarantine?

According to the ministry, it’s unlikely that an infected person could transmit the virus to a pet. But it’s still recommended that you keep a safe distance if you may be carrying the disease.

“However, since other members of the corona family may infect animals, it is recommended that you take extreme caution and avoid interaction with pets if you have symptoms related to the coronavirus infection; if you cannot avoid contact with animals while you are sick, wear a facemask and wash your hands,” the ministry says.

Is home quarantine a requirement? Or merely a strong suggestion?

The Health Ministry orders are legally binding. Violators of the quarantine instructions could face jail time or fines.

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