You Tested Positive for Covid-19. Now What?

Here’s how to proceed safely

Keren Landman, MD
Elemental
Published in
6 min readMar 30, 2020

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Photo: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

IIt’s not easy to get yourself tested for Covid-19 right now, but if you’ve done so and received a positive result — whether you got tested as part of a surveillance program, because you were a contact of someone who tested positive, or because you were feeling sick — know that most people who contract Covid-19 have a pretty mild case, ranging from no symptoms at all to flu-like symptoms including fever, cough, congestion, and stomach upset. Symptoms “run the gamut,” says Tina Tan, MD, an infectious disease and pediatrics doctor based in Chicago, and most people have an 80% to 90% chance of having relatively minor symptoms. So do your best to remain calm. Here’s doctor-approved advice for what to do next.

Put on a mask

A surgical mask, if you can find one, is enough to prevent you from spreading infection — you don’t need an N95 or a full-on hood with an oxygen tank. If you don’t have a surgical mask, the next best thing is to improvise with a scarf or a bandana over your nose and mouth, says Tan. However, fabrics don’t protect other people nearly as well as masks made for that purpose, so don’t be overconfident in these improvised solutions.

The goal of face protection is to protect others around you from inhaling droplets you give off when you cough or sneeze. Most of this type of transmission will happen within 10 feet of you, so you’ll want to mask up around roommates and family members if you must be around them.

Isolate yourself

If your test results come back positive and your symptoms are mild enough that it is safe for you to be at home — that is, you are not short of breath or otherwise severely ill — you should isolate yourself at home for 14 days after a positive test, says Tan. If you have or can get a room to yourself, stay there as much as possible, and open a window if the weather allows to help ventilate the space.

In any shared environment, cover your coughs and sneezes and wash or sanitize your hands often (but especially when they’re dirty, before and after meal preparation, and after blowing your nose or using the bathroom). It’s almost impossible to seal yourself off completely from people you live with, but do…

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Keren Landman, MD
Elemental

Infectious disease doctor | Epidemiologist | Journalist | Health disparities, HIV/STDs, LGBTQ care, et al. | kerenlandman.com.