What to Do If You Test Positive for COVID

Some dude getting his nose swabbed

The COVID-19 pandemic has now been affecting our lives for more than 2 ½ years. Over that period of time, a number of different coronavirus variants have emerged. While the more serious ones may have been among the earliest, recent ones are nothing to sneeze at (pun intended). In fact, the most recent COVID-19 version, the BA.5 variant, is spreading quite rapidly. But with all these changes and the development of vaccines and boosters, you likely wonder if care recommendations have changed. Are COVID-19 quarantine guidelines the same or different? Is COVID-19 isolation still required, and if so, for whom? Given that we’re dealing with a new landscape when it comes to the pandemic, these are worthwhile questions. And the following offers you some perspective on current COVID-19 guidelines.

Some Basics on Quarantining, Isolating, and COVID-19 Testing

When it comes to following specific recommendations, things can get a little confusing pretty quickly. Many people use quarantine and isolation interchangeably, but in actuality, they are a little different. COVID-19 quarantine guidelines refer to less aggressive measure to prevent coronavirus spread. In contrast, COVID-19 isolation is stricter and requires additional efforts to avoid contact with others. The difference between COVID-19 quarantine guidelines and COVID-19 isolation recommendations will be clearer in the following sections. But for now, recognize that these do not refer to the same exact thing.

In addition to these issues, it’s also important to appreciate how different types of COVID-19 tests work. Today, the most readily available test is the rapid antigen test. This COVID-19 test detects proteins on the virus by using a nasal swab to test your nasal secretions. Therefore, if this test is positive, it means you still have virus particles present and are infectious. Home tests are rapid antigen tests as well and can be used to determine if you are positive. In fact, these are the best tests when determining how to follow COVID-19 isolation or COVID-19 quarantine guidelines. In contrast, PCR tests detect tiny pieces of coronavirus RNA that remain present long after someone is infectious. Therefore, though more sensitive, they are not as useful when determining what you need to do.

What to Do When Coming In Close Contact

For many people, it is confusing to know what to do if you are around someone who later tests positive. When it comes to close contact, this is where COVID-19 quarantine guidelines come into play. According to the CDC, those in close contact don’t need to do anything if you are up to date on your vaccinations. They also don’t need COVID-19 isolation or quarantine if they’ve had a prior COVID-19 infection in the last 90 days. However, the CDC does recommend wearing a well-fitting facemask for 10 days around others just as a precaution.

The above guidelines assume that those who’ve been in close contact with someone infected are asymptomatic. If symptoms supportive of COVID-19 are present, other COVID-19 isolation and/or COVID-19 quarantine guidelines may apply. These are discussed below. In addition, the CDC also recommends that anyone in close contact be tested at least five days after exposure. If COVID-19 testing is then positive, then additional precautions are needed. These are discussed next. And lastly, if one has not been vaccinated, then quarantine procedures are required. This involves staying at home away from others for a total of five days after exposure. It also involves avoiding contact with anyone with a weakened immune system for 10 days.

What to Do If You Have a Positive Test

As noted, those who’ve had close contact with someone infected are encouraged to get a COVID-19 test after 5 days. So, what happens if that test is positive and you’re faced with the subsequent stress involving COVID? According to COVID-19 isolation and COID-19 quarantine guidelines, it means a lot. Anyone with a positive test should isolate themselves for five days from the date of the positive test results. This is the case even if symptoms are not present. Because a positive test means virus is still present, it is assumed one is infectious. Therefore, it’s important to adhere to COVID-19 isolation instructions during this time. In fact, this same rule applies to anyone who has had a positive test and lacks symptoms.

(Need some tips for tackling COVID stress? Project Bold Life has you covered!)

Compared to COVID-19 quarantine guidelines, COVID-19 isolation measures are slightly more extensive. Recommendations include isolating yourself from others in your household and using a separate bathroom as well. It is also recommended that you avoid all contact with household members and even pets in the house. Similarly, those in isolation should not share personal items like cups, utensils, and towels. And masks should be worn at all times when around others to reduce infectious risks. The good news is that after five days you can stop most COVID-19 isolation procedures if you are fever-free and lack symptoms. Face masks are recommended for a full 10 days, however.

What to Do If You Develop Symptoms

As you probably assume, those who have symptoms and test positive naturally have to abide by COVID-19 isolation measures. But this can get a little tricky for those who start out asymptomatic and later develop complaints. In this instance, the five-day isolation period starts afresh on the day that symptoms appear. Thus, asymptomatic individuals with a positive test who later get symptoms would need isolation for five more days. If symptoms appeared on day five of their initial isolation, then their entire isolation period would be 10 days.

For anyone who is symptomatic, the current COVID-19 isolation and COVID-19 quarantine guidelines suggest a minimum of five days isolation. Likewise, should stay hydrated and rest along with other best practices and tips. In order to end isolation, they must have completed their initial isolation and be fever-free for 24 hours. If fever persists, they must remain in isolation until the fever is gone for a full day without fever meds. In addition, although not part of the absolute guidelines, a repeat antigen test is encouraged before ending their five-day isolation. If such a test is still positive, a full 10-day period of isolation is encouraged.

(Check out this Project Bold Life article on tips for isolating and recovering at home.)

Additional Precautions and Guidelines

The COVID-19 isolation and COVID-19 quarantine guidelines also have travel restrictions for 10 days with symptoms or positive test. They should also avoid anyone at high risk for COVID -19 during this time as well. Similarly, anyone with symptoms should watch closely for key features suggesting greater concern. These include things like difficulty breathing, chest pressure, confusion, sleepiness, and pale-colored skin. Notably, there are several treatments now available for COVID-19 infections that can be administered. So, if any such symptoms develop, contact medical care as soon as possible. By abiding by these recommendations, you’ll give yourself and others the best chance to stay healthy. And hopefully in time, we’ll get to a point where these COVID-19 guidelines are no longer needed.


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