You had a COVID-19 test — and it’s positive. What do you need to do now? Call your doctor? Quarantine? What about your family members? A positive test result can be alarming but knowing what to do next can help you feel more in control of your health and your family’s safety.
Many people who test positive for COVID-19 have no symptoms (asymptomatic) or have very mild symptoms, such as congestion, sore throat, headache, muscle aches or fatigue. Moderate cases may include stronger versions of these symptoms, as well as nausea, diarrhea and loss of taste or smell. Some people may feel mild shortness of breath or chest discomfort.
Most of the time, you can treat mild and moderate cases at home with rest and over-the-counter medication; if symptoms don’t improve or they worsen, call your doctor. One option is to schedule a video visit with your physician, so that you don’t have to leave home.
“Severe symptoms include high fever, severe chest pain, severe difficulty breathing, confusion, inability to wake up, and extreme fatigue,” says Dr. Geary. “If you have those symptoms, we recommend that you seek emergency medical attention.”
She recommends following these guidelines during your recovery:
This allows your body to function appropriately, maintains your blood pressure and helps support your immune system. Water, vitamin water, coconut water and diluted fruit juice are all good options. Minimize soda and coffee.
COVID-19 can affect appetite, so try to eat small meals that include lean protein, fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods and high-sodium options.
It’s important to keep the lungs open and aerated. Try taking a big breath at least 10 times an hour.
Sit up in a chair and lean forward to take pressure off the back of the lungs.
Use a home blood pressure cuff to check your blood pressure, and a pulse oximeter to test your blood oxygen level. Call your doctor if your blood pressure is too high or too low, or if your oxygen level drops below 92. You can get these devices online or at a pharmacy.
Dr. Geary adds that most people have symptoms for a week or two, although some don’t feel well for months.
“We’re still learning about this condition, in terms of who gets it, how long it lasts, what kind of symptoms present,” she says. “If your symptoms last beyond 14 days, we recommend you reach out to your doctor to determine if they are all due to COVID or something else.”
After a positive COVID-19 test, it’s important to minimize your exposure to other people, especially if you have symptoms. That means staying at home and separating yourself from other members of your household. Ideally, you would have a dedicated bedroom and bathroom where you can quarantine. Have other people leave meals and other necessities at your door and eat your meals inside your room. Avoid sharing plates, utensils and drinking glasses.
However, not everyone has access to a dedicated quarantine space. If you share a bedroom, the best arrangement is to have the other person sleep elsewhere in the house during your isolation period. If you have to share a bathroom with other household members, wear a mask, wash your hands often and do not share towels. Wipe down commonly touched surfaces after every use. Your healthy housemates should wait as long as possible before entering the bathroom after you have been in there.
Wear a mask any time you have to be in a shared space in the home and sanitize surfaces you touch, such as countertops and cabinet handles.
How long should you isolate? According to Dr. Geary, you need to meet three criteria before you can end your quarantine:
- 10 days have passed since your symptoms began
- You have been fever-free for 24 hours without taking any fever-reducing medicine
- Your symptoms are improving
If you tested positive but have no symptoms, you should isolate for 10 days from the date of your test to avoid passing the virus to others.
Of course, if you are severely ill and need medical care, follow your doctor’s guidelines about quarantining.
Dr. Geary notes that after a positive test, you should notify anyone you came into close contact with, as they also may need to quarantine.
“It can take anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure before you develop symptoms, so we recommend that they quarantine for 14 days from when they were exposed to you,” she says. “After 14 days, if that person has not had any symptoms or positive tests, they can come out of quarantine.”