I Tested Positive for COVID-19. Now What?

Last Updated October 2020 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Robert "Chuck" Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP

COVID-19, the illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is extremely contagious. If you test positive for COVID-19—or suspect that you have it—it is important that you follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to stop the spread.

Path to improved health

If you test positive for COVID-19, you need to isolate yourself from other people. Stay away from others. You still need to isolate even if you are asymptomatic, which means that you aren’t showing any symptoms of illness.

Most people who do show symptoms of COVID-19 are only mildly ill. COVID-19 symptoms may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Headache
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you begin to develop more severe symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

How do I isolate with COVID-19?

Isolating is simple. Stay home except to go get medical care. If you live with other people, stay away from them as much as possible. Stay in a specific room. If possible, use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household. If you need to be in common areas, wear a mask over your nose and mouth.

Things to consider

When can I be around other people if I tested positive for COVID-19 and did not have symptoms?

If you tested positive for COVID-19 but continue to have no symptoms, the CDC says to stay home for 10 days after the date of your positive test.

If you need to end your isolation earlier than 10 days, your doctor may recommend repeat testing. This is only if testing is available in your community. If you can get another test, you should have two negative tests in a row to end isolation. The tests should be more than 24 hours apart.

When can I be around other people if I tested positive for COVID-19 and had symptoms?

If you tested positive for COVID-19 (or if you did not take a test but believe you had it), you can be around others when all three of the following criteria are met:

  1. Ten days have passed since you first experienced symptoms.
  2. You have gone 24 hours with no fever. This must be without the use of fever-reducing medications, like ibuprofen.
  3. The other COVID-19 symptoms you experienced are improving.

The CDC says that most people who had symptoms don’t require another COVID-19 test to be around others. As long as you follow all of the above rules, you should be able to end isolation without risking getting others sick.

If you were severely ill with COVID-19 or are immunocompromised, you may need to isolate for longer than 10 days. If this is the case, speak with your doctor.

When to see your doctor

If you suspect you have COVID-19, call your doctor to learn where to get tested in your area. If you have already tested positive for COVID-19 and your symptoms get worse, call your doctor immediately. If you have difficulty breathing or other emergency symptoms, call 911 or go to an emergency room.