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What to Do If You Are Sick with COVID-19?

by Michael Johnson

| Updated November 27, 2023 |
The critical period when the WHO COVID-19 dashboard recorded millions of global cases daily is over. Thank goodness for that! But that doesn’t mean the coronavirus threat is over. Unfortunately, a few thousand people still test positive for the coronavirus every day.

For this reason, it is extremely important to know what to do if you are sick with COVID-19 and follow the necessary steps to protect yourself and those around you. After all, we don’t want to go back to the uncontrolled spreading of the virus and experience the acute illness and uncountable deaths associated with COVID-19.

So, what should you do if you are sick with the coronavirus?

In summary, isolate immediately to prevent the spread of the virus and contact your doctor to see if you need immediate medical attention. Also, follow all the self-care guidelines endorsed by established health agencies like the WHO and the CDC to get well quickly.

You’ll find details on what to do when you are sick with COVID-19 in this article. Let’s start with the very first step to take.

Seek Medical Attention Immediately!

Although a positive COVID-19 test may cause panic at first, it doesn’t always come with severe illness. However, you must immediately contact your healthcare provider if you are an adult or belong to any of the COVID-19 high-risk categories. People in these categories are more likely to develop severe illness.

Your healthcare provider will determine if you need to start treatment right away, even if you might only show mild signs and symptoms.

As a general rule, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should keep a record of the symptoms. Fever, cough, sore throat, exhaustion, and muscle aches are some of the most common signs and symptoms of coronavirus infection.

Should you, at any point, present any of the emergency symptoms below, call 911 or your healthcare provider as a matter of urgency.

Very high fever beyond 104°F (40°C).
Difficulty breathing.
Pressure or acute pain in the chest.
A sense of confusion.
Change in skin, lips, or nail color.
Generalized body weakness to the point of being unable to arise or stay awake.

Remember that treatment for coronavirus goes hand in hand with protecting those around you. So, the next thing you should do if you are sick with COVID-19 is to ensure you don’t pass the disease to anyone else.

Follow the Recommended Steps to Prevent the Spread of the Coronavirus

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 or, in short, SARS-CoV-2 is the super transmissible virus responsible for COVID-19 disease.

A person sick with COVID-19 can pass the infection to others in close contact through contaminated respiratory droplets. This happens when the sick person breathes, speaks, coughs, sneezes, or sings.

Because of its high transmission rate, coronavirus is a health threat to individuals, communities, and the entire global community.

As such, if you test positive for coronavirus, you can help control its spread by following these preventive steps.

1.Isolate or Quarantine

Because it is highly infectious, you should isolate if you test positive for the coronavirus. Isolating yourself means cutting any contact with those who do not have the virus. As long as you’ve tested positive, isolate yourself even though you do not show any signs and symptoms.

If you have not done the test but have been in close contact with someone infected with coronavirus, you should quarantine.

Quarantine means staying away from other people because you have been exposed to the virus and don’t know yet if you are infected.

Public health and safety agencies recommend that those exposed to the coronavirus quarantine because the coronavirus has an incubation period of 2-14 days. As such, they could be sick and not show any signs.

The length of incubation and rate of COVID-19 contagion can change with variants and the person’s immune system. Nonetheless, experts studying the infectiousness of the coronavirus have discovered these two key facts:

●Individuals with the coronavirus can transmit the infection before they show any signs and symptoms of the disease. According to the Lancet, this is true in at least 25% of the cases.

●The COVID-19 viral load peaks during the second or third day after a patient shows mild symptoms of infection. After that, it decreases with time. Overall, however, a high viral load is detected in the 10-day window from the start of visible symptoms. Contagion is highest when the virus load is at its peak.

Consequently, health experts use this information to determine when a person at risk or already infected with the coronavirus should start and end quarantine or isolation. Testing is also crucial in making this decision.

2.Take/Retake the COVID-19 Test

Even though you show symptoms of COVID-19, you need to take the test to confirm that you are indeed infected.

There are different options for testing for the coronavirus:

Taking a self-test

A self-test, also known as ‘at home’ or ‘over-the-counter’ test shows your coronavirus status. These tests can be done anywhere and at any time.

Unlike the laboratory COVID-19 tests that can take days before the results are out, self-tests give you results minutes after you take them.

Consider taking a COVID-19 self-test if:

●You are showing symptoms of coronavirus infection.
●You have no symptoms but were exposed to the virus five days ago.
●You are going to an indoor event. Testing just before an event will help you confirm that you are not exposing others to the virus.

You can purchase COVID-19 self-tests from pharmacies or order them online. Ensure you buy only those authorized by the relevant government health regulator or agency like the FDA in the U.S.

If your local health department allows it, you could also order free COVID-19 tests.
Once in your hands, read the manufacturer’s instructions thoroughly to ensure you conduct and interpret the test correctly. Call your healthcare provider if you have doubts. Also, make sure you have clean hands before and after the test.

Keep in mind that COVID-19 self-tests do not assess your immunity level against the virus. Similarly, they do not show the antibodies that suggest possible past infection with the coronavirus.

Take a laboratory test

Laboratory coronavirus tests are available at your local health department or designated community testing and care locations.

Follow the guidelines provided by your health department for accessing COVID-19 laboratory testing. You can look for those guidelines from the department’s website or media campaigns.

If you’ve already been sick, retaking the COVID-19 test is crucial to check if the infection is gone completely. You should resume contact with others only after a negative coronavirus test.

3.Stay Home Unless You Need Emergency Medical Care

Staying home is one of the things you should do when you are sick with the coronavirus. By staying home:

●You can help yourself recover quickly with rest, drinking plenty of water and fluids, and treating the symptoms with over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen. Be sure to talk to your doctor first before taking any medication.

●You will avoid super-spreading public situations like the workplace, public transport, or shared rides.

It will be easy to stay home for self-care if you have mild coronavirus disease. But, if you have to leave home because you have emergency symptoms and need medical attention, ensure you take these precautions:

●Call the healthcare provider before heading to the clinic or hospital. Scheduling the visit will help the personnel take the necessary precautions. Your doctor will also determine if telemedicine or a phone call is enough to provide the necessary care.

●Wear a comfortable and well-fitting mask. If you can’t use a mask because you have trouble breathing or have other health complications, ensure you protect those around you. Do this by covering your sneeze and cough and keeping a 6-feet distance from others.

●Call 911 if you need to get to a health facility but can’t ensure the safety of others. The healthcare provider will decide on the best course of action and choose between a home visit and medically equipped transportation to the hospital.

4.Take Care of Yourself and Others

Getting well fast from the coronavirus infection depends on how well the infected person takes care of themselves and those around them.

Follow these self-care tips for a quick recovery from COVID-19 and to ensure you do not pass the virus to those around you.

●Monitor your COVID-19 symptoms at all times and report to your doctor or local health department immediately if you notice signs of severe disease.

●Keep your hands clean at all times. Experts recommend washing your hands with soap and running water regularly and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Where soap and water are not available, use a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

●Do not touch your face (eyes, mouth, and nose). The body fluids in these parts are possible carriers of the coronavirus if you touch them with infected hands.

●Do not share plates, cups, glasses, utensils, napkins, and other personal-use items. Also, thoroughly clean them with water and soap after use or put them in the dishwasher. Do not share beddings, and ensure you machine-wash them.

●Regularly clean tables, countertops, doorknobs, switches, and other surfaces of common usage. If you cannot reserve a bathroom for exclusive use, ensure it is cleaned and disinfected after every visit and the space is well-ventilated.

Consider using recommended disinfectants to fight coronavirus. Consider those on the List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

●Ensure healthy airflow in your home to limit the chances of infection. You can ensure proper home ventilation by keeping windows and doors open whenever possible or running fans and air filters.

Those who are healthy and not infected with the coronavirus should also follow the above tips as a preventative measure.

5.Confirm Complete Recovery Before Leaving Isolation or Quarantine

Before resuming contact with others in your home, workplace, or the general public, ensure you no longer have any coronavirus symptoms.

You can confirm complete recovery by retaking the COVID-19 test.

We also recommend discussing your recovery with your doctor or healthcare provider for a sure confirmation.

Confirming complete recovery is important because a considerable percentage of coronavirus patients show post-covid symptoms. Without the test, you might take these symptoms as an indication you are still sick.

Summing It Up!

COVID-19 is a highly contagious viral infection. For this reason, knowing what to do when you are sick contributes to public responsibility to stop the spread of the disease.
The majority of people infected with the coronavirus only show mild disease. 

However, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately if you have emergency symptoms or severe disease. Adults and at-risk individuals should seek treatment even for mild disease.

To be safe, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider when you have unanswered questions about COVID-19 infection.


1.WHO. COVID-19: vulnerable and high risk groups. WHO; 2023. 

2.Hakki S. et al. Onset and window of SARS-CoV-2 infectiousness and temporal correlation with symptom onset: a prospective, longitudinal, community cohort study. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine 2022; 10(11): 1061-1073.

3.Shrestha NK, et al. Distribution of Transmission Potential During Nonsevere COVID-19 Illness. Clin Infect Dis. 2020; 71(11): 2927-2932.

4.ECDC. Transmission of COVID-19. ECDC; 2023.

5.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. What is the difference between isolation and quarantine? HHS; 2022. 

6.WHO. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Post COVID-19 condition. WHO; 2023.
Article by
Michael Johnson
I am Dr. Michael Johnson. I am dedicated to providing the best medical care to my patients. In my spare time, I enjoy sharing medical knowledge with a broader audience. Writing has become a major hobby of mine, allowing me to express my passion for medicine. I particularly enjoy writing health-related articles, aiming to provide readers with practical medical advice and information. Through my writing, I hope to help more people understand how to stay healthy, prevent diseases, and better understand medical knowledge.

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