While more and more people are getting vaccinated every day, COVID-19 is still widespread. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has now topped 27 million, with 656,430 cases in the last 7 days alone. Additionally, some of the new virus variants are considered significantly more contagious, making spread more likely.
All of this is to say there is still a high risk of getting the virus. So, what do you do if that happens to you? Below, we’ve written a step-by-step guide on what to do if you think you have COVID-19 or if you have tested positive.
Step #1: Get tested
You might think you are infected with COVID-19 either because you have been recently exposed to an infected person or because you are experiencing symptoms yourself. Either way, you should confirm the infection is present by getting tested. There are currently two types of tests available: molecular tests (PCR) and antigen tests (RAPID).
Molecular tests are considered more accurate because they look for the presence of the COVID-19 virus genetic material in a sample (typically a swab of mucus from the nasal cavities). The downside is that the results from these tests are slower. By contrast, antigen tests are faster but less accurate because they look for proteins found on the surface of the virus in a sample instead of the virus itself.
If you receive a positive result, then it is almost certain that you have COVID-19. However, if you undergo an antigen or rapid covid test that comes back negative but you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, then you should confirm the results with a molecular test. That’s because false negatives are possible.
Unfortunately, the antigen tests have an even lower accuracy rate when it comes to asymptomatic persons. If you have been directly exposed to someone with COVID-19, but you don’t feel symptoms and your test comes back negative, it is best to treat yourself as infected to be safe.
Overall, we recommend that if you show symptoms, then it’s fine to get a rapid. If that test comes back negative, but your symptoms line up with COVID-19, then get a PCR test. If you are asymptomatic but have reason to suspect you are infected (such as a recent exposure), then get the PCR test.
Step #2: Quarantine
If you are infected with COVID-19, you must quarantine. This is the best way to ensure that you don’t pass along the infection to others. Quarantining essential means staying isolated at home and limiting contact with others as much as possible.
This might require you to change certain habits. For example, instead of going to the grocery store (even in a mask), look into home-delivery options. If you have a dog and no one else to take care of it, make sure to go on walks in less crowded areas or at times when fewer people are out and about.
If you are living with others, there are additional steps you should take to prevent them from getting infected. Try to limit yourself to a designated separate room in the house and, if possible, a separate bathroom. If you do need to go into shared spaces, wear a mask, open windows, and turn on a fan to encourage airflow. Only one person should take care of you when sick. This should be someone who is not at higher risk for severe illness. Make sure not to share any food, utensils, or other household goods.
You will need to follow these strict quarantine measures until:
- At least 10 days have passed since you first felt symptoms AND
- At least 24 hours have passed with no fever without fever-reducing medication AND
- Your other symptoms are improving, such as feeling more energetic or coughing less (CDC)
The Virginia Department of Health created a handy symptom log you can download here that will make monitoring the improvement of your symptoms easier.
If you have a weakened immune system, you may need a longer period than just 10 days. Talk to your doctor to find out more.
NOTE: You do not need to get tested again. You may test positive for COVID-19 for three months or more after infection, but that doesn’t mean you are contagious. That’s because your body might keep ridding itself of dead virus cells, which can then trigger a false positive test result. Health officials developed the above guidelines for ending quarantine based on time passed since symptom onset instead because it is regarded as more accurate than a negative test result following infection.
Step #3: Contact Tracing
Once you have been tested and have begun quarantining, it’s time to track down anyone you might have exposed so that they can get tested. You should contact:
- Members of your household
- Anyone you had direct physical contact with (such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands)
- Anyone who you were within 6 feet of for 15 minutes or more
- Anyone who you coughed/sneezed on or shared a glass, food, towels, or other personal items with
Official contact tracing will vary from state to state. A government or health official may contact you after you receive a positive COVID-19 test to trace who else might have been infected.
Step #4: Treatment
How you treat your COVID-19 depends on the severity of your symptoms. We’ve split this up into four different levels:
- Mild to moderate symptoms
- Severe symptoms
- Long-haul symptoms
As far as what to do about your symptoms, we’ve broken it down into four sections below.
Asymptomatic cases are those where you don’t feel any symptoms at all. This accounts for approximately 20% of all COVID-19 cases. While it’s lucky not to feel any symptoms, these cases can represent a high risk for those around you because it can be harder to tell if you are sick. That’s why you still must quarantine even if you feel fine.
It’s also important to note that even though you don’t feel noticeable symptoms, the virus can still cause consequences within your body. Researchers have found signs of lung damage and inflammation within asymptomatic patients.
You can read more on supplements and other options that support immune system health here:
Mild to Moderate Symptoms
Around 80% of COVID-19 cases are estimated to be mild or moderate. Symptoms can include:
- Mild shortness of breath with exercise
- Loss of taste or smell
- Body aches
- Runny nose or congestion
These are symptoms that do not require emergency medical attention. That being said, they can still be uncomfortable. There are a lot of over-the-counter and home remedies you can do to help make yourself feel better. Overall, drink lots of water and get as much rest as possible.
Our pharmacists recommend acetaminophen for treating fever symptoms in addition to aches and pains. For cough, you can use dextromethorphan or natural remedies like honey and mint (available as tea or lozenges). For more information, you can read our full guide to OTC COVID-19 treatment options here.
If your symptoms develop from mild to moderate, it’s suggested that you reach out to your family doctor or general physician for guidance. They may or may not follow the I-MASK+, which is a COVID-19 treatment protocol developed by the Frontline COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance ( FLCCC).
The FLCCC recommends one dose of 0.2 mg/kg of ivermectin on day 1 and day 3 of infection. Ivermectin seems to be especially effective when administered earlier rather than later during infection. They also suggest:
- Vitamin D3: 4,000 IU/day
- Vitamin C: 2,000 mg, 2x – 3x a day
- Quercetin: 250 mg 2x a day
- Zinc: 100 mg/day
- Melatonin: 10 mg before bedtime
- Aspirin: 325 mg/ day
These guidelines should only be followed when recommended by and under the supervision of your doctor. If you’re curious about ivermectin and other medications under investigation as COVID-19 treatments, you can read our blog posts here:
Keep in mind that research around COVID-19 treatments is rapidly evolving, so this information is subject to change.
There are certain key symptoms to look out for that signify a more serious case of COVID-19. Examples are:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath when at resit
- Persistent chest pain or pressure
- Feeling confused or more confused than normal
- Inability to wake up or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
If these happen to you, then you need to go directly to the emergency room or call 911. While at the hospital, you may receive a variety of treatments depending on your specific symptoms. If your oxygen levels are low, you may be given oxygen or even intubation and ventilation (which involves a medically-induced coma). In the most severe cases, dialysis machines or other tubes may be required to support vital bodily functions.
The FLCCC has also published a treatment protocol for hospitalized patients. They recommend 200 mg of ivermectin through an IV 2x daily for five days, beginning immediately upon admission. Other recommendations include methylprednisolone, ascorbic acid, thiamine, and heparin, among others. You can find the full treatment protocol here.
Long Haul Symptoms
If you notice your symptoms persisting for weeks or even months after your infection, you may have what is now referred to as “long-haul COVID-19.” This happens to approximately 10% of COVID-19 cases.
This can happen to anyone—no matter your age or the severity of your original infection. Symptoms can vary widely, but some common ones include:
- Ongoing fatigue
- Body aches
- Joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of taste and smell
- Difficulty sleeping
- Brain fog
If this happens to you, contact your doctor. They may recommend you to a specialist or even to a new type of medical clinic dedicated to studying long-haul COVID-19 cases.
Step #5: Vaccination
The CDC currently recommends that you do not visit a vaccination site until your quarantine is over to mitigate the risk of transmission to health care workers at the site.
Additionally, they recommend waiting to get your vaccine for three months. This is because COVID-19 infection provides you with three months of natural immunity, so it’s better to let others who don’t have this protection get vaccinated first.
That being said, once those three months are up, you should still get the vaccine. Natural immunity from an active infection doesn’t last forever, and the virus is constantly evolving new variants, so reinfection is possible. For all of those reasons, it’s still important to eventually get vaccinated.
These guidelines will continue to change as medical experts learn more about COVID-19 and the best treatment options. Luckily, there are certain steps you should take no matter what, including self-quarantining and keeping your doctor informed.