You Tested Positive for Covid-19. Now What?

Here’s how to proceed safely

Photo: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

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.

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.

Clean shared spaces (and cuddle buddies)

Living with other people usually means sharing kitchens and bathrooms. If you can get a bathroom to yourself to use while you’re sick, do it. But if not, and if you also share a kitchen with other people, wipe down surfaces in these spaces at least once a day with a bleach wipe or a household disinfectant on a rag or washcloth. (If you use a rag or washcloth, place it into a laundry bin immediately after using so others don’t touch it.) The virus can live on surfaces for several days, so give special and more frequent attention to high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, refrigerator handles, microwave or other push buttons, and faucets. Select a dedicated dish or hand towel that only you use, and keep it on an out-of-the-way hook or in your room.

If you live alone, or everyone in your house is sick, it’s a good idea to have a buddy plan in case you get so sick that you need medical attention.

Use medications judiciously

The symptoms and severity of Covid-19 infection vary among people depending on age, other medical conditions, smoking history, and other poorly understood factors. However, most people who get infected experience cold or flu-like symptoms. These include several days of fever and cough (either productive or dry), with or without chest or nasal congestion, upset stomach, sore throat, or headache. Unless you have a medication allergy or are taking a medication that can interact with other medications, it’s probably safe to use ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat fever and discomfort, NyQuil to help with nighttime symptoms, and pseudoephedrine for congestion. Other cough and cold medications don’t do very much for everyday coughs and colds, so they probably won’t help much with a Covid-19 infection, either.

Seek help if you get sicker

People with mild illness generally start feeling better after a few days, Tan says. But some people remain ill for more than a week and occasionally worsen after an initial improvement in symptoms. This “double-peak” symptom pattern can include worsened cough, a newly productive cough, higher fevers, increased chest pain or tightness, or other symptoms.

Get to know your neighbors (electronically, probably)

If you live alone, or everyone in your house is sick, it’s a good idea to have a buddy plan in case you get so sick that you need medical attention. Get to know a few neighbors or reach out to some friends nearby, and make a plan with them to check in daily (via text or phone call or from at least six feet away) — or more often, if you like. Choose the health care facility where you’d go if you were to get sicker, and store its phone number somewhere easy to find. Think about how you’ll get there and share your plans with your buddy. Because the CDC recommends avoiding public transit including ride-shares and taxis, taking a private or livery car is best (which likely transports fewer customers per day), but if you must, call 911. Social networks can also help you get food and medicine when you’re stuck at home, so don’t be afraid to reach out to people.

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

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