What to Do if You are Sick or Possibly Exposed

a person takes their temperature underneath a bunch of blankets

On March 1, 2024, the CDC released new recommendations for what to do if you're sick from a respiratory virus, including COVID-19. We are in the process of updating this page to reflect these new recommendations.

Last updated September 1, 2023

There are many possible symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough or shortness of breath. Here is guidance on what to do:

I Tested Positive for COVID-19

Isolate when you feel sick or when you test positive for COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms.

Calculating Isolation

If you had symptomsIf you had no symptoms
  • Day 0 of isolation is the day your symptoms started, regardless of when you tested positive
  • Day 1 is the first full day after the day your symptoms started
  • Day 0 is the day you were tested (not the day you received your positive test result)
  • Day 1 is the first full day following the day you were tested
  • If you develop symptoms within 10 days of when you were tested, your isolation period restarts at day 0 on the day your symptoms started

How to Isolate

Ending Isolation

If you had symptomsIf you had no symptoms
  • End isolation after 5 full days if you are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and your symptoms are improving.
    • If you were moderately sick with COVID-19 (had shortness of breath or difficulty breathing), you should isolate for at least 10 days.
    • If you were severely sick with COVID-19 or have a weakened immune system, you should isolate for at least 10 days. Talk to your doctor before ending isolation.
    • If you were mildly sick with COVID-19 and meet the criteria above, you do not have to take a test and be negative to leave isolation on Day 6. See our blog post for more information.
  • Take precautions through Day 10 (see below).
  • End isolation after 5 full days after your positive test. If you develop symptoms after testing positive, your 5-day isolation period should start over. Day 0 is your first day of symptoms.
  • If you never develop symptoms, you do not have to take a test and be negative to leave isolation on Day 6. See our blog post for more information.
  • Take precautions through Day 10 (see below).

Take precautions through Day 10, regardless of whether you had symptoms. 

  • Wear a high-quality mask for 10 full days any time you are around others inside your home or in public. People who cannot wear a mask, including children under 2, are strongly encouraged to isolate for 10 days. You may be able to remove your mask sooner with two negative rapid tests that you take 48 hours apart. Read more about this method.
  • Do not travel. Do not travel until a full 10 days after your symptoms started or the date your positive test was taken if you had no symptoms.
  • Avoid being around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.

Other things you should do

  • Consider a free COVID-19 Treatment Telehealth Appointment. Free antiviral treatments are available to help prevent you from becoming seriously ill, hospitalized, or dying. You must be able to take this treatment within five days of your symptoms starting.
    • Due to this short amount of time, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services offers telehealth services to quickly connect with a clinician who can determine if you are eligible for this treatment and prescribe it.
    • Use this service as soon as possible, even if your symptoms are mild.
    • These antiviral treatments are free and available at over 600 pharmacies in the state. Insurance is not required.
    • Learn more and call (833) 273-6330 to get started.
  • Monitor your symptoms and call before visiting your doctor. If you have an appointment, be sure you tell them you have or may have COVID-19.
  • Call your doctor if you have one or more of these health conditions. You may be eligible for COVID-19 treatment. We are not able to provide treatment for COVID-19.
  • 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.
  • Notify your close contacts. People in your household, and others you had close contact with should immediately begin masking for 10 days, self-monitor for symptoms, and get tested at least 5 full days after exposure. 
  • Know that we are no longer conducting individual case investigations for COVID in most situations. If you receive a phone call or text and would like to verify it is from our agency, you can call (608) 266-4821.
  • Take steps to limit the spread of COVID in your household.
    • Ensure everyone is up to date on their COVID vaccinations. Learn more about vaccination
    • Separate from others as much as possible. Use a separate bathroom, if possible.
    • Take steps to improve ventilation at home, if possible.
    • Don’t share personal household items, like cups, towels, and eating utensils.
    • Wear a high-quality mask if you need to be around others in your home.
    • Clean "high touch" surfaces (like counters, doorknobs, and remotes) every day and wash your hands often.

Do I need to report my positive test result?

  • No. As of September 1, 2023, we are discontinuing our online questionnaire for those that test positive for COVID-19 (via at-home or provider-based tests). If you test positive, please follow the instructions above for next steps.
  • You can also provide anyone you may have had close contact with this link for information on what to do if exposed.
  • Please feel free to call us at (608) 266-4821 or email us if you have questions about our isolation or exposure guidance.

I was exposed to someone with COVID-19

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says “close contact” is if any of the following situations happened while you spent time with a person with COVID-19 during their isolation period and/or during the two days prior*, even if they didn’t have symptoms:

  • You were within 6 feet of a person who had COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
  • You had direct exposure to respiratory secretions (for example, being coughed or sneezed on, sharing a drinking glass, utensils, towels or other personal items).
  • You had direct physical contact with the person (for example, a hug, kiss, or handshake).
  • You cared or care for a person who has COVID-19.
  • You lived or live with a person who has COVID-19.
  • You stayed overnight with a person who has COVID-19 (for at least one night in the same household).

*A person with COVID-19 is infectious two days before they have symptoms (or two days before their positive test was collected if they did not have symptoms) through the end of their isolation period.

What to do if you were exposed

  • Wear a high-quality mask for 10 days.
    • Wear a mask any time you are around others inside your home or indoors in public.
    • Day 0 of masking is the day of your last exposure to someone with COVID-19.
    • Do not go places where you are unable to wear a mask.
  • Get tested at least 5 days after you last had close contact with someone with COVID-19, even if you don't have any symptoms. 
    • If you test negative, continue wearing a mask through day 10. You can still develop COVID-19 up to 10 days after being exposed.
    • If you test positive, isolate immediately.
  • Watch for symptoms through 10 days after you last had close contact with someone with COVID-19. If you develop symptoms, isolate immediately and get tested. Continue to stay home until you know the results.
  • Avoid being around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19. 

Someone in my home is sick from COVID-19

  • See the CDC guidance, Caring for Someone Sick at Home.
  • The sick person 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.
  • The CDC has additional guidance for how to clean and disinfect your home if someone is sick, including how to clean surfaces, linens, dishes, and trash.
  • Follow the above guidance, I was exposed to someone with COVID-19. If the person with COVID is unable to fully separate from you while in the home, you should mask around others through their isolation period AND for 10 days after they leave isolation.

I’m a health care worker

Health care workers are subject to different recommendations due to widespread exposure to COVID-19 and their critical role. Health care workers may follow CDC guidelines for critical workers if their employers want them to return to work.

Was this page helpful to you?