Is My Roommate Putting Me at Risk of Contracting Coronavirus?

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: May 26, 2020

Roommates share more than just the rent, utilities, and living space. In the age of COVID-19, the risk of shared infection from cohabitation is concerning. According to an analysis of census data, in 2017 nearly one-third of the U.S. adult population was living in a shared household.

As we deal with stay-at-home orders and closed public spaces, our homes have become the site for everything in our lives: our office, restaurant, gym, and movie theater. As a result, for some living with roommates during the pandemic has become fraught with tension and health concerns.

Here are some tips to help stay healthy whether your roommate is symptom-free, at higher risk of infection, or has tested positive for COVID-19:
  1. If your roommate is healthy.
    You want to do everything you can for both of you to stay that way. Keep in mind that many people infected with COVID-19 don’t show symptoms right away but could still be contagious. So, even if you and your roommate appear healthy, make sure you both follow preventative practices recommended by the CDC. These include social distancing, washing your hands thoroughly and frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water , and wearing a mask when in public places where social distancing is difficult to maintain. Clean and disinfect common shared surfaces regularly—bathrooms, counters, faucets, remotes, and refrigerator handles, make sure each roommate is using separate towels, and change towels regularly.
  2. If your roommate is at risk of infection.
    Maybe he or she ignores social distancing, doesn’t wash hands often enough, skips the mask, or ignores a stay-at-home order. Perhaps your roommate works on the front lines, putting them and higher risk, but you do not. If your roommate is at risk, you could be too. During this pandemic, one roommate’s choices and actions could directly affect the other’s health and well-being. If you feel your roommate isn’t taking the situation seriously, or if you are just uncomfortable with their level of risk, try having a conversation to express your concerns. Talking through and getting on the same page around cleaning practices, social distancing, and social circles is essential during this pandemic. You should also have a conversation around what will happen if one of you develops symptoms, so that you have a plan in place. If you can’t get on the same page, you can make the decision to isolate yourself from them if possible, or it might even be time for one of you to move out.
  3. If your roommate is already sick.
    If your roommate is showing symptoms such as fever, cough, and fatigue, they should isolate themselves at home and contact a medical professional to get a test. Check out this article for information on how to handle symptoms when they appear.

    Living with a person who has symptoms or tests positive for COVID may place you in the role of acting as a caregiver. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidance for caring for someone who is sick at home. Some key points include:
    • Isolate the sick person in a separate room away from other people and pets in the home. If you normally share a room, the healthy person should move to sleeping in an alternate space. Separate bathrooms should also be used in possible.
    • The sick person should wear a mask or face covering when in any of the shared spaces at home or when going out in public, such as to a medical appointment. The healthy person should wear a mask anytime they are entering the sick person’s space and should only enter the space to help the person or act as a caregiver.
    • Make sure spaces have good airflow—open windows and turn on a fan if possible.
    • Eat in separate rooms and use hot water and soap to wash dishes or place them in a dishwasher. Wear gloves when handling dishes used by the sick person.
    • Avoid sharing personal items with the person who is sick.
    • Avoid having visitors.

Keeping open lines of communication and addressing potential scenarios before they arise can be helpful in keeping a good relationship with your roommate, while also keeping you both protected.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and their local authorities.