I think I have COVID: Now what?

By The Health News Team | July 20, 2022
Woman sick on couch

As COVID-19 cases increase due to the spread of the highly contagious BA.5 variant, you might be wondering if you can continue to avoid infection — even if you are fully vaccinated — and what to do if you catch COVID.

Whether you are vaccinated or not, there is risk of infection. However, for people who are fully vaccinated and have received a vaccine booster dose — or two booster doses, if eligible — the risk of severe illness, hospitalization or death is greatly reduced compared to those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated. Additionally, people who experience a breakthrough case of COVID-19 after full vaccination are more likely to have no or very mild symptoms.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed guidance regarding COVID-19 exposure, isolation, testing and more for people who are and are not vaccinated. Here, we answer some top questions about what to do if you have — or think you may have — COVID-19.

What should I do if I am exposed to COVID-19?
If you have been exposed to COVID-19 and are unvaccinated, you should isolate and get tested.

  • If your test result is negative, stay home for at least 5 days after your last contact with the person who has COVID-19; monitor your symptoms; and try to stay away from people you live with, especially people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19. Wear a face mask indoors around all others for 10 full days.

  • If your test result is positive, isolate yourself for at least 5 days after your first day of symptoms, or 5 days after receiving your positive test result if you do not have any symptoms. After isolation, follow strict masking guidelines, including wearing a mask for 10 full days when around others indoors. Continue isolating until your symptoms resolve. Do not travel for 10 days after your symptoms started or you received your positive test result.

If you are fully vaccinated or had confirmed COVID-19 within the past 90 days, you do not need to isolate after exposure unless you develop symptoms. However, you should get tested at least 5 days after your exposure and wear a mask when around others indoors for 10 days following exposure. Follow the guidance above if your test result is positive.

What should I do if I have COVID-19 symptoms?
Even if you haven’t knowingly had an exposure to COVID-19, you might still have picked it up when you were around others in public or with a loved one who is unaware they’re infected.

If you experience any of the following common COVID-19 symptoms, you might be among the millions who have been infected in the U.S.:

  • Fever or chills

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Headache

  • New loss of taste or smell

  • Sore throat

  • Congestion or runny nose

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

Get tested if you have any of these symptoms. At-home rapid COVID-19 antigen tests are widely available. Check any at-home tests you have on hand to ensure they have not expired before using them.

A recent study found at-home antigen tests caught only 20% of infections on the first day of symptoms, whereas PCR tests caught 80% of infections on the first day. Antigen tests performed best four days after someone experienced COVID symptoms, catching 77% of infections. So, testing two or three times over the span of a few days will likely provide more accurate results.

If your antigen or PCR test result is positive, follow the isolation guidance above to protect others from getting sick.

How can I treat my COVID symptoms?
If you are experiencing mild symptoms, you can most likely find relief with the use of over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers, along with lots of rest and hydration. Monitor your symptoms and call your doctor if symptoms worsen.

Talk with your doctor about whether you are eligible to receive a COVID-19 antiviral medication, such as Paxlovid. These oral medications are taken at home and prevent the coronavirus from replicating, allowing people with COVID-19 who may be at risk for developing severe illness to avoid hospitalization.

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you experience any of these severe symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Persistent pain or pressure in your chest

  • Unable to stay awake

  • Bluish face or lips

  • Experiencing confusion

What should I do to protect the people around me?
It’s important that you reach out to anyone you may have exposed to COVID-19. Think back to all the places you’ve gone and people you’ve seen starting two days before your symptoms began or you tested positive.

Isolate and wear a mask around others, as advised above. You should also:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

  • Make sure to wash dishes, glasses, cups, utensils, towels and bedding after use, and avoid sharing these items with others in your household.

  • Use effective household cleaners and disinfectants on all surfaces and regularly touched areas, such as faucet handles, doorknobs, TV remotes and handrails.

Experts agree that vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others. People age 5 and older are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and booster dose. And those age 50 and older are eligible for a second booster dose.

Get COVID-19 vaccine information and access to COVID-19 resources from Sharp.

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