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Health Team

What to do if you're exposed to COVID-19, test positive or just feel sick

Posted January 11, 2022 7:12 p.m. EST

Many people, regardless of vaccination status, are going to become sick with coronavirus over the next couple of weeks.

Because many of the recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shifted over the past year, we've created a guide to help you see what you should do if you're exposed to COVID-19, feeling symptoms of the virus or test positive.

The guidance from the CDC differs for each situation and depends on if you are vaccinated, unvaccinated or vaccinated but not boosted.

I'm feeling sick and I'm unvaccinated. What should I do?

Public health officials recommend that people who are feeling symptoms and are unvaccinated stay home and call a health care provider to reduce the risk of possibly spreading COVID-19 to others.

The majority of people who are sick with COVID-19 have a fever, a dry cough, a loss of taste and smell and difficulty breathing. You may also have headaches, chills, a runny nose, a sore throat, congestion or diarrhea.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, health officials recommend isolating and testing as soon as you can.

For people who were exposed to the virus and are unvaccinated, the CDC recommends that they get tested immediately and to not take a negative test at face value. People who are unvaccinated and exposed to COVID-19 should get a second test five to seven days after their initial exposure, or if they develop symptoms.

I'm feeling sick, I'm vaccinated but not boosted. What should I do?

It is possible that people who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus still test positive for coronavirus. If you live or work in an area with substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, your likelihood of catching the virus increases.

The CDC says that fully vaccinated people are much less likely to develop serious illness than those who are unvaccinated. The majority of people who are sick with COVID-19 have a fever, a dry cough, a loss of taste and smell and difficulty breathing. You may also have headaches, chills, a runny nose, a sore throat, congestion or diarrhea.

People who are vaccinated can still pass the virus onto others, so health officials recommend isolating and getting tested with COVID-19 as soon as possible.

The CDC defines someone as fully vaccinated if they received two doses of a Pfizer or Moderna shot, or one dose of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

I'm feeling sick and I'm vaccinated and boosted. What should I do?

While people who are vaccinated and boosted have a low chance of catching COVID-19, that chance is not zero. The CDC recommends that anyone, regardless of vaccination status, get tested for COVID-19.

The CDC says the only group of people who do not need to be tested for COVID-19 are those who have already tested positive in the past three months and recovered.

Isolate and get a test as soon as possible.

I was exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and I'm unvaccinated. What should I do?

If you are unvaccinated and someone you know has tested positive for COVID-19, the CDC says you should stay home for five days. After those five days, health officials say you should continue wearing a mask around others for an additional five days.

Health officials do not recommend getting a COVID-19 test right away. Instead, wait five days, and get tested on the fifth day if possible.

If you do start to feel sick, health officials recommend isolating and getting tested as soon as you can.

I was exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and I'm vaccinated, but not boosted. What should I do?

If you had the Pfizer or Moderna shot more than six months ago and are not boosted, or received the Johnson & Johnson shot more than two months ago, health officials say you could very likely catch COVID-19. The CDC recommends that you stay home for five days. After those five days, continue to wear a mask around others for five more days.

Health officials do not recommend getting a COVID-19 test right away. Instead, wait five days, and get tested on the fifth day if possible.

If you do start to feel sick, health officials recommend isolating and getting tested as soon as you can.

However, if you were vaccinated less than 6 months ago with a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, health officials recommend that you wear a mask around others for 10 days. Test for the virus on the fifth day if possible, and if you develop symptoms, stay home and get a test. The same recommendations apply if you received the Johnson & Johnson shot within the past two months.

I was exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and I'm vaccinated and boosted. What should I do?

If you got your booster shot when eligible, then you do not need to isolate if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19. The CDC says you should wear a mask around others for 10 days and test five days after you were exposed.

If you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, stay home and get tested.

I tested positive for COVID-19 on a rapid test and I don't have any symptoms and I'm vaccinated but not boosted. What should I do?

Rapid antigen tests are pretty good at determining positive COVID-19 cases. If you received a positive rapid test, you almost certainly have COVID-19.

Health experts with Harvard Medical School say that antigen test results are "highly specific, meaning that if you test positive you are very likely to be infected." There is a higher chance of a false negative when taking a rapid test than a false positive, researchers say.

If someone is not experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms, the most accurate test is a PCR test. It is able to detect low levels of the coronavirus accurately.

Experts say it’s best to confirm a positive rapid test result with a positive PCR test, regardless of vaccination status.

You should isolate for five days and if you have no symptoms, you can leave your house after the fifth day. The CDC recommends that people wear a mask around others for an additional five days.

I tested positive for COVID-19 on a rapid test, I don't have any symptoms and I'm vaccinated and boosted. What should I do?

Rapid antigen tests are pretty good at determining positive COVID-19 cases. If you received a positive rapid test, you almost certainly have COVID-19.

Health experts with Harvard Medical School say that antigen test results are "highly specific, meaning that if you test positive you are very likely to be infected." There is a higher chance of a false negative when taking a rapid test than a false positive, researchers say.

If someone is not experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms, the most accurate test is a PCR test. It is able to detect low levels of the coronavirus accurately.

Experts say it’s best to confirm a positive rapid test result with a positive PCR test, regardless of vaccination status.

You should isolate for five days and if you have no symptoms, you can leave your house after the fifth day. The CDC recommends that people wear a mask around others for an additional five days.

I tested positive for COVID-19 on a rapid test and I don't have any symptoms and I'm unvaccinated. What should I do?

Rapid antigen tests are pretty good at determining positive COVID-19 cases. If you received a positive rapid test, you almost certainly have COVID-19.

Health experts with Harvard Medical School say that antigen test results are "highly specific, meaning that if you test positive you are very likely to be infected." There is a higher chance of a false negative when taking a rapid test than a false positive, researchers say.

Experts say it’s best to confirm a positive rapid test result with a positive PCR test, regardless of vaccination status.

You should isolate for five days and if you have no symptoms, you can leave your house after the fifth day. The CDC recommends that people wear a mask around others for an additional five days.

I tested negative for COVID-19 on a rapid test but I am feeling sick. I'm vaccinated and boosted. What should I do?

There is a chance that you still could have COVID-19. In that case, you should try and get a PCR test.

Those tests are much more sensitive and are able to pick up COVID-19 cases in people with low levels of the virus. People who are vaccinated or who recently recovered from COVID-19 may produce lower levels of the virus, experts say.

If you're feeling sick, you should isolate until you can get your PCR test results back.

I tested negative for COVID-19 on a rapid test but I am feeling sick. I'm vaccinated but not boosted. What should I do?

There is a chance that you still could have COVID-19. In that case, you should try and get a PCR test.

Those tests are much more sensitive and are able to pick up COVID-19 cases in people with low levels of the virus. People who are vaccinated or who recently recovered from COVID-19 may produce lower levels of the virus, experts say.

If you're feeling sick, you should isolate until you can get your PCR test results back.

I tested negative for COVID-19 on a rapid test but I am feeling sick. I'm unvaccinated. What should I do?

Because you are unvaccinated, there's still a chance you could still have COVID-19. In this case, you should try and get a PCR test to confirm you are not contagious.

PCR tests are much more sensitive and are able to pick up COVID-19 cases in people with low levels of the virus. Research shows that rapid antigen tests don't always pick up positive cases from the coronavirus' omicron variant.

If you're feeling sick, you should isolate until you can get your PCR test results back.

I tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test and am feeling sick. I'm unvaccinated. What should I do?

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, needs to stay home for at least five days after testing positive for COVID-19. If you're feeling better after five days, and no longer have a fever, you can leave your house. The CDC says that you should continue to wear a mask for five days around others.

People who have prolonged fevers (a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees) for more than 10 days should contact their medical provider and continue to stay home.

Don't be embarrassed if you test positive. Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are expected to get sick over the coming weeks. You should tell other people who you came in contact with that you tested positive. The Houston Methodist Hospital says that you are contagious with COVID-19 as early as two days before you first feel sick or before you test positive.

If you have COVID-19, a close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of someone for a combined total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

"Bottom line: It's incredibly important to let people know that they have been exposed, so they can take the necessary quarantine precautions and get tested as recommended," health officials with the Houston Methodist Hospital say.

I tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test and am not feeling sick. I'm vaccinated and boosted. What should I do?

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, needs to stay home for at least five days after testing positive for COVID-19. If you're still not feeling sick after five days, and don't have a fever, you can leave your house. The CDC says that you should continue to wear a mask for five days around others.

Don't be embarrassed if you test positive. Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are expected to get sick over the coming weeks. You should tell other people who you came in contact with that you tested positive. The Houston Methodist Hospital says that you are contagious with COVID-19 as early as two days before you first feel sick or before you test positive.

If you have COVID-19, a close contact is defined as being within six feet of someone for a combined total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

"Bottom line: It's incredibly important to let people know that they have been exposed, so they can take the necessary quarantine precautions and get tested as recommended," health officials with the Houston Methodist Hospital say.

I tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test and am not feeling sick. I'm vaccinated but not boosted. What should I do?

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, needs to stay home for at least five days after testing positive for COVID-19. If you're still not feeling sick after five days, and don't have a fever, you can leave your house. The CDC says that you should continue to wear a mask for five days around others.

Don't be embarrassed if you test positive. Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are expected to get sick over the coming weeks. You should tell other people who you came in contact with that you tested positive. The Houston Methodist Hospital says that you are contagious with COVID-19 as early as two days before you first feel sick or before you test positive.

If you have COVID-19, a close contact is defined as being within six feet of someone for a combined total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

"Bottom line: It's incredibly important to let people know that they have been exposed, so they can take the necessary quarantine precautions and get tested as recommended," health officials with the Houston Methodist Hospital say.

I tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test and am not feeling sick. I'm unvaccinated. What should I do?

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status needs to stay home for at least five days after testing positive for COVID-19. If you're still not feeling sick after five days, and don't have a fever, you can leave your house. The CDC says that you should continue to wear a mask for five days around others.

Don't be embarrassed if you test positive. Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are expected to get sick over the coming weeks. You should tell other people who you came in contact with that you tested positive. The Houston Methodist Hospital says that you are contagious with COVID-19 as early as two days before you first feel sick or before you test positive.

If you have COVID-19, a close contact is defined as being within six feet of someone for a combined total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

"Bottom line: It's incredibly important to let people know that they have been exposed, so they can take the necessary quarantine precautions and get tested as recommended," health officials with the Houston Methodist Hospital say. 

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