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How to pack a quarantine bag (and why you might need one)

If you or someone you know is about to leave home — whether for college, school, work, or any other reason — it might be time to pack a “quarantine go-bag.” In fact, if you live with other people at all, it makes good sense to have a quarantine bag packed for yourself and your loved ones.

What we mean by a “quarantine go-bag” is a bag that contains what you might need in order to self-isolate more comfortably in a designated quarantine area. You’ll use it if you get sick, but you might also need it if you come in contact with a person who’s tested positive. It could also be something practical for grabbing quickly on the way to hospital treatment.

Why would you pack a quarantine bag?

  • Save energy. If you get sick, you don’t want to struggle to gather what you need to go quarantine away from loved ones.
  • Protect others. A pre-packed bag will help ensure those who are shedding live virus can get into self-quarantine quickly, without exposing others in the community while seeking needed items.
  • Get peace of mind. At this point, it just doesn’t make sense to wait until you get infected to gather what you need. Prepare for the worst case scenario so you can have peace of mind.

Think about packing your quarantine go-bag like you might think about packing a bag for the hospital when you’re eight months pregnant. It could happen at any time, so you want to have the things you’ll need ready when the time comes.

The truth of the matter is that at this point in the pandemic, with cases still rising in most of the country and spreading deeper into rural communities, any of us could get sick at any time. It is extremely reasonable to continue staying home as much as possible while also preparing for the possibility of illness.

Worth noting: If you make a go-bag for someone who lives outside your home, sequester it for at least three days before dropping it off, and use hand hygiene when handling it. If transit time is more than three days, you can ship it domestically as a care package without needing to sequester it, but the receiver may wish to disinfect their package or sequester it for a few days when they get it.

What should go inside a quarantine bag?

When packing a quarantine bag, it’s important to think both about what you’ll need for medical reasons and what you might want for your mental health. Even mild cases of COVID-19 can last for weeks (months, in some cases). So if you get sick, you could end up on your own for a while.

If you do test positive for COVID, a doctor might recommend that you get a thermometer, a pulse oximeter, and over-the-counter medications so you can care for yourself in quarantine and monitor your symptoms. You might have already stocked up on those items in case you needed them during the pandemic. Now’s the time to put them in a safe spot with everything else you’ll need if you get sick.

Note: All the kits we’ve included in this article have been built using Kit Builder. You can make copies of these kits and modify them to fit your needs.

Packing a hospital go-bag

It’s grim to think about, but the worst case scenario is that you or someone you love ends up in the hospital with severe symptoms of COVID-19. If that happens, you won’t be able to have visitors bring important items to you. So you’ll want to have the essentials ready to go.

The most important stuff to pack: your insurance card, your doctor’s information, and important family phone numbers.

It’s also smart to make sure you have extra blankets, socks, and toiletries — the kinds of comforts you might want if you were sick and no one could visit you with supplies. And because no one will be able to visit, pack books you might want to read, an extra phone charger, ample entertainment, and a kickstand for your phone.

Once you have a bag, make a plan

The sane prepper mantra says that having great gear is not enough. You need the plans and skills to match. That rule applies here, too.

You not only need a packed bag, but you also need a plan for where to quarantine and how long. In fact, you may not even be the one who ends up using your quarantine plan. What happens if your college kid comes home because of a pandemic-related college closure? What if a family member joins you after a job loss?

Designating a quarantine space in your home is important. Folks in self-quarantine need access to a bed and bathroom at minimum (preferably a bathroom that isn’t shared), and if they don’t have access to their own kitchen or kitchenette, food trays will need to be brought to and retrieved from their area of rest.

It’s best if their isolation area can be behind a closed door. A master bedroom with an en suite bathroom works; a furnished basement or an in-law units are also great.

An empty garage can be made into a make-shift isolation area, but shared spaces will require sanitizing between use. (Car exhaust is both deadly and a terrible irritant to someone with a potentially horrible respiratory illness, so keep the cars out if you’re using a garage for this purpose.)

Remind yourself why isolation is important, and memorize the reasons in advance. Quarantine is harder to execute than you’d expect — in part because of the emotional toll it takes to voluntarily separate yourself from the people you love. Help isolating loved ones to understand why it’s so important to isolate by keeping these reminders top of mind:

Even if people don’t feel sick, they can shed large amounts of virus if infected. A grandparent or elderly friend, family member, or neighbor could die if infected.

If housemates, family members, or others get sick the time off work for that person could be financially devastating. We don’t want the people around us or in our community to lose their housing, for example, because of a lack of willingness to self-isolate on our part.

Make sure to read the CDC Guidelines for caring for someone sick with COVID-19 at home. Have those guidelines ready and make sure you know how to prepare just in case.

If you’d like to go the extra mile, we made this kit for someone caring for a person using a quarantine space:

Our tips on disinfecting after quarantine is over are covered in our post on hosting temporary visitors during this time. Stay safe.


    • Cia

      Great lists, I ordered several items on it! The CDC article on sick rooms linked mentioned a waste paper basket with a liner. That would be a good thing to add to the sick room list, we have one in a bathroom, the hard plastic liner is easy to remove and sterilize after you empty it. Thank you!

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      • Stephanie ArnoldContributor Cia

        Yes, Cia! I mulled it over and went with large garbage bags in the last kit. I though for a time on recommending a bin, but I couldn’t decide which size and whether it should have a top (and then which fitted liner). The size of the bin depends on the size of the room and the person’s budget. People need the garbage bags at minimum, but probably best to have a dedicated bin as well. I’ll consider adding a bin as a general item to the kit. 

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      • Cia Stephanie Arnold

        I just thought it would be more manageable, smaller and easier for the patient to use, if it were a small waste paper basket next to the bed. But it’s no big deal either way!

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      • Nomore Stephanie Arnold

        I have packed away in my flu pandemic supplies a small trash can of the step-on kind with a self closing lid. I also have stocked both small trash bags & larger ones, you may want to consider frequent bag changes & sickroom trash removals. Knock on wood I have yet to need to use it.

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    • lemur

      I’ve been hospitalized for five days in June and since then made multiple trips to the ER. (My condition is not covid-related.) Here are my thoughts on what one should bring to the hospital.

      One thing I did not see addressed, but is very important: hospitals are generally not equipped to protect big valuables, or lots of valuables. So I would bring only what I absolutely need, and nothing more. I would not bring any electronics other than my phone. I’ve read books on my phone. Not great but doable. Audiobooks are always a possibility.  At the local hospital here what they provide for protecting valuables is a little box protected with an electronic lock that a nurse can open. A laptop definitely does not fit in this box. A tablet might fit, if it is not a large one, and if there aren’t too many other things to put in there.

      Keeping in this vein, I’d pare down what I grab going out the door to the bare essentials. Don’t bring all the keys you use in your house. Bring only what you’ll need when you get out of there. Don’t bring your entire wallet. Just bring your id, your insurance card, and the means to pay.

      Definitely bring a charger for anything you need to charge. During my 5 day hospitalization, I did not have a go bag, and so no charger. The hospital eventually got a charger for me but it took a while. Unfortunately, I get the impression that some patients just go home with the hospital’s charger.

      Definitely bring your own toiletries. My hospital provided me with some, but, well, they suck. Also, they might not provide everything you need. I have a substantial beard, which needs substantial grooming. Hospitals don’t provide anything for beards. This is just an example. If you need anything more than the bare essentials, the hospital probably won’t be able to provide it.

      Definitely bring your doctors’ contact information. You should bring a summary of your medical history with you. It should include: the medications you are currently taking (incluing dosage, and frequency), all allergies, including drug allergies, what conditions you currently have, hospitalization history, and surgery history. If you prepare it ahead of time, it gives you the opportunity to remember stuff which you may not remember on the spur of the moment.

      I like to travel light so I would *not* pack a blanket or several changes of clothing. I’d pack changes of underwear, definitely, but nothing more as far as clothing goes.

      I’d also skip the snacks. I did not go hungry during my stay at the hospital. Between meals, snacks were available, and the nurses were not stingy with them. I don’t remember what choices were available but they had chocolate pudding, which I like, so no problem there. Also, bringing in outside foods for yourself as a patient can be problematic. If you have a condition that requires a specific diet, the hospital wants to hold you to that diet. If you are fed by them, they can control your diet pretty precisely. (I have multiple conditions which come with dietary restrictions, so I’ll say it again: I did not feel deprived in the hospital and got as many snacks as I wanted. Presumably the pudding I got was fine for my diet.) Moreover some treatments can induce temporary conditions that require being more careful with food. Additionally, interactions between medications and foods is a thing. The biggest culprit is grapefruit juice but there are other interactions to watch for. Hospitals vary quite a bit as to how they handle food meant for a patient, and even different wards in the same hospital will have different rules. In some cases, they don’t allow outside food. In some cases, they just want to know about what type of food has been brought in. If I did bring food in, the one thing I would *not* do is try to sneak it past my health care team. You don’t want to be put in the ICU beause of a bad interaction between something you secretly ate and a drug.

      If you know someone who has been hospitalized at your local hospital, you might want to ask them how it was, to get a better picture of what to expect there.

      YMMV. If the blanket is a huge psychological boon to you, then pack it.

      ETA: If you can tolerate ear plugs, then I would definitely pack some, just in case. There’s only one night that I did miss having ear plugs. By the way, ear plugs come in multiple sizes. I suffered with badly sized plugs for a long time before realizing they were not one-size-fits-all.

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    • A2

      I’ve used this rollie for hospital trips (where a rolling bag makes life a lot easier), as a second bag in addition to my go-bag if evacuating by car, and as a possible quarantine bag.

      (ELECTRONICS) iPhone, iPad, nose-canceling earphones +earphones & chargers (MISC) notebook/pen, wallet (MEDS/FIRST AID) several N95 masks, ziplock with medications, zinc cough drops, Nuun sport electrolyte tablets, small personal first aid kit, pulse oximeter, thermometer, digital blood pressure cuff +charger (HYGIENE) body wipes, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, hairbrush, hair ties, eyeglasses case, hand sanitizer, favorite lotion, Carmex, eye drops (COMFORT) sippy bottle, eye mask, well-sized ear plugs, pashmina shawl, leggings, oversized soft top, soft slouchy knit cap, ballet slippers, socks.

      Both my phone and iPad have spreadsheets of contact numbers and health records. Also, I download games and movies, if I have time.

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