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What To Do If You Have a Positive COVID-19 Test

Getting a positive test for the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) might feel overwhelming. With the proper steps, COVID-19 can be easily managed and overcome while protecting yourself and others. So even if you haven’t tested positive already, it’s a good idea to prepare. Make a plan. Think of it like getting ready for an approaching hurricane or other natural disaster.


Infected and Feeling Normal


First the good news. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 40% of people who contract COVID-19 are completely asymptomatic. Since younger people are getting tested in greater numbers, this percentage could increase. The younger you are, the better your chance of not developing symptoms.

Even if you do, the odds are that it isn’t life or death. Those under 65 without any of the risk factors like obesity (BMI over 30), cancer, or a serious heart condition will most likely suffer nothing worse than a case of the flu.


The greater issue is how easily the virus spreads. COVID-19 was initially a silent killer, traveling undetected across the globe. Asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread has been the pandemic’s primary driver. This is why if you or a member of your household test positive for COVID-19, you must take certain steps to protect the community.

Household Guidelines


Stay-at-home orders and social distancing means you limit interactions to essential needs. Even important tasks like grocery shopping can be done online to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Physical distancing means staying at least six feet away from people not in your household when you go to stores or exercise. After you or a household member test positive for COVID-19, you need to “self-quarantine.” Different from quarantines imposed by governments or the military, it means you need to “police” yourself and your household. You don’t leave your residence to shop, you don’t use public transportation, and you only go to a health care facility in the case of a medical emergency. These steps are important to stop the virus from spreading.


Quarantining works. An examination of 29 studies looking at quarantines for COVID-19 and other viral outbreaks discovered that they significantly reduced the number of infections and deaths. If someone needs to self-quarantine, everyone in the household, including children and unrelated roommates, should follow the same isolation guidelines as the infected person. This means no one should go to work or school, shop, or use public transportation of any kind. Ride-sharing services should not be used either. If someone needs essential medical care, they should be driven or, in extreme cases, take an ambulance. Always call ahead before going to your PCP’s office, urgent care, or an emergency room. Put on a mask ahead of time if possible, or as soon as you arrive. If you need to call 911 or your local emergency number, make sure to notify the operator that someone at home has COVID-19. If possible, put on a mask before emergency medical services arrive.

Everyone in the household, both infected and non-infected, must be diligent about practicing good hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water regularly for at least 20 seconds. Rub the fronts and backs of your hands and the spaces between all your fingers the whole time. Then rinse with water. This should be done especially when coming into contact with common surfaces or after the infected person has spent time with others. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.


Clean all “high-touch” surfaces every day which include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables. Labels contain instructions for safe and effective use of the cleaning product including precautions you should take when using the product (such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use).


Guidance for the Infected


The person with the virus needs to remain in their room as much as possible. If they use a shared bathroom, it needs to be disinfected after they use it. The sick person should avoid spending time with household pets as there is some data that animals can catch the virus (it is believed that COVID-19 was transmitted to people by an animal, most likely a bat).

When out of their room or when others are around, the infected person should wear a face mask. This mask should also be worn at doctors’ offices and in vehicles. Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in a trash can lined with a disposable bag. Wash your hands immediately afterward. If a tissue is unavailable, cough or sneeze into the inside part of your elbow. If you are infected, never share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. After you have used these items, wash them thoroughly with soap and water.

Ending Quarantine


Isolation can usually end when at least seven days have passed since you got sick AND
all of your symptoms (including a fever) have been gone for at least three full days, without taking any medications to reduce a fever. This means that you no longer have a fever even when you don’t take any acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). This includes combination cold/flu medicines that contain these ingredients. As an example, assume you or the infected household member got sick on a Sunday. You or the infected person might feel completely better by the following Sunday. All your symptoms are gone –– no more fever or cough. This does not mean ending isolation. Instead, you need to continue quarantining for three more days (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), thus leaving home isolation on Thursday.


Although you can now interact more freely with other people, follow your local area’s guidance on what activities are acceptable and which businesses are still open for you to frequent. Also keep in mind that this is a general guideline, and if you take certain medications or have other health conditions that affect your immune system, your home isolation may be longer.


Finally, you don’t need to panic shop. Instead, prepare for the possibility of self-quarantine by purchasing one or two additional items each time you go to the store. Set them aside. Like a hurricane, earthquake, or other disaster supplies kit, your quarantine kit should contain all the things you will need to stay at home for two weeks. Getting ready now will make the process easier if you ever need to self-quarantine.

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