With 2.35 million cases of coronavirus in the United States alone, a hospitalization rate of 94.5 per 100,000, a mortality rate of 7.1%, and an average of 19,913 new cases per day, it's no wonder the novel coronavirus has sent people into a panic. To make matters worse, it can be up to 14 days post-infection that infected persons present symptoms, which are usually subtle and indistinguishable from a common cold or allergies for a healthy and imuno-normative person. That is, if they even present symptoms, as many infected persons are asymptomatic entirely. Therefore, finding out you’ve come in contact with someone who, just days later, tests positive can be a heart-wrenchingly terrifying bit of news. So here’s what to do in a worst-case scenario.
- Take a deep breath
There are lots of intense, complicated feelings that may arise if you find out that a friend, coworker, acquaintance, or loved one has been infected. You may be scared for their health, and probably are for your own if you’ve had contact with them since they’ve been infected. Take time to slow down and breathe. Let yourself process your feelings, all of which are valid, and then make a game plan.
- Strictly self quarantine, immediately
Your first step is to isolate yourself from any and all people or animals with whom you’ve been having contact. Quarantine is to keep anybody who has had contact with the virus away from others to prevent the viral spreading that can occur before a person knows they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. It’s important to quarantine even if you don’t think you contracted the disease or aren’t showing symptoms, especially because it can be 2 weeks before you show symptoms of COVID-19, if you present any at all. Many times, the infected are asymptomatic, and can spread the disease without knowing it. Know that true quarantine is different from social distancing -- it means no in-person contact for its duration. That means nobody should be within six feet of you until you and your physician are absolutely sure you’re out of the woods. Unless you live completely alone, this includes no sharing common spaces like living rooms, kitchens, or bathrooms. A quarantined person should have a bathroom and bedroom all to themselves, and shouldn’t share any towels, dishes, or other possible cross-contaminable surfaces with anyone else. You should also have somebody bring you food, and pass it carefully via no-contact methods. This can mean wheeling meals through a doorway on a skateboard or something similar, or simply leaving food outside a bedroom door and backing 6 feet away before the sick person retrieves it. While this may seem intense, it's the utmost responsible thing a sick person can do to protect those around them. If you must interact with others in your home, always wear a mask or respirator (like the N95 mask available here) and nitrile gloves, and especially stay away from those who are at risk.
- Get tested, ASAP (and keep getting tested)
Once you know you’ve been in contact with a sick person and you’ve taken initial precautions to quarantine yourself, the next most important step is to contact a medical
professional and get tested. There are two types of tests for COVID-19; firstly is an antibody test, which tests for anti-COVID antibodies in your immune system, the presence of which indicates that you’ve previously had the virus. THe second, and the one relevant in the case of coming in contact with the illness, is the viral test, which indicates if you have a current infection. If you test negative, know that this only means that you were not actively infected at the time a sample was collected. This does NOT mean that you will not become sick, though, and you should be continuously tested for the duration of the 14-day incubation period, especially if you develop any signs. Additionally, you should definitely still be taking precautionary steps to protect yourself and others. If you do test positive, keep in touch with your doctor, stay quarantined, drink lots of water and get tons of rest. Know the signs of a serious infection, and when it may be time to seek hospitalization.
- Monitor your health, know the symptoms
While quarantined, make sure that you’re not only taking care of yourself by staying hydrated and resting, but also by monitoring your health carefully. Take your temperature with a thermometer (preferably an infrared thermometer) at least twice a day. Symptoms can be mild to severe and may include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath and/or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue or tiredness, especially bodily such as sore or achy muscles
- New loss of taste and/or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea and/or vomiting
If you develop any of these symptoms or new ones, make sure to contact your doctor.
- Know when to seek hospitalization
Although COVID-19 is scary, for most people the symptoms last less than 2 weeks and are rather mild in nature, similar to the cold or flu. However, it’s important to know when to seek Urgent Care or visit the ER. Need for emergency medical care is indicated by the following symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest area
- Unconsciousness, an inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face, indicating a lack of oxygen
If you can, call ahead for all medical visits, even emergencies, to get quick and safe aid.
- When you can return to the “new” normal
So you’ve followed all the steps above and presented no symptoms, tested negative, or are on the road to recovery. You can return to safe social distancing practices once you’ve had 2 negative test results at least 24 hours apart, it's been 10 days since you’re
last test and you’re experiencing no symptoms, you’ve gone 3 days with no fever, respiratory symptoms have improved (if you had them), and it’s been 10 days since symptoms first appeared. Remember to keep in contact with your doctor and heed medical advice when returning from isolation.