What to do if you (or a loved one) Might have COVID-19

Stay calm. Here’s our guide to what symptoms you should look out for, and how to respond if you’ve been exposed.

An elderly couple wearing protective masks
Photograph: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/Getty Images

Have you lost your sense of smell? Convinced that your sore throat is something more than seasonal allergies? Do you think you or someone you know may have contracted Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus? Stay calm. Here’s our guide on what to do next.

Need more info on what’s going on with regards to the disease? Be sure to check out our full coverage of all things Covid-19, especially our Coronavirus FAQ. Go to the CDC’s website to learn any new information coming from the Centers for Disease Control.

Updated May 22 by Matt Jancer: We’ve added the CDC’s updated guidance on new symptoms to this article, as well as some added detail on when to stop self-isolation and how to get tested.

Symptoms of Covid-19

The first thing you should do is check to make sure your symptoms match what we know about Covid-19. Many of these symptoms are commonly associated with seasonal colds and the regular flu. Although we’ve begun to exit flu season, that doesn’t rule out your symptoms being the common cold or influenza. There’s also tons of pollen floating around now that it’s springtime, and so you could be having problems with allergies.

While many who are infected may exhibit few to no symptoms (especially children), here are the major symptoms of Covid-19, according to the CDC.

Most Common Symptoms

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • New lost in taste or smell (Some report this odd symptom as one of the first indicators of the disease.)

All symptoms typically appear 2-14 days after exposure.

Less Common Symptoms

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, (and diarrhea)
  • Runny nose (in children)
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye) (The World Health Organization lists a few symptoms that the CDC doesn’t.)
  • A rash on the skin, or discoloration of the fingers or toes
  • Headache

For more help, try using Apple’s Covid-19 diagnosis tool, which it developed in coordination with the CDC, White House, and FEMA. The CDC also has a Coronavirus Self-Checker tool you can use. These tools will recommend a course of action based on your circumstances. There is also a new Alexa skill from New York University that can answer basic questions about Covid-19.

Symptoms You Should Not Worry About as Much

These symptoms are not commonly associated with Covid-19.

  • Runny Nose (except in some children)
  • Sneezing

Important Tips for Everyone, Sick or Well

Clinical thermometer
Photograph: Getty Images

We’re in the middle of a pandemic, so it’s good to protect yourself. It’s also possible you could have Covid-19 already and not show symptoms yet. In any case, follow these basic rules, outlined by the CDC and White House.

  • Wash your hands and cover your face when coughing: This probably goes without saying: Please stay extra vigilant about personal hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. The rule was created because it typically takes 20 seconds to adequately scrub every surface of your hands and fingers. So wash up between the webs of your fingers and thumbs, your fingertips, and both palms and backs of hands. The CDC has a guide on how you should be doing it. Hand sanitizer is OK to use if you’re unable to wash your hands, but it’s not as effective as soap and water.

  • Don’t touch your face: Generally avoid touching your face as much unless you just washed your hands.

  • Stay at home: If your job allows it, stay at home. Your state or city may already have a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order in effect. Check our state-by-state guide to learn more. The New York Times also has a guide to these orders. Only leave the house for essential items, like groceries.

  • Stay 6 feet from others and avoid groups: Try to stay away from groups of 10 or more, and keep your distance from others to avoid contracting or spreading the disease.

  • Wear a cloth face mask outside the house: The CDC now recommends everyone wear cloth face coverings when traveling out in public where you may be near other people. Read our How to Make a CDC-Approved Cloth Face Mask (and Rules to Follow) guide to learn the benefit of a mask and how you should wear it. Kids under 2 years old should not wear a mask, nor should anyone who has difficulty breathing or taking it off. Do not buy or hoard medical-grade masks, like N95 masks. There is a massive shortage in the country, and the masks are needed by health care professionals.

  • Clean your house: Make sure that all high-touch surfaces are cleaned daily (here’s our Covid-19 cleaning guide). If you don’t have disinfectant, soap and warm water (plus a little elbow grease!) will do.

If You Have Symptoms or Were Exposed

If you believe you were directly exposed to the novel coronavirus or have symptoms of the disease, follow these guidelines:

  • Stay calm, rest, hydrate: For the vast majority of those who get Covid-19, you can treat it like a normal cold for flu. Sleep as much as you can, rest often, stay hydrated, and eat well. Most over-the-counter medications you normally take should be fine.

  • Stay home: Avoid public transportation, ride-shares, and taxis. Even if you’re not confirmed to be Covid-19 positive, it’s important not to potentially spread it to areas where many other people will have close contact with you, surfaces you touch, and air you breathe.

  • Isolate yourself: If you don’t live alone, try to stay away from others as much as possible for the next 14 days. Stay in a specific “sick room,” away from others if possible, and try to use your own bathroom.

  • Wear a cloth face mask inside the house, too: If you’re sick, you should also wear a mask when you are in the same room with others in your own home, or outside your quarantined room. A mask may help others avoid catching the disease from you. Again, read our How to Make a CDC-Approved Cloth Face Mask (and Rules to Follow) guide to learn more. Kids under 2 years old should not wear a mask, nor should anyone who has difficulty breathing or taking it off. Please don’t use medical masks, like N95 masks. There is a massive shortage in the country and the masks are needed by health care workers.

  • Don’t share: Avoid sharing personal items like dishes, cups, utensils, towels, bedding, etc. When you do use these items, wash them immediately. Try to use a separate bathroom.

  • Have someone check up on you: Make sure that someone you know and trust is checking in on you daily to make sure you’re doing OK. Stay in touch with your medical professional via telemedicine, phone, or email.

  • Get help if you have kids: If you’re sick and still trying to care for your kids, this guide has some advice from health professionals.

When to Go to a Doctor

Don’t go to the doctor unless you need to do so. Ask yourself: Would I normally go to the hospital or doctor with these symptoms? If the answer is no, you should likely stay home and continue monitoring your symptoms.

If you’re experiencing constant chest pain or pressure, difficulty breathing, severe dizziness, slurred speech, confusion, an inability to wake up or stay awake, or have bluish lips or face, call 911 or get immediate medical attention. The Apple and CDC diagnosis tool may be useful to check as your symptoms change. If you’re generally too sick to eat, drink, or use the toilet, those are also signs to seek call your doctor or seek medical help.

If you aren’t experiencing severe symptoms that warrant an emergency, the CDC recommends you stay in touch with your doctor, and call before leaving home to get medical care. Many less serious health visits are being done via telemedicine or over the phone, and a call gives them time to plan for your arrival, or discuss your situation.

If you have underlying health conditions like asthma, lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or a compromised immune system, consider talking to a health professional before your symptoms get too bad (via phone or email). If you have a doctor who specializes in one of these conditions, it’s good to work out a plan with them.

Remember, fellow hypochondriacs: The vast majority of people who contract Covid-19 won’t need medical attention, and most who do need medical help will be OK.

Getting Tested

Covid19 Symptoms  What to Do If You Might Have It
Photograph: Bob Riha Jr/Getty Images

There are two distinct tests for Covid-19, and both are becoming more widely available.

Diagnostic tests look for whether you have an active infection. Antibody tests look for whether you’ve been exposed to the virus in the past and are currently carrying the antibodies in your blood that–we suspect–provide some degree of resistance to subsequent re-infection, although medical researchers are still figuring out how much.

If you are a health care worker who has symptoms, or are hospitalized with symptoms, the CDC considers testing a top priority. Older patients in long-term care facilities, those 65 or above, patients with underlying conditions, and first responders should ask about getting tested. As resources allow, the CDC recommends critical infrastructure workers and those with mild symptoms in heavily affected communities be tested. If you don’t have symptoms, there is no reason to get a diagnostic test, but it may be helpful for you to seek out an antibody test to confirm whether you’ve been exposed in the past or not.

Unfortunately, there’s no nationally standardized place to go to get tested. Instead, you’ll have to consult your state or local health department to see when, where, and if tests are available to you. WhileAtHome.org has a good state-level directory of numbers and websites. Castlight has created a nationwide search tool for finding local testing sites. Tests are being given in a diverse range of locations, such as community centers, urgent cares, and hospitals. Some even have drive-through testing where you don’t have to get out of your car.

Certain states have coordinated their local responses into statewide directories, so search the official websites for your state, county, and city for information, as well. By now, most big health insurance companies have also created search tools for their members to find test sites, so if you’re lucky enough to have health insurance, check there, too. If you’re unable to locate nearby testing, contact your physician and ask if they’re familiar with the AACC testing directory. It’s only for providers and not patients, but it could help them point you to place where you can get tested.

To learn more read WIRED’s Everything You Need to Know about Covid-19 Testing guide.

When to Stop Self-Isolating

Think you’ve recovered from Covid-19? Here’s how to know when it’s safe to stop self-isolation. Remember, all of the below bullet points must be true before you leave isolation, according to the CDC. And even then, it’s wise to still stay at home if possible. Many states and cities have shelter-in-place rules.

If you have NOT taken a test to see if you’re Covid-19 positive:

  • No fever: You should be fever-free for at least 72 hours (three full days), without using a medicine that reduces fevers.

  • No other symptoms: Any coughing or shortness of breath has abated. You have no other issues.

  • And it’s been at least 10 days: Even if symptoms have subsided, it need to be at least 10 days since they first appeared before you can stop self-isolating.

If you have tested Covid-19 positive:

  • No fever: If you no longer have a fever, without using a medicine that reduces fever.

  • Other symptoms have improved: Your other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, have improved a lot.

  • You test negative twice: You receive two diagnostic tests that result in a negative result, at least 24 hours apart.

What to Do While You’re Staying Home

nintendo switch
Photograph: Nintendo

We have an extensive gear and tips guide to get through all this alone time. It has the necessary supplies you need and some other stuff that may improve your health or mental state. From our favorite TV shows to video games, there are a ton of things you can do to take your mind off of things during this stressful time.

If you have the means, also consider supporting the nonprofits that are helping to fight the pandemic.

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