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What to do if you have COVID-19: key steps

Written on March 24, 2023 by Theresa Vuskovich, DMD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Your COVID-19 test result is positive. Now what? This article will help you navigate the current COVID guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [1-4]. Here's what to do if you have COVID-19.

Isolate for at least five days

If you test positive for COVID-19, you must isolate yourself for five days. The first day of isolation begins when you test positive and have symptoms, not when you believe you were exposed. You're more likely to spread COVID-19 during the first five days after exposure. Let's discuss two potential scenarios:

Scenario #1: You test positive but do not have symptoms

If you test positive but have no symptoms, the CDC recommends isolating for five days. If you develop symptoms within the first 10 days following the positive test, the isolation clock resets, and day one is your first full day of symptoms. Everyone's experience with COVID-19 is unique. Some people develop symptoms quickly, while others never do. It may take 2 to 14 days after exposure for symptoms to appear.

The following are some of the possible COVID-19 symptoms [2]:

  • Feeling sick with a fever or chills
  • Coughing
  • Breathing difficulty or shortness of breath
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Aching muscles
  • Having a headache
  • Losing your sense of taste or smell
  • Having a sore throat
  • Feeling congested or having a runny nose
  • Vomiting or feeling nauseous
  • Having diarrhea

Scenario #2: You test positive and have symptoms

If you test positive and have symptoms, isolate for five days, starting on the day you test positive or the day your symptoms start. You can test positive for COVID-19 even after you have been vaccinated, but you are less likely to experience severe symptoms.

During isolation, make sure to do the following:

  • Stay home and away from others
  • When you are around others at home, wear a mask
  • Do not travel
  • If possible, use a separate bathroom
  • Wash your hands often for 20 seconds with soap and water
  • Take steps to improve ventilation at home, if possible
  • Use your own cups and utensils

Tell your coworkers and friends

Make sure to notify anyone you have been in contact with recently that you have tested positive for COVID-19. Even if vaccinated, they can catch and spread the virus to others.

Monitor your vital signs

Monitor your vital signs while in isolation. Your vital signs include your:

  • Body temperature: 97.8-99.0 degrees Fahrenheit is normal
  • Pulse rate: 60 to 100 beats per minute is normal
  • Respiration rate: 12 to 16 breaths per minute at rest is normal for an adult

Additionally, you will want to track your oxygen saturation levels (SpO2). A normal SpO2 is between 95 to 100%. You can measure your SpO2 using a pulse oximeter. A pulse oximeter is a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment and can be found at any pharmacy in your area. The pulse oximeter is a clip that fits around your finger and measures how much oxygen is in your blood. If your SpO2 is 92% or less, seek medical attention [2].

Document your symptoms

After you test positive for COVID-19, it is a good idea to document your vital signs, SpO2, and symptoms. This will allow you to determine when the first day of isolation is and whether your symptoms or vital signs indicate a more severe COVID-19 infection. If you develop any of the following, call 911 [2]:

  • Breathing problems
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Skin becomes pale, gray, or blue

Treat your symptoms

Rest, fluids, and pain relievers are the best way to treat your symptom [2]. Since COVID-19 has a wide range of symptoms, treatment will vary from person to person.

Practice self-care

COVID-19 treatment also includes daily self-care practices such as [2]:

  • Taking a shower
  • Getting dressed
  • Drinking plenty of fluids and eating healthy meals
  • Moving your body regularly
  • Making sure you get enough sleep
  • Not using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol
  • Meditating, stretching, or breathing deeply

Make plans to get vaccinated

If you haven't received your full vaccination, make an appointment to have it after you have finished your isolation period.

Take a COVID test

You can end your COVID-19 isolation after testing negative for COVID-19 or if you no longer have symptoms such as fever after five days. If you still have a fever or symptoms, continue to isolate.

Consult a healthcare provider

Telehealth makes it easier than ever to contact a healthcare provider. COVID treatment online is available via Everlywell to help answer any of your COVID-19-related questions and address symptoms.

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  1. Isolation and precautions for people with COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published January 10, 2023. Accessed March 5, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/isolation.html. URL
  2. Treating COVID-19 at home: Care tips for you and others. Mayo Clinic. Published December 5, 2020. Accessed March 6, 2023. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/treating-covid-19-at-home/art-20483273.URL
  3. COVID-19 testing: What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published January 19, 2023. Accessed March 6, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html. URL
  4. Getting your COVID-19 vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published January 26, 2023. Accessed March 5, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/expect.html. URL
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