EAU CLAIRE — With many people contracting COVID-19 amid the spread of the contagious omicron variant, here’s a guide to what to do if you have symptoms, learn about an exposure or test positive.
What should I do if I have symptoms of COVID-19?
If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, stay home and do not attend gatherings until you are able to get tested, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services advises.
First, contact your doctor to ask if your primary health care clinic provides testing. If testing is not available, you can find a free community testing site near you at this website: dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/community-testing.htm. Some locations may require an appointment. You can also take a test at home, although they are currently hard to find because of strong demand. Testing is particularly important given how quickly omicron is spreading throughout the country and in Wisconsin.
What if I have symptoms but can’t get tested?
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should isolate immediately, even if you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines or if you haven’t had close contact with someone with COVID-19, DHS says. You should also get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible if you have symptoms. If you are unable to get a test, you should isolate to avoid spreading the illness to others.
What should I do after testing positive?
First, if you took a rapid test, you don’t necessarily need a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis. Dr. Susan Bleasdale, an infectious disease physician at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, said this isn’t necessary if you have symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, or a known exposure, consider a follow-up PCR if there is concern about a false positive. But she added, “Right now, with the significant increase in cases, we’re not seeing very many false positives.”
Next, make sure to tell people you were around recently. Notify anyone you saw the two days prior to when either you developed symptoms or tested positive. You should also tell anyone you were around when you had symptoms.
So what does isolating entail?
Stay home, don’t travel or go to work, school or public areas, advises DHS. People isolating also should postpone nonurgent medical appointments, self-monitor for new or worsening symptoms and seek medical care if their illness worsens or they develop emergency warning signs. Call 911 immediately if you need emergency medical care and tell them that you have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
What steps should I take in my own home during isolation?
If you live with other people or pets, the agency says you should stay at least 6 feet apart and wear a mask for 10 days after you test positive or first develop symptoms, and, if possible, use a separate bathroom and avoid sharing towels, dishes, bedding and other household items.
How long should I isolate?
Everyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or has symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home and isolate from other people for at least five full days, according to the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Day 0 is the first day symptoms began or the day that your positive COVID-19 test was taken (if you don’t have symptoms).
After the five days, you should wear a well-fitting mask when around others for an additional five days.
What if I have COVID-19 and I have symptoms?
You can end isolation after five full days if you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and your other symptoms have improved, according to DHS. Continue to wear a well-fitting mask around others in your home and in public for an additional five days after the isolation period.
If you are unable to wear a mask, continue to isolate for a full 10 days. Avoid spending time around people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness until after at least 10 days.
If you continue to have a fever or if your other symptoms have not improved after five days of isolation, you should wait to end your isolation until these symptoms have improved. Loss of taste and smell may persist for weeks or months after recovery and do not need to delay the end of isolation.
The agency advises you to avoid any location where wearing a mask consistently is not possible (such as restaurants) for 10 days after your symptoms began.
What if I test positive but never develop symptoms?
You can end isolation after five full days if you continue to have no symptoms but should continue to wear a mask around others for five more days, DHS says.
If you develop symptoms after testing positive, your five-day isolation period should start over. Day 0 is your first day of symptoms.
What if I want to get away?
Avoid travel for a full 10 days after the day of your positive test. If you have to travel on days 6 through 10, wear a well-fitting mask when you are around others. If you are unable to wear a mask, you should not travel until 10 days after the day of your positive test.
Do I need to test negative before leaving isolation?
The CDC hasn’t been requiring this, but the agency recently added advice saying that if someone “has access to a test and wants to test,” they should use an antigen test toward the end of the five-day period. If that result is positive, isolate until day 10. If that test is negative, the agency says you can end isolation but should continue to wear a mask around others at home and in public until day 10.
COVID-19 tests can’t be used to tell how infectious you may be. Some people continue to test positive with certain tests (such as PCR tests) long after they are expected to be infectious.
Do I need to isolate even if I am up to date on my COVID-19 vaccinations?
Yes. If you test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms, follow the isolation instructions above, even if you are fully vaccinated.
People who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines who test positive for COVID-19 more than two weeks after their completed vaccine dose series are called “breakthrough infections.” COVID-19 vaccines significantly decrease the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death from infection, including infection due to the omicron variant. Because no vaccine is 100% effective, breakthrough infections are expected.
What happens if my symptoms continue?
You may need to remain in isolation longer; check with your health care provider.
What might be my susceptibility going forward?
People appear to be protected for at least 90 days from reinfection, Bleasdale said. “There are a few people who have been reinfected within 90 days, with the transmission from delta to omicron, but those are not very common,” she said. Similar to a vaccine, the longer from infection, the more likely for reinfection.
Is it worth testing in future days or might my tests remain positive for weeks or months afterward?
In general, testing for return from isolation is not advised, except for in certain circumstances, like health care workers returning to work. PCR tests can remain positive for some time.
Does any of this guidance change with omicron? Is 6 feet still enough distance, for example?
Masking is still critical, Bleasdale said. The CDC hasn’t changed what’s considered close contact, which remains someone less than 6 feet away from an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
Bleasdale advises that masking might be more important than social distancing but said vaccination remains most important in preventing severe disease.
What is the likelihood I could later develop long COVID-19? Is there anything I can do now to mitigate the risk?
We don’t know yet if there’s a difference with omicron or the risk of long COVID, Bleasdale said. Again, she says vaccination is the best prevention.
What should you do if you have kids in the house? How long should you be around them masked, or any other precautions for parents who can’t fully isolate from children?
Bleasdale recommends wearing masks around them for 10 days. “It’s hard to do when you are caring for children,” she said. But make sure to mask, and wash your hands and disinfect commonly touched surfaces often.
Should people in the same house who all test positive, such as couples or roommates, stay away from each other, or is there any concern they could reinfect each other?
No, you won’t reinfect each other, Bleasdale said. It’s OK to stop isolating if everyone is infected, she said. But keep your distance from others in the household who aren’t.