What to do if you have symptoms

This article was last reviewed and updated on January 12, 2022.

COVID-19 is an illness that can affect the lungs, skin, nervous system, blood as well as other organs. Here you’ll find all of the latest information on the symptoms and what you should do if you think you are sick.

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

COVID-19 patients may have:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you have any of these emergency symptoms, seek care immediately (call 911 or go to the nearest emergency care facility):

  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest that doesn’t go away
  • New confusion
  • Have trouble waking up or staying awake
  • Skin, lips or nail beds are pale, grey or blue

If you are unvaccinated:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should not leave your home (except to get medical care as advised by a medical professional or in a medical emergency) if you have any of these symptoms or think you might have COVID-19. If you live with other people who do not have symptoms, you should practice self-isolation: separate yourself in a “sick room” if possible, and minimize contact with members of your household as much as you can. Wear a facemask around others, cover your coughs and sneezes, and clean your hands often. Call ahead before visiting your doctor, or schedule a visit by phone or telemedicine.

If you are fully vaccinated1:

  • you should wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission
  • you should consider wearing a mask regardless of the level of transmission if you or a member of your household is unvaccinated, have a weakened immune system or are at high risk because of age or an underlying medical condition
  • you are still required to wear a mask where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance

Will I get seriously ill?

Most people with COVID-19 infection will get a mild form of the illness. A small number of people may develop difficulty breathing and need to go to the hospital.

The people most at risk for developing more serious symptoms are those aged 65 or older, people living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, smokers, and those with underlying medical conditions such as cancer, kidney, lung, liver, or heart disease, Down syndrome, weakened immune system, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, thalassemia, diabetes, neurological condition, stroke, HIV, organ/stem cell transplant, smoking, substance use disorder, tuberculosis or mental health disorders.2

How to self-isolate

If you are showing symptoms of COVID-19 and are self-isolating, here’s some helpful information on what to do and how to cope when you’re stuck inside.

How is COVID-19 treated?

Most people infected with COVID-19 either have no symptoms at all or have mild ones that require no treatment.

There are some medications that have received emergency use authorization for treatment of COVID-19 infection.

In severe cases of COVID-19, treatment includes admission to the hospital and care focused on supporting the person through the course of the virus while their immune system works to overcome it.

Treatments for COVID-19 infection should be prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Post COVID-19 symptoms

If you think you or a family member may have a post-COVID condition (new or persistent conditions occurring 4 or more weeks after initial infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19), taking a few steps to prepare for your meeting with a healthcare provider can make all the difference in getting the proper medical evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. Use this checklist before your next healthcare visit.

Testing for COVID-19

Testing plays an important part in our battle against the COVID-19 coronavirus. Here is more information about the testing available in the US and how to get tested. Please note, Babylon does not offer private COVID-19 tests.

Testing for current infection

There are two types of viral tests used currently: nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) and antigen tests.3 These viral tests involve swabbing the inside of your nose or your mouth to check for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These tests are available from a healthcare provider or for at home testing. Check your local health department website for the latest information on testing.

You should get tested if3

  • You have symptoms of COVID-19
  • You have had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 min or more over a 24 hour period) with someone with COVID-19
    • Get tested at least 5 days after your exposure and monitor your symptoms. If you develop symptoms, you should get tested immediately.
  • You have recently been involved in an activity that would put you at higher risk such as travel, attending a mass gathering or being in a crowded indoor setting
  • You have been asked by a healthcare provider, school, workplace or health department to get tested

Testing for past infection

An antibody test may tell you if you had an infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 in the past.4 This test should not be used to diagnose a current infection. Check with your local health department or healthcare provider about how to get tested.

If you have a positive antibody test

  • It could mean that you have antibodies from the virus that causes COVID-19
  • It could mean that it may be positive because you have antibodies from a different coronavirus

Even if you do have antibodies to the virus, we do not have enough information at this time about how much protection you may have from getting infected again or how long that protection may last, so you should continue to follow precautions to protect yourself and others.

If you have a negative antibody test

  • It could mean you have never had COVID-19
  • It could mean that you are infected currently or have been recently infected (it usually takes 1-3 weeks after infection for your body to develop antibodies although some people may take longer)
  • Some people may never develop antibodies after an infection

Talk with your healthcare provider about your specific results and what they mean.

What happens after testing

If you are waiting for your COVID-19 test results

  • Stay home and stay away from others if you think you may have COVID-19
  • If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should quarantine for at least 5 days if
    • you have not completed your primary vaccine series
    • you are 18 years or older and have not received your booster shot after your primary series
  • Watch for symptoms and contact your healthcare professional for advice if needed
  • Think about where you have been and people you have been around so you can help with contact tracing if contacted by your local health department

If you test positive, with or without symptoms

  • You may be contacted by your local health department to check on your symptoms and to find out who you have been around so they can begin contact tracing
  • You should self-isolate and monitor your symptoms
  • You can end self-isolation after5
    • 5 full days since your symptoms first started AND
    • You have not had a fever for 24 hours without using any fever reducing medication AND
    • Your symptoms are improving
  • You should continue to wear a well fitting mask at home and in public for an additional 5 days after the end of your isolation period
  • Seek emergency medical care if your symptoms are severe or worsening
  • Tell your close contacts they may have been exposed to COVID-19

If you test negative and have no symptoms

  • Continue to wear a well fitting mask at home and in public for 10 days after your last exposure to someone with COVID-19
  • Follow all instructions from the health department

If you test negative and have symptoms

  • Continue to stay away from others (self-quarantine) for 14 days since your last exposure to someone with COVID-19
  • Follow all instructions from the health department
  • If your symptoms do not improve, contact your healthcare provider - you may need additional testing or an evaluation
  • Seek emergency medical care if your symptoms are severe or worsening

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.