What to do about your housekeeper, dog walker, and other reader questions answered.

By Korin Miller
Updated March 24, 2020

Let's just be real for a sec: Thing are very weird and worrisome in the world right now. With a global coronavirus pandemic circulating and a national state of emergency underway, the government and health officials are recommending social distancing—staying inside as much as possible and limiting contact with others—to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

But this is very much uncharted territory to most people right now. While it seems easy enough to start limiting your contact with the general public (working from home if you're able to, only going to the grocery store or pharmacy when absolutely necessary), there are other instances in daily life that are a little murkier, like whether you should keep using paid services that actually come into your home, like home cleaning services and babysitters.

So what should you do in those situations to protect yourself, your family, and those who are employed by you? While it's important to remember that there are no set rules around this type of thing, here's what experts in the medical field suggest when it comes to possibly canceling your cleaning services or putting a hold on using a dog walker right now.

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Should I cancel my cleaning service?

Honestly, it’s not a bad idea, Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and an associate professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Health. “I recommend not having someone come into your house during this time,” he says. “Some people who are infected don't have symptoms initially, and others only have mild disease—but in both cases, they are able to spread COVID-19 to others.”

Aline M. Holmes, DNP, RN, a clinical associate professor at Rutgers University School of Nursing echoes that statement. “It’s a good idea to have no one outside your immediate family in your house if you don’t have to," she says. Yes, that's even though a cleaning service is technically cleaning your place—a cleaner can still expose you (and you can conversely expose them) to the virus if either of you have it. “If you can delay a professional cleaning or do it yourself, you should," says Holmes.

Should I cancel my dog walker?

It's the same deal here—you should pause your dog walking services. “People should walk their own dogs,” says Dr. Watkins. If you’re really trying to figure out how to make this work, you may have thought about you could send your dog outside your house to your dog walker, who later sends your pup back in, all without ever entering your home. But there’s still a risk there, says Dr. Watkins. Leashes and even your dog’s fur may be able to carry the virus, and if your walker happens to be infected, it could then be transmitted to you and your family.

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Is it safe to use the laundromat?

Well, you still need to wash your clothing, especially if you are working outside the home and interacting with other people. That's because the COVID-19 virus can remain viable on various surfaces, including fabric, plastic, and metal, for a period of hours to days, says the CDC. According to the World Health Organization, most viruses are inactivated at temperatures between 140 and 149 degrees Fahrenheit, while the CDC says heat above 167 degrees Fahrenheit kills the flu virus.

Perhaps the bigger safety issue at the laundromat is maintaining "social distancing" and avoiding other potentially contaminated surfaces, reports The Huffington Post. One public health expert told HuffPost that wearing gloves and not touching your face, and then properly removing your gloves and washing your hands afterwards, should keep you safe. Extra drying time or hotter drying temps makes sense too—as long as your items can hold up to the heat.

Whether you're at the laundromat or at home, you need to be particularly careful handling clothing, towels, linens, and such if someone in your household is sick. Don't shake out dirty laundry because that could disperse the virus. If you wear disposable gloves, toss them afterwards, says the CDC, while reusable gloves should only be used for COVID-29 cleanups, not other household uses. No gloves? Be sure to follow proper hand hygiene recommendations. By the way, CDC says it's okay to mix a sick person's laundry with other laundry items. (And don't forget to clean the hamper or use a disposable liner.)

Should I stop using my nanny?

This is a tricky one, whether you’re able to work from home right now or still have to report to your job. “This is a difficult decision, especially for people who don't have the option of working from home, like health care workers,” Dr. Watkins says. “But if someone is working from home, then it is prudent to not have a nanny come in.”

If your nanny happens to live with you, it’s not really an issue, Holmes says. But, if they live elsewhere, it can be an issue, even if they’re doing a good job practicing social distancing when they’re not with you. “If they’re coming and going, you don’t know who they’ve been exposed to,” Holmes says. “It’s really a good idea to not have the nanny come, if you can.”

If you absolutely need someone to come into your house, Holmes recommends having them wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds as soon as they come in, and continuing to practice good hand hygiene while they’re in your home. “If they’re showing any symptoms, like coughing or sneezing, don’t let them in the house,” she says.

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Of course, if you stop using these services, it means the people you’ve been employing don’t get paid. If you’re still making money and you’re able to, it's worth working something out to still try to pay them during this time, or to come up with another scenario that works for both parties involved.

Ultimately though, Holmes says, “the best idea is just to keep people from coming into your home and minimize exposure to people from the outside.” Dr. Watkins admits that all of this is “difficult” but, he adds, “people shouldn’t be visiting.”

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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