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So You Have Tested Positive for COVID: What Next?

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Your Step-By-Step Guide on What to do After Testing Positive for COVID

The current guidelines on what to do if you or a loved one test(s) positive for COVID may seem a bit complicated and hard to understand. Here I will try to break it down for you as simply as possible what to do if you test positive.

First, let's define a couple of terms you may hear.

Quarantine vs Isolation. What is the difference?

  • Quarantine is what you should do if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID. Quarantine is used to separate people who might be infected from those who are not infected.

  • Isolation is what you should do if you have already tested positive for COVID. Isolation is used to separate people who are infected with COVID-19 from those who are not infected.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, regardless of if you have been fully vaccinated or not, you need to isolate. This will help to protect your loved ones and the general public from catching COVID from you.

What should I do while in isolation?

1. Stay home

  • Notify your employer (or your child's school if applicable) that you (or your child) have tested positive for COVID and need to stay home from work and/or school

  • Have someone else run any errands for you if possible

If you must leave your home for essential tasks, such as getting food, you should:

  • Wear a mask

  • Wash or sanitize your hands before touching any surfaces or consider wearing disposable globes while you are out

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others while you are out

2. Know your timeframe

  • You will need to stay home for 10 days from the start of your symptoms -AND- until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours WITHOUT the use of fever-reducing medications -AND- any other symptoms have improved

  • Keep in mind that some people continue to have cough, shortness of breath with activity, fatigue, and loss of taste/smell for longer than 10 days; these symptoms do not need to be completely gone, but improved before you can stop isolating. Studies have shown that a person's ability to infect others after 10 days is very low, even if some symptoms (other than fever) are persistent

If you developed symptoms AFTER having a positive COVID test:

  • You need to stay home for 5 days after your positive test result -AND- you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours WITHOUT the use of fever-reducing medications -AND- any other symptoms have improved

  • You need to wear a mask for 5 more days when in public or around others

If you never had any symptoms but tested positive:

  • You need to stay home for 5 days after your initial exposure, following by 5 days of wearing a mask in public or around others

You do not need a repeat COVID test to determine when you can stop isolating. In fact, some people may continue to test positive, even when all of their symptoms have resolved.

Note: These recommendations do not apply to people with severe COVID-19 or with weakened immune systems (immunocompromised). People who are severely ill (and not hospitalized) with COVID-19 may need to stay home longer than 5 days and up to 20 days. Immunocompromised people may require testing to determine when they can be around others. If you fit into either of these categories, talk to your doctor for specific guidance. Your doctor will let you know exactly when you can stop isolation based on your medical history and symptoms.

3. Keep your distance

  • Avoid close contact with family or other household members as much as possible, especially if they have not tested positive for COVID

  • Stay in a "sick room" or a "sick floor" of your home and use your own bathroom (if possible)

  • Don’t share personal household items, like cups, towels, and utensils

  • Have someone bring food or other items to you and leave them at a door

  • If you must be around family/household members, wear a mask and wash or sanitize your hands often

4. Monitor your symptoms

  • Some people don't develop any symptoms, even if they test positive for COVID

  • If you develop mild symptoms (for example, fever, runny nose, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, etc), you likely can treat your symptoms as needed at home

  • If your symptoms are more bothersome (bad cough, extreme fatigue, inability to eat, vomiting, etc), call your doctor for guidance or go to urgent care or the emergency room for evaluation

  • If you are experiencing significant trouble breathing or any other life-threatening symptoms, call 911


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All content on this website, including medical opinion and any other health-related information is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this website and the information contained does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor before starting any specific treatment plan.

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