Tips to Live By

What Should You Do After Testing Positive for COVID-19?

Jan. 5, 2022 - Katie McCallum

You've tested positive for COVID-19. Now what?

Whether you're unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or fully vaccinated (which includes the booster), here's what to do if you find out you have COVID-19:

1. Isolate

The CDC recommends isolation if you're infected with the virus — even if you don't have symptoms and even if you're vaccinated.

Keep in mind, isolation not only means not leaving the house, but also keeping your distance from uninfected people with whom you share your home.

Ideally, it's best to eat and sleep in your own space, away from others, as well as use your own bathroom.

If you do need to be in a shared living space:

  • Wear a mask
  • Avoid contact with others, including pets
  • Do not share items, such as towels, blankets and cups

2. Alert those you came in close contact with

There may be a period of panic after testing positive — not just for your own health, but for the health of others you may have been around recently.

As soon as possible, identify anyone with whom you came in close contact while contagious and alert them that you've tested positive.

You're contagious with COVID-19 as early as:

  • Two days prior to symptom onset or testing positive

If you have COVID-19, close contact is defined as:

  • Being within 6 feet of someone for a combined total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period while contagious

Bottom line: It's incredibly important to let people know that they have been exposed, so they can take the necessary quarantine precautions and get tested as recommended.

3. Alert your doctor

Most people experience only mild symptoms while ill with COVID-19, ranging from dry cough and fever to headache, fatigue and sore throat. (Related: How to Treat Mild COVID-19 Symptoms at Home)

Still, it's a good idea to let you doctor know you have COVID-19. He or she can help you understand if there are any next steps for your treatment, including being prescribed oral medications for COVID-19.

If you tested positive via an at-home rapid antigen test, your doctor can also help you determine how to report your positive result to the local health department. This is important since it helps provide public health officials an accurate picture of the virus' spread in the community.

If your COVID-19 test was performed at a hospital, urgent care center, pharmacy or testing site, it will get reported through official channels. But it's still a good idea to check in with your doctor, especially if your symptoms progress.

4. Monitor your symptoms

Some people are more likely to get severely sick from COVID-19 so it's important to monitor for worsening symptoms.

Seek emergency care if you experience any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent chest pain
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Confusion
  • Bluish lips or face

5. Continue to isolate following the CDC's guidelines

First thing’s first, if you are a health care worker, refer to the CDC’s isolation guidelines for health care personnel and contact your employer with any questions.

Everyone else should follow the CDC's isolation guidelines for the general public, starting by isolating for at least five full days.

Keep in mind, your isolation timeline begins on Day 0, the day you either notice symptoms or test positive. Day 1, then, is the first full day after that.

The guidelines then vary based on whether you are:

  • Asymptomatic (no symptoms)
  • Experiencing mild symptoms
  • Experiencing moderate symptoms (shortness of breath and difficulty breathing)
  • Immunocompromised or experiencing severe symptoms (requiring hospitalization)

If you are asymptomatic (no symptoms)

If you are asymptomatic (no symptoms):

  • Isolate for 5 full days after your positive test result*
  • On Day 6 of no symptoms, you can discontinue isolation but wear a high-quality, well-fitted mask around others for 5 more days

*If you were asymptomatic upon testing positive but eventually developed symptoms, your clock starts over and Day 0 becomes the day you notice symptoms. You'll also want to  follow the symptomatic guidance sections below for guidance at this point.

If your symptoms are mild

If your symptoms are mild:

  • Isolate for 5 full days after symptom onset
  • On Day 6, ONLY discontinue isolation if you no longer have fever (without the use of fever-reducers) and your mild symptoms are significantly improved*, but you must still wear a high-quality, well-fitted mask around others for 5 more days

*If your symptoms aren't yet improving, wait to end your isolation until 24 hours after your symptoms have improved. However, loss of taste and smell can last for weeks after you feel better and should not delay the end of isolation.

If your symptoms are moderate

If your symptoms are moderate (shortness of breath, difficulty breathing):

  • Isolate upon symptom onset
  • If your symptoms are worsening, contact your doctor for treatment guidance
  • On Day 10, ONLY discontinue isolation if your symptoms are significantly improved*

*Do not end isolation until 24 hours after your symptoms have significantly improved — which includes, but isn't limited to, being fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever reducers. However, loss of taste and smell can last for weeks after you feel better and should not delay the end of isolation.


If your symptoms are severe or if you are immunocompromised

If your symptoms are severe (requiring hospitalization) or if you have a weakened immune system:

  • Isolate upon symptom onset and through, at least, Day 10
  • If you're immunocompromised and your symptoms are worsening, contact your doctor for treatment guidance
  • On Day 10, consult your doctor and ONLY discontinue isolation if advised to do so

If you are unsure if you have are immunocompromised, talk to a healthcare provider for guidance.

If you're still unsure how long you should isolate, use the CDC's isolation calculator for help and contact your doctor with any questions.

Lastly, for those who are able to end isolation after 5 days, you'll need to do more than just wear a well-fitted mask for 5 more days, including:

  • Avoiding going places where you are unable to wear a mask, such as restaurants
  • Continuing to isolate for a full 10 days if you're unable to wear a mask while around others
  • Avoiding people who are immunocompromised or high risk for 5 more days
  • Avoiding travel until 10 full days have passed since your first day of symptoms

Download a PDF of our Isolation Guidelines chart here >

6. Make a plan to get vaccinated or boosted once you've recovered

If you're unvaccinated, get vaccinated as soon as you've ended isolation.

Studies show that unvaccinated adults are twice as likely to get COVID-19 a second time than those who get vaccinated after recovering. (Related: How Soon Can You Get Vaccinated After Recovering From COVID-19?)

If you're vaccinated but haven't yet received a booster and you are eligible for one, make your plan to get one once you've recovered. (Related: How Do I Know If I Need a COVID-19 Booster Shot?)

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Categories: Tips to Live By