Our house-sitting community is quite adaptable, both for homeowners and house sitters alike. One thing we all know after being under “house arrest” for so long, is we’re itching to travel again. The world has shrunk in terms of our travel options, but with cruises and international flights impacted for us in the UK, the trend has been for homeowners to rather take their holidays locally. We at House and Home Sitters are having our busiest month ever (in July 2020), both in terms of number of assignments and turnover.

The good news is that house sitting has been classed as work and getting to and from assignments has the blessing of the police, as “essential travel”.

It has also been generally accepted that housesitting certainly carries less risk than visiting the local supermarket, provided the necessary precautions – with which by now we are all familiar – are applied. Naturally, vulnerable persons need to continue self-isolating and avoid contact with others as far as possible.

Each of us handles crises differently, but we surely all agree that Plan B options in case needed are always worth consideration. There seems no way to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The main objective of the lockdown was to “flatten the curve” to enable the NHS to cope, and this has been achieved. Also, the rate of infections in the UK has dropped, according to the latest stats, is now at least ten times lower than at its peak. The best we can do is to bolster our immune systems by maintaining a healthy diet, doing some daily exercise, getting some exposure to the sun and/or taking vitamin D supplements, while eating healthy fruits and veggies to provide our other vitamin requirements. Retaining our sense of humour and enjoying some good laughter remain essential to our well-being, and therefore, our health. If people are fearful, anxious and stressed these factors can override all the healthy lifestyle practices and lower our immune systems. It seems that by the time a vaccine has been developed and tested and approved, the virus will have burnt itself out, as with previous pandemics of this nature. We are not in any way downplaying the seriousness of the current pandemic, particularly for those who are vulnerable and at risk, since it is mainly pre-existing conditions which have caused hospitalisation of those who become infected. That said, in the age group 35 and under, the risk is a mere 0.03%, so for most working people, life must go on.

We need to keep abreast of travel restrictions and any other factors which influence our travel decisions.

It is preferable to check government sites online than be guided by the news in general (with so much fake news and hysteria/hype bombarding us daily).

With that in mind, and applying basic common sense (simple cleanliness and wearing a mask, for example) we compiled this COVID-19 protocol for arrival and departure from our house sitting assignments for our sitters (and as a guide to our homeowner clients):

Here are our protocol guidelines to our sitters, on arrival:

  1. Take hand-sanitiser with you;
  2. Wear a mask, disposable gloves and practise social distancing. This may not always be practicable so, in line with PPE guidelines for hairdressers and barbers, you may want to wear a clear, well-fitting full-face visor;
  3. Take your own pillow and bed linen plus towels if you feel necessary (not compulsory);
  4. Avoid any pets licking your face (and mouth/nose in particular);
  5. Be aware of the risks. Even if you have no symptoms, you may be a carrier and infect others. Be especially careful around vulnerable people such as the elderly or anyone with a pre-existing condition. This requires a risk assessment on your part as our independent subcontractor;
  6. Frequently wash your hands and clean all surfaces;
  7. Try to reduce the number of people with whom you interact on arrival at an assignment;
  8. When working in a household where somebody is clinically vulnerable, but has not been asked to shield, for example, the home of someone over 70, prior arrangements should be made with vulnerable people to avoid any face-to-face contact, for example, when answering the door. You should be particularly strict about hand-washing, coughing and sneezing hygiene, such as covering your nose and mouth and disposing of single-use tissues;
  9. Wash your hands more often than usual for 20 seconds using soap and water, particularly after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose;
  10. Reduce the spread of germs when you cough or sneeze by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue, or your sleeve (not your hands) if you don’t have a tissue, and throw the tissue in a bin immediately, then wash your hands;
  11. Clean regularly any touched objects and surfaces using regular cleaning products to reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people;
  12. Maintain social distancing guidelines (2m, or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable) as far as possible;
  13. Your daily update report to me will enable us to keep abreast of the working arrangements in place, including your welfare, mental and physical health and personal security;
  14. Remember, it is breaking the law to discriminate, directly or indirectly, against anyone because of a protected characteristic such as age, sex, disability, race or ethnicity. Please therefore do your best to understand and take into account the particular circumstances of those with different protected characteristics; and,
  15. Make sure that the steps you take do not have an unjustifiable negative impact on others.

On departure, make sure you use bacterial wipes and wipe down all surfaces with which you have come into contact, including and not least, doorknobs.

The risks to housesitters and homeowners remain:

* cancellations due to government restrictions or fear of travel;

* possible quarantine requirements on return home;

* delayed return of homeowners, so that a contingency plan needs to be in place for the sitters and for pets (not only they care, but also their food and other requirements);

* falling ill and having to be hospitalised;

* being repatriated to one’s home country and having to change travel plans accordingly;

* self-isolation while on assignment or while travelling, becoming necessary or being imposed as a result of an extended or reinstated lockdown or other contingencies.

Of course, some of these risks apply during normal times as well. They are also minimised by local travel rather than international travel.

Communication between the homeowner and the house sitter is key. 99% of problems arise due to either a lack of or miscommunication. A standard, even basic, risk assessment should always be borne in mind. Lengthy handovers – both on departure and return – should be avoided. If pets are involved, additional food and any medications should be provided and contingency plans put in place to cover any unexpected or delayed return. If possible, emergency funds should be arranged and made accessible in need. Whenever possible, there should be an agreed backup plan between the homeowner and the house sitter(s).

This article is not meant to be exhaustive and cognisance needs to be taken of the constantly changing COVID-19 environment. It is up to you to keep yourself informed.

David Price, July 2020