Testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a potentially life-changing moment.
It’s scary, but not necessarily a ticket to the hospital.
So many factors — age, underlying health conditions, access to medical care — determine how the illness will affect you.
People who test positive likely have a lot of questions, like, “What should I do now?”
I tested positive for COVID-19. What should I do next?
- Stay home. If your symptoms are mild and non-life threatening, the best thing to do is go home and care for yourself as you would if you had the flu. Avoid going into public places, including public transportation. Only leave your home for medical care.
- Isolate yourself from anyone you live with to avoid infecting them. If you need to be in common areas, wear a mask.
- Tell close contacts that you tested positive and they may have been exposed to the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports an infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours before the person has any symptoms or tests positive.
- Monitor your symptoms. If you have trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, new confusion, if someone is unable to wake you or you can’t stay awake, or you have bluish lips or face, go to an emergency room or call 911.
What symptoms could I have?
COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild to severe and may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. The following symptoms are associated with COVID-19:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
How can I protect the people I live with from getting sick?
Considering COVID-19 is most commonly spread from an infected person to others through:
- Respiratory droplets produced by coughing, sneezing and talking
- Close personal contact (within about 6 feet)
And is sometimes spread from an infected person to others through:
- Airborne droplets that can linger in the air for minutes to hours (even if further than 6 feet away from an infected person or after an infected person has left the space)
The best thing to do at home is find a room where you can isolate yourself from others. If possible, avoid sharing anything with the rest of the household, including a bed, bedding, bathroom, towels, dishes and cups, silverware or food. Avoid hugs and other close contact until you are not contagious. If you need to go in a common area, wear a mask and maintain physical distance from others.
Wash your hands often and cover your coughs and sneezes.
How long will it take me to get better?
Mild cases of COVID-19 typically take about two weeks to recover. Severe cases could take up to six weeks. But reports indicate SARS-CoV-2 tends to linger, as some people continue to have symptoms such as a cough, loss of taste or smell, and fatigue up to four months after their diagnosis.
One U.S. study found that around 20% of non-hospitalized individuals ages 18 to 34 still had symptoms at least two weeks after becoming ill. The same was true for nearly half of people age 50 and older.
What treatments might I receive for COVID-19?
Doctors have learned a great deal about how to better treat patients with coronavirus. There are also investigational drugs for COVID-19 being studied in clinical trials underway across the globe.
The current methodology to treat COVID-19 involves using antiviral medications, anti-inflammatory medications and immune system modulators.
If you have mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms, treatment may include supportive care such as hydration (IV fluids), pain and fever control, and breathing treatments. If you have more severe symptoms, you may be admitted to the hospital and treated with various medications to slow the progression of the disease and relieve symptoms. Some patients need supplementary oxygen and mechanical ventilatory support.
How long after I tested positive will I be contagious?
The CDC recommends people wait until 10 days since symptoms first appeared AND they have gone 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications AND their other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving before they spend time around other people again.
Am I immune to COVID-19 once I’ve had it?
At this time, experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Natural immunity, or the immunity someone gains from having an infection, varies from individual to individual. Some early evidence suggests that reinfection is unlikely for at least three months, but more research is needed to know for sure.
Even if you’ve had COVID-19, the best ways to prevent infection are to wear a mask in public places, stay at least 6 feet away from other people, practice good hygiene, and avoid crowds and confined spaces.
This blog was reviewed by Alvaro Candel, MD, pathologist with Elmhurst Hospital, and Annemarie Schmocker, RN, BSN, CIC, Manager of Infection Control & Prevention at Elmhurst Hospital.
If you feel ill, the first step is to call your primary care doctor for next steps.
Edward-Elmhurst Health offers screening options for COVID-19, including a symptom checker to advise you on what to do next and a COVID-19 Nurse Triage Line (331-221-5199) to see if you meet testing requirements. We also offer Video Visits and E-Visits for COVID-19 symptoms.
For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.