As two variants fuel a new surge, here are 5 steps to take if you suspect you were exposed.
Vaccines, boosters, masks—they’re all designed to protect you from COVID-19. But with the extremely transmissible omicron variant surging during a long-awaited holiday season (and the delta variant still circulating), these safety measures may not be enough to stop you from getting the virus.
Thousands of people who have been “following the rules” and taking suggested precautions are still likely to test positive for COVID-19 in the coming days and weeks. That’s because the new variant may be able to slip past the body’s immune defenses due to its many mutations. But even though vaccines and boosters can’t stop all breakthrough cases, they’re expected to continue to do what they’re supposed to do—protect you from serious illness, hospitalization and death.
What should you do if you think you have COVID-19 or were exposed to people who have it?
- Get tested. If you develop any symptoms that indicate you may have COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus, get tested and take positive results seriously. Common symptoms include cough, sore throat, muscle aches, nasal congestion, sneezing, loss of taste/smell and/or fever. If you test positive, tell anyone you’ve recently been in close contact with.
- Don’t panic. It can be scary to test positive for COVID-19, but we’ve come a long way in being able to treat the virus. If you’ve been vaccinated and boosted, there’s a good chance you may experience only mild to moderate illness or be completely asymptomatic. Even if you have conditions that increase your risk for severe illness, there are treatments that may help.
- Call your doctor. If you test positive, contact your healthcare provider to determine next steps. Treatments that may be effective against developing serious illness typically need to be taken within a few days of getting the virus. The newest is an antiviral pill called Paxlovid, which was just authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before Christmas. The pill can be taken at home and will be available by prescription for people ages 12 and older who test positive for SARS-CoV-2 and are at risk of developing severe illness. It should be taken within five days of symptom onset, according to the FDA.
- Isolate. Stay away from other people if you test positive. As of December 27, 2021, the CDC recommends you isolate for 5 days after a positive COVID-19 test. If you have no symptoms after 5 days, you may leave isolation but should continue to wear a mask for another 5 days. The CDC has been periodically changing recommendations for isolation, so check the latest guidelines.
- Take care of yourself. Get rest, stay hydrated and take over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, as needed to help you feel better. Monitor your symptoms and call your healthcare provider if they get worse. If you have these warning signs—trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, inability to wake or stay awake, bluish lips or face, and/or newly developed confusion—get medical care immediately.
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Date Last Reviewed: December 23, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD