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What to do if you test positive for COVID

City residents waited in a line extending around the block to receive free at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits in Philadelphia on Dec. 20.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

As the Omicron variant continues to rapidly spread across the United States, many Americans, including those who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, are bound to test positive for the disease at some point.

The highly transmissible variant accounts for approximately 95 percent of new infections nationwide, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and cases are climbing throughout the country during a season public health experts expect will only lead to a further uptick in cases.

If you receive the dreaded positive test result, here is what health authorities recommend you do next.


You just tested positive. What now?

Once you receive confirmation that you have tested positive for COVID-19, the CDC recommends isolating for at least five full days. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health also suggests that you inform your healthcare provider, who may be able to provide a specific treatment plan, about your positive result and remain in contact with them. The next step is to also let your close contacts — whether family, friends, or colleagues — know that they may have been exposed to the virus. The DPH proposes making a list of everyone you were in close contact with for the two days before you became sick or the two days prior to your positive test being taken if you are asymptomatic. Informing those individuals will help to limit further spread.

What does it mean to isolate? How long do you have to?

If you tested positive for the virus but do not develop symptoms, you should isolate yourself from other people for a full five days, with the clock starting the day after you receive your test result, according to the CDC. If you continue to experience no symptoms, you can end your isolation period, but you should continue to wear a mask around others at home and in public for an additional five days. But if you develop symptoms after testing positive, then your isolation period must start over.


If you have symptoms, you should monitor them and watch for emergency signs, such as having trouble breathing or feeling persistent pain or pressure in the chest. While most breakthrough infections tend to be mild, more serious symptoms can arise, and it is advised that you seek medical care immediately if they do. You should not end isolation after five days if you continue to have symptoms, according to the CDC.

You should stay in a separate room from other household members if possible and also use a separate bathroom if you are able, according to the CDC. It is also recommended that you avoid contact with others and pets. But if you must be around others, or share space, you should wear a mask. The health protection agency also suggests not sharing personal household items, such as cups, towels, and utensils. The DPH also recommends wiping down surfaces that you touch frequently and cleaning your bathroom every day using a household disinfectant.

You should not travel during your isolation period and are recommended to avoid doing so until a full 10 days after your positive test result, according to the CDC. If you must travel, you should wear a mask. You should not go to places where you are unable to wear a mask, including at restaurants and gyms, and you should also avoid eating around others until 10 days after your positive test.


What are the treatment options available at home? What warrants outside care?

When you first test positive, let your doctor know and continue to monitor your symptoms while isolating. Those who are fully vaccinated are less likely to develop serious illness when they experience a breakthrough infection, according to the CDC. There is a chance that you may only feel as though you have a cold for a few days before feeling better.

But there are steps you can take if you do feel unwell that may help to relieve symptoms and support your body’s natural defenses, according to the CDC, such as resting and staying hydrated. Your health care provider may also recommend over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to reduce fever or any muscle or body aches.

You can also use a pulse oximeter to measure the oxygen levels in your blood. Typically, a low blood oxygen level causes symptoms including fatigue or shortness of breath, according to Michigan Medicine. An oxygen reading of 95 to 100 percent is considered normal for healthy children and adults, according to the CDC. It is advised that you contact your doctor if your level drops below that range.

The DPH advises that you seek emergency medical care if you develop any serious symptoms, including experiencing new confusion, having trouble breathing, and being unable to stay awake.

How long will you be contagious?

Based on available data, the CDC says that patients with mild-to-moderate COVID remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptom onset. You are most likely to spread the disease at the beginning of your illness and will likely no longer be at risk of infecting others when 10 days have passed since your symptoms first started developing or when your positive test was taken, according to the DPH.


You can be around others again after that five-day isolation period has ended, if you have gone a full day without fever or without the use of fever-reducing medication, and other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving, according to the CDC. But you should continue to wear a mask around others for the next five days and avoid traveling if possible.

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Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.