Public Health

How To Care For Yourself At Home With COVID-19

Jacqueline Slobin
Jacqueline Slobin23 Aug 2022

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed, it is essential to isolate yourself from others immediately. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, chills, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle aches, loss of taste and/or smell, sore throat, and nausea. 

If you have any of these symptoms, you should get a COVID-19 diagnostic test. It is important to note that diagnostic tests can yield false-negative results, so even if you have a negative test, you should continue to isolate yourself if you have symptoms. 

How to Care for Yourself at Home with COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published three main recommendations on how to care for yourself at home with COVID-19. It is important to support your immune system while it fights off the virus. The three recommendations include:

  • Take over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to reduce fever
  • Drink water to stay hydrated
  • Get plenty of rest

What NOT to do

Do not take any drugs that are not Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for treatment of COVID-19. The FDA has only approved one drug, Remdesivir (Veklury), to treat COVID-19. It is dangerous to take any drugs not prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Do not use any form of public transportation, including subways and taxis. Putting other people at risk of COVID-19 continues to spread the virus. The best way to ensure you are not exposing people is to reduce contact with those around you.

When Should You Seek Emergency Treatment For COVID-19

If you are young and do not fall into a high-risk category for COVID-19, you may be able to recover on your own at home. If you are at high risk, have underlying medical conditions, or begin to experience more severe symptoms, contact your primary care doctor. 

Not all doctor’s offices are treating COVID-19 positive patients in person, so if you would like to see your doctor, make sure to call in advance. This also helps them to protect the staff at their clinic from becoming infected.

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should call 911 or seek emergency care immediately: 

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

Note: this list is not comprehensive - if you are experiencing any severe symptoms you should seek medical attention or call your provider. You can also use the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Coronavirus Self-Checker, which can help you decide whether you should seek care. 

6 Ways To Isolate From Others If You Have COVID-19

If you have symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19, you should not leave your home unless it is to seek medical attention. If you live in a house or apartment with others, you should take the following precautions to prevent spreading COVID-19 to household members. 

  1. Stay in a separate room from other household members and pets at all times, if possible.
  2. Use a separate bathroom, if possible, and wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer frequently.
  3. If you need to come into contact with other people from your home, wear a mask at all times. Make sure the mask covers both your mouth and your nose. Wash or change your facemask each day.
  4. Always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  5. Do not share items with people from your household (ex: utensils, cups, plates).
  6. Frequently disinfect any “high touch” surfaces and shared spaces, such as doorknobs, countertops, and bathrooms.

According to the CDC, you are no longer contagious 10 days after a positive test result. If your symptoms are improving AND you have not had a fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications, you are likely not contagious, but always err on the side of caution.

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How To Tell People You May Have COVID-19 

If you are experiencing symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19, it is essential that you tell everyone you were in contact with 48 hours before your test or symptom onset. Although it can be stressful and nerve-wracking to tell people you may have COVID-19, it is important that they are aware of the situation so they can isolate and get tested as well. 

When telling people you may have COVID-19, timing matters. People can start spreading COVID-19 before they show symptoms, so it is important that all of your close contacts isolate immediately. Some important things to keep in mind: 

  • Contact all friends or family members you have recently seen
  • Contact your employer if you have been working in-person
  • Contact your school if you are a student
  • Contact any restaurants or facilities you have been to in the past 2 days
  • Do not rely on your state’s contact tracing personnel to notify people you were in contact with. Due to high numbers of COVID-19 cases, it could take some time for contacts to be notified and contacts may be missed

Below is a sample message you can send to a friend you were in close contact with: 

“Hey, after we saw each other two days ago I tested positive for COVID. I just wanted to let you know so that you can isolate yourself and get a test. I’m sorry for putting you at risk and if you need any help scheduling a test let me know.” 

COVID-19 At-Home Care FAQs

Caring for yourself at home with COVID-19 is not easy, especially since you do not want to expose the people you live with. We answer some common questions below to help clear the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 at-home care.

How do I know if I have COVID-19 or the flu?

Influenza (the flu) and COVID-19 are two different contagious respiratory viruses but can exhibit similar symptoms. The best way to determine whether you have COVID-19 or the flu is to get a diagnostic test. COVID-19 usually presents with flu-like symptoms, but is much more contagious and can be life-threatening. Due to the public health measures in place, there are far fewer influenza cases this year than in recent years. If you are experiencing flu symptoms, you should assume it is COVID-19 and isolate yourself immediately.

What should I do after I recover?

Most people recover from COVID-19 after two to three weeks. After you recover from COVID-19, you should get another test to be 100% sure. Depending on the situation, guidance varies for when it is safe to end at-home isolation. You should also consider getting vaccinated to prevent contracting the virus again. The COVID-19 vaccines currently on the market are safe and effective. The more people who get vaccinated, the less the virus will continue to spread and mutate. Prevent another lockdown by getting vaccinated today.

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What are the long-term effects of COVID-19?

The long-term effects of COVID-19 include fatigue, muscle aches, difficulty sleeping, and shortness of breath. Post-COVID conditions are also known as long COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID-19, long-term effects of COVID, or chronic COVID. While the long-term effects of COVID-19 are still being researched, COVID-19 infection can result in lasting lung problems.

What is the best way to prevent COVID-19?

The best way to prevent COVID-19 is by getting vaccinated. Getting vaccinated prevents severe illness, hospitalizations, and death from COVID-19. The CDC has published additional ways to slow the spread of COVID-19. These include:

  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth to help protect yourself and others.
  • Stay 6 feet apart from others who don’t live with you.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.

Bottom Line

If you believe you may have COVID-19, get a diagnostic test then stay home and isolate yourself to protect others around you. Most cases of COVID-19 can be treated at home with over-the-counter fever-reducing medications, hydration, and rest. Keep track of your symptoms and be sure to seek emergency care if you experience any warning signs.

COVID-19 is a dangerous virus but constitutes a mild illness for most healthy people. In order to combat this pandemic, we need to be cognizant of our health and prevent further spread by getting tested and isolating ourselves when necessary.

Jacqueline Slobin

Jacqueline graduated from the University of Virginia in 2021 with a B.A. in Global Public Health and is a current M.D. candidate at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Jacqueline has been working for Mira since April 2020 and is passionate about the intersection of public health and medical care.