What to do if you test positive for COVID-19?
COVID information continues to change rapidly. The information below is current as of 1/5. Refer to our What to Do if You Are Sick or Possibly Exposed webpage for the most up to date information.
An unprecedented number of new cases are being confirmed every day in Dane County right now. Even if you made it through the entire pandemic not getting sick, because of the highly infectious nature of the Omicron variant, it is very possible you will test positive for COVID-19 during this surge.
Over the entire pandemic, 14%, nearly 80,000 people, of the entire population of Dane County tested positive. Two-percent of the entire county population has tested positive within the past two weeks, likely in part due to the highly transmissible nature of Omicron. No other infection public health has monitored has ever reached these levels. So, what should you do if that happens? How do you best take care of yourself and others? Let’s dive into the latest recommendations.
How long do I need to isolate?
On January 4, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated its quarantine and isolation guidance. (See our Recommendations & Guidance webpage for sector specific guidance). The CDC cited data reviews showing that the majority of transmission happens in the first 1-2 days before showing symptoms and the 2-3 days after showing symptoms. If you test positive, the current recommendation is that you isolate at home for at least five days. We know that every case may be slightly different, so here are some scenarios when it comes to symptoms, and how you should respond:
- If you had symptoms when you were tested, you should isolate for at least 5 days after your symptoms started (day 0 is the day symptoms started).
- If you’ve been fever free for at least 24 hours and your other symptoms are getting better (they may not be completely gone), you can leave your home on day 6 as long as you wear a well-fitting mask on days 6-10.
- If you didn’t have symptoms when you were tested and remained symptom-free during your 5 days of isolation, you can leave your home on day 6 after you were tested (test day is day 0).
- If you didn’t have symptoms when you were tested but develop symptoms anytime in the 10 days after you were tested, you should re-start or continue your isolation until:
- It’s been at least 5 days since your symptoms started AND
- You’ve been fever free for at least 24 hours AND
- Your other symptoms are getting better (they may not be completely gone).
What can I do while wearing a mask on days 6-10?
After isolation, you should continue to wear a well-fitting mask around others and at home through the 10th day after your symptoms started or you tested positive if you had no symptoms. You should avoid being around people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for serious illness from COVID during this time. You should also avoid traveling until 10 days after your symptoms started or you tested positive if you had no symptoms. If must travel, wear a well-fitting mask. If you are unable to mask, you should not travel. Avoid going to places where you are unable to mask such as restaurants and some gyms and avoid eating around others at home and elsewhere until 10 days after your symptoms started or you tested positive if you had no symptoms.
I haven’t been able to get a test, but I have symptoms of COVID-19. What do I do?
If you suspect you might have COVID, be sure to explore all testing options in Dane County. You are strongly encouraged to stay home until you’re able to get a test to confirm whether or not you have COVID, to avoid unknowingly spreading illness to others. The safest way to approach this is to assume you have COVID until a negative test proves otherwise and follow the isolation guidance above.
What does it mean to isolate?
Stay home. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home as much as possible. Monitor your symptoms and reach out to your doctor if needed. If you make an in-person doctor’s appointment, be sure you tell them you have or may have COVID. Avoid using public transportation, taxis, or ride-share. Tell your employer, school, or child care center about your diagnosis.
If you are having a medical emergency, call 911. Notify dispatch that you have or may have COVID-19.
How should I tell my close contacts that I tested positive?
Call, text, or email your contacts right away. Letting your close contacts know they may have been exposed to COVID-19 helps protect everyone. An infected person can spread COVID starting 2 days before any symptoms start, so the sooner someone knows they have been exposed, the more often we can prevent further spread. Let them know they should follow the quarantine guidance on our What to Do if You are Sick or Possibly Exposed webpage. If you signed up to use the WI exposure notification system before you tested positive, you can notify your contacts anonymously. You can also use tellyourcontacts.org to anonymously notify your contacts.
How can I avoid spreading COVID to someone I live with?
The person with COVID should be in their own room and should have their own bathroom, if possible. They should have the door closed, and food and other needs should be left outside their door for them to pick up. Cover coughs and sneezes. Wear a mask if you have to be around other people in your household. Avoid sharing personal household items like dishes and glasses, or bedding and towels. Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. If you can't wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Clean all "high touch" surfaces every day, such as counters, tables, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, phones, and keyboards. The CDC also has information about how to minimize risk if these measures are not possible, including more information about cleaning and disinfecting your home. See our website for more information.
Do I need to get another test?
You don’t need a test to end isolation. If you have access to a test and want to test, the best approach is to use an antigen test towards the end of your 5-day isolation. If you test negative, you can end isolation after meeting the other criteria to stop isolating. If you test positive, you should continue to isolate for your full 10-day isolation period and can stop isolating on day 11.
PCR/NAAT tests are not recommended for individuals who recently tested positive because with those tests you can test positive for up to 3 months after your initial positive test. So, if you’ve recently had a positive test, your PCR/NAAT test is likely to be positive for many weeks after you recover. If your positive test was a home test, you should verify it with another test at a testing site if possible.
Follow the isolation guidelines to decide when you can leave isolation on our What to Do if You Are Sick or Possibly Exposed webpage or refer to the CDC’s guidance.
What if I have lingering symptoms? Am I still contagious?
If it’s been at least 5 days since your symptoms started and you’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours and your other symptoms are getting better, there is a low risk that you’re still contagious. You should wear a mask for 5 more days to add an extra layer of protection and further reduce the possibility of spreading COVID to others. Some people who recover from COVID will experience new, returning, or ongoing symptoms long after their first positive test. This is referred to as Long COVID, or PASC (post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection). Some symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or remembering things
- Depression or anxiety
- Joint or muscle pain
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Loss or change of smell or taste
- Dizziness on standing
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
- Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental work
There is still much we are learning about Long COVID, however, the best way to protect yourself is to protect yourself against COVID: get vaccinated, wear a mask, physical distance and wash your hands frequently.