Have COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test? How long to isolate, and what to do ASAP
Take these steps to if you have coronavirus symptoms or live with someone who does.
Katie TeagueWriter II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
ExpertisePersonal Finance: Social Security and taxes
Here are the steps to take to avoid spreading the virus to others, as well as how to care for someone who might be sick, especially if you all share the same roof. We'll tell you when to call the doctor to see if you're eligible for COVID-19 testing, how to monitor your symptoms and how long to isolate for others.
At the first sign of what could be the coronavirus, contact your doctor immediately to list symptoms and ask for advice on whether you should pursue COVID-19 testing. In many cases, the doctor will need to order the test for you (more on this below).
If the patient has underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for fatality, the doctor will also be able to weigh in on which medications they should and shouldn't take and how they'll need to adjust their lifestyle, including what kind of vital signs you should monitor as the illness progresses.
25 face mask styles we love that you can buy or make
Watch this: Make your own gadgets to protect you from coronavirus
The CDC suggests isolating in a bedroom away from others. We understand that's not always an option -- for example, if you live in a studio apartment with a significant other or share a small house with many others.
If there isn't an extra room to stay in, make sure to maintain a six-foot distance at all times to practice social distancing. Unfortunately, that might mean someone's sleeping on the couch, on a mattress on the floor or so on.
The World Health Organization and doctors across the world are investigating the coronavirus' ability to linger in the air and infect people. Airborne transmission is thought to be higher indoors, and especially in areas with limited ventilation. If you're caring for someone who is staying in their room, open a window and plan a way to circulate air around the space, for their own comfort, as well as to disperse any lingering coronavirus particles.
What if you only have one bathroom?
The CDC recommends the presumptive coronavirus patient use a different bathroom if possible. If you only have one bathroom, the person who's ill should wear a mask when they leave their isolation room. After they leave the bathroom, make sure the toilet, sink, shower, handles and soap dispensers get sanitized. The CDC recommends that the sick person clean the bathroom as long as they're feeling up to it.
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. Also, avoid using the same hand towel as the potentially infected person. It's a good idea to set up a caddy for items that only the sick person uses, like a separate soap dispenser, towel, toothpaste tube and so on.
How to care for a person with presumed or confirmed COVID-19
If there are multiple people who live in your home, the CDC suggests only one person should take care of the sick one to limit the number of people who might come in contact with the virus. That includes bringing them food or medicine; checking their temperature, vitals and blood pressure; and laundering their clothes and bedding.
It's a good idea, however, for the carer to wear gloves and a face mask when coming in contact with anything the infected person has touched, before washing their hands directly after.
When you bring food, for example, you can place it inside the room they're staying in, but avoid contact with them and make sure your nose and mouth are covered -- theirs, too.
While in isolation, your roommate may start to feel lonely, so make sure you're comforting them by sending them texts, calling to talk from the next room or talking to them through the door. Michigan Health suggests opening a window for air circulation.
It's important to note that many hospitals don't want you to go to the emergency room or arrive for a COVID-19 test without a doctor's order, or an advanced state of symptoms, like high fever over 102 degrees. In many places, the number of tests are limited and hospitals must follow protocols to limit the exposure of sick people to the rest of the hospital population.
Symptoms that typically warrant a COVID-19 test include:
Congestion or runny nose
Fever or chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle or body aches
Nausea or vomiting
New loss of taste or smell
Everyone needs to stay home
If the person you live with has contracted the coronavirus, it's possible you and other housemates have already been exposed, and you could be presymptomatic or asymptomatic. The WHO states the incubation period for someone with coronavirus is between one to 14 days. This is the time between catching the virus and seeing symptoms. This means you need to quarantine yourself for two weeks to prevent spreading the virus to others.
The American Red Cross says to avoid sharing household items, such as glasses, utensils, towels and bedding. If an ill person uses any of these items, they should be washed thoroughly.
When is it OK to stop self-isolating?
If the infected person doesn't have access to testing, the CDC states they can be around others if they've had 24 hours with no fever or fever-reducing medications, symptoms like coughing have improved and at least 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.