COVID-19 – What to do if you test positive
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
If you tested positive for COVID-19, taking the appropriate measures is not only crucial for your health. It can also protect those around you by stopping the spread of the virus.
But with guidelines changing all the time, it can be hard to know what to do after a positive test result and how to take care of yourself during quarantine.
This article will provide you with steps to follow and measures that will help you take care of yourself and protect those around you.
Steps to follow immediately after a positive test result
What to do if you test positive for COVID-19 depends on your situation.
If a doctor determines that you‘re at risk of serious illness after catching COVID-19, then treatment may be available in the form of antiviral medication or monoclonal antibodies.
The following groups may be at higher risk of serious illness if they catch COVID-19: 1 2
- Older than 50, with a higher risk for people older than 60. People older than 85 years are most likely to get very sick.
- Diagnosed with certain medical conditions
- Diagnosed with a weakened immune system, meaning that your defenses against infections are low
- Pregnant people
What to do if you are at high risk?
If you're in a high-risk group, you should contact your doctor immediately after testing positive for COVID-19 to see if you’re eligible for prescription medication. This medication may decrease your chances of severe illness and hospitalization.
It’s important not to postpone contacting your doctor, as treatment should start within 5 days of experiencing symptoms. You should contact your doctor by telephone instead of going to a healthcare facility to avoid spreading the virus.
What to do if you have no risk factors?
If you are not eligible for prescription medication, you can treat your COVID-19 infection at home by taking measures to relieve your symptoms and protect others.
Keep yourself away from others
The most important thing to do when you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 is to avoid contact with others for at least 5 days. This means staying home and only going outside if you need medical care. It’s best to keep your distance from people at higher risk of severe COVID-19 for at least 10 days.
If you are living with other people, then you should: 3 4
- Stay in a room separated from others as much as possible. If you need to go outside your room, you should wear a mask that fits well, even if the people you live with are vaccinated. Make sure to wear your mask around animals, as they can also get COVID-19.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Throw these tissues away immediately and wash your hands thoroughly with water and soap for at least 20 seconds after coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid sharing personal household items such as dishes, cups, towels, or bedding. Wash everything you've used with water and soap. Any other things you've touched should also be cleaned and disinfected, including tables, countertops, light switches, and door handles.
- Ensure that your home is well ventilated by opening windows and using air filters.
- Wash your hands regularly with water and soap. If this isn’t available, you should use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Inform people you’ve been in contact with
Apart from taking these measures to keep others safe, you should also inform the people you’ve recently been in contact with that you have tested positive for COVID-19. This way, they can take the appropriate measures to keep themselves and the people around them safe. You should consider everyone you’ve been in contact with in the 48 hours before your first symptoms or positive test, as the coronavirus can already spread from that point on. 2
Things to remember during your infection
You can manage mild COVID-19 symptoms at home. However, monitoring your symptoms and seeing if they improve or worsen is essential. Things to look out for are: 3
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent chest pain
- Difficulty staying awake
- Pale skin and blue discoloration of lips or nail beds
You must contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms. If you need medication or advice from your doctor, remember to call first instead of going there in person. This way, you can avoid passing the virus on to others.
During your quarantine, there are a few things to keep in mind for a good recovery from COVID-19: 2
- Remember to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Keep your symptoms and fever under control with over-the-counter medication.
When can you end isolation?
When to end your quarantine depends on whether or not you've had symptoms and how severe they were. If you test positive for COVID-19 and experience symptoms, you should quarantine for at least 5 days.
The 5-day period starts the day after symptoms begin. After 5 days, you should follow government guidelines on what to do next. As government guidelines change, checking and following the latest advice is always recommended.
If you're on your last day of quarantine but still experiencing a fever, you should extend your isolation period until you've been fever-free for 24 hours. 5
If you test positive for COVID-19 but do not experience any symptoms, you should quarantine for 5 days. The 5-day period begins the day after receiving your positive test result. If the 5-day period ends and you still haven't developed any symptoms, you can end your quarantine. You should continue wearing a mask for another 5 days and maintain proper hygiene.
If you test positive for COVID-19 and you’ve been very sick because of the infection, then you should isolate for at least 10 days and possibly longer. In this case, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider as they can provide more guidance on when you can end your isolation period.
In all 3 scenarios, you can also take an antigen test at the end of your quarantine. This way, you can get extra confirmation on whether or not you can end your isolation.
Q: Can I get a booster if I have COVID-19?
A: If you test positive for COVID-19, you should postpone your booster appointment and wait until you recover. You can discuss rescheduling with your healthcare provider.
Q: Can I smoke if I have COVID-19?
A: As smoking damages the lungs and COVID-19 may also impact your lungs, smoking is not recommended.
Q: Can I go outside if I have COVID-19?
A: It is important not to go outside if you have COVID-19. You should stay at home until you've recovered to help stop the spread of the virus. You can also recover best while resting at home. If you need medical help, you should contact your doctor by telephone to see what you should do.
Q: Can I get unemployment benefits if I have COVID-19?
A: If you are a US citizen, you can get unemployment benefits depending on your unemployment insurance program. You should check with your insurance provider.
Q: Do I get paid if I have COVID-19 in 2022?
A: In the USA, this depends on your coverage and the size of the company you work for. You can get up to 80 hours of COVID-19-related paid sick leave. This period starts on 1 January 2022 and ends on 30 September 2022.
Q: Can I breastfeed if I have COVID-19?
A: It is unlikely that COVID-19 spreads through breast milk. You should, however, wear a mask and wash your hands with water and soap before breastfeeding.
Q: Do I have COVID-19 or a cold?
A: As many symptoms of COVID-19 can be similar to the common cold, it's a good idea to get tested. If you've tested negative, you should still wear a mask while experiencing symptoms and maintain good hand hygiene.
Q: Can I shower if I have COVID-19?
A: Yes. Showering can help you relieve COVID-19 symptoms such as sore throat and coughing.
CDC (2022). Specific groups of people. Accessed on 7 August 2022.
NHS (2022). Treatments for coronavirus (COVID-19). Accessed on 7 August 2022.
CDC (2022). What to do if you are sick. Accessed on 7 August 2022.
NHS (2022). What to do if you have coronavirus (COVID-19) or symptoms of COVID-19. Accessed on 7 August 2022.
CDC (2022). Quarantine & isolation. Accessed on 7 August 2022.