What to do if you test positive for COVID-19




  • In Science
  • 2021-12-20 17:19:42Z
  • By Business Insider
Women with mask, hat and gloves holds up rapid test.
Women with mask, hat and gloves holds up rapid test.  
  • COVID-19 cases are surging again.

  • Here's how to test for COVID-19, and what to do if you test positive.

  • Stock up on healthy food, fever-reducing medicine, and avoid contact with other people.

Infections with COVID-19 are surging yet again, so you may find yourself testing positive.

With the highly infectious Omicron variant circulating in many countries, reinfections are common and vaccinated people may be susceptible to mild infections.

It's important to take precautions and be prepared to act if you get infected.

Here's what to do:

How to confirm you have COVID-19

You should test yourself for COVID-19 if you've been (or you suspect that you could have been) exposed to it. You should also test if you're showing symptoms.

There are two types of viral tests for COVID-19: rapid and laboratory tests. Rapid tests can give you results in 15 minutes and may be useful if you're trying to determine your status right before an event. However, they're more likely to return a false negative result compared to lab tests, especially if you're asymptomatic.

If you get a negative result from a test you took at home or at a rapid testing site, you should test again the next day to confirm your results.

Even better, book a PCR test to get more meaningful results. Lab tests like the RT-PCR can identify even a trace of the virus' genetic material, which is why the PCR is known as the gold standard in viral testing.

However, it can take days to get your results back from the lab when the demand for testing is so high. It's important to self-isolate while you wait.

There's also the possibility you won't be able to get a test near you. Many of the areas seeing spikes in infections - like NYC - are also experiencing testing shortages. If you've been exposed to the coronavirus from a close contact, you may opt to skip the test and isolate to be safe.

Self-isolate for 10 days

If you test positive for the virus, you should self-isolate for 10 days.

That means not leaving the house unless it's an emergency, the CDC says.

Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London who advises the UK government, told BBC's Radio 4 that fully vaccinated people who get a breakthrough case of COVID-19 may only need to isolate for 7 days, if, by that point, they are testing negative.

However, the current global consensus is that, based on the strongest evidence we have, 10 days is prudent.

How to keep distance from people you live with

Two roommates chatting while sitting on the sofa.
Two roommates chatting while sitting on the sofa.  

If you live with family or flat mates, keeping distance is challenging.

The ultimate goal is that you're not sharing air with anyone else. That means sleeping in a separate room, having a separate bathroom, and not being in the same spaces, such as the kitchen or living room. Ideally, have friends or family drop off food and drink outside your door for you to collect.

If you are sharing a bathroom or appliances, you should also make sure to wash your hands and the surfaces regularly to avoid cross contamination.

"When you have to be in a shared space, like a bathroom or a living room, you make sure that time-wise, you keep it so that you're not both in that same space at the same time. As much as you can, you wipe down surfaces," Dr. Rishi Desai, chief medical officer at Osmosis, and a former Epidemic Intelligence Service officer at the CDC, previously told Insider's Hilary Brueck.

Adding lots of space and time into the equation helps prevent virus transmission to new people, Desai added. "For every minute that passes, the amount of virus in the air diminishes."

These days, many states and cities are providing free accommodation for people with COVID-19 who can't isolate in their own homes. In New York City, for example, you can qualify for the COVID-19 Hotel Program if you or someone you live with tests positive, and:

  • Your home does not have space for you to stay six feet away from others.

  • You share rooms or a bathroom.

  • You live with someone who is vulnerable.

Similar services are available in some other major cities, such as Philadelphia and Chicago. Other jurisdictions have set up isolation and recovery sites designated for financially needy or homeless residents.

What to stock up on at home, from food to medicine

chicken noodle soup
chicken noodle soup  

Soup is a great way to combine fluids, vitamins, protein, carbs, and any other nutrients you need when sick.Jess Lessard Photography/Getty Images

  • Pain and fever relief: COVID-19, like the flu, can cause muscle aches, fever, and chills. You can ease the discomfort of those symptoms by taking over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen (sold as Tylenol), DayQuil, or NyQuil.

  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water. If you like, you can also stock up on drinks like electrolyte-rich Pedialyte or Gatorade, which promote hydration.

  • Fruit and vegetables: When your body is run-down, it's important to have a good balance of nutrients and eat healthy, unprocessed food.

  • Soup: Soup is a great way to combine fluids, vitamins, protein, carbs, and any other nutrients your body needs when you're sick, registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix previously told Insider.

Free online delivery services for essentials

Order your goods online or ask friends or family to come by your home and drop them off. Be sure to not come in contact with whoever is delivering to you.

The government has a list of free food delivery services for people with COVID-19 who can't afford food delivery apps.

Who you should tell that you have COVID-19

You'll want to tell anyone with whom you've been in contact recently that you've tested positive for COVID-19.

While you're most infectious when you're showing symptoms, it is possible to spread the coronavirus earlier - up to two days before you show symptoms, according to the CDC.

The CDC defines close contacts as those who were within six feet of you for 15 minutes or more while you were infectious.

Your close contacts should get tested and quarantine for 5-10 days

The people you've seen while infectious will also need to get tested themselves. Again, a PCR test is more accurate than a rapid if you're willing to self-isolate while you wait for results.

The CDC advises that unvaccinated folks get tested immediately after learning of exposure to a close contact with COVID-19, and again 5-7 days later. Fully vaccinated people can wait to get tested 5-7 days after exposure, according to the CDC's official guidance. However, some experts have warned that Omicron may have a shorter incubation period than past variants, so it might make sense to test sooner.

If your close contacts develop cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, headache, or fatigue, they should quarantine at home for 5-10 days or until they test negative. A rapid test at the onset of symptoms can help them determine if it's COVID-19 or something else.

If you can't get tested, it's best to assume you may be infectious. Wear a mask around other people, and avoid indoor gatherings or public events.

How to know when you can stop isolating

According to the Mayo Clinic, if you have been symptom-free for at least 24 hours, and it's been 10 days since you first showed symptoms, you are likely cleared of the virus and not infectious.

If you're not sure, you can take a rapid or PCR test to confirm.

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