As many people test positive for COVID-19 amid the contagious omicron variant, here’s a guide to what to do after receiving a positive result.
Q: But I’m vaccinated. I can get this?
A: Yes, you can still have COVID-19 even if you are vaccinated and boosted — many doubt the test, said Dr. Susan Bleasdale, an infectious disease physician at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. Treat a positive as a positive. “Right now, it’s important to know that a cold can be COVID even if vaccinated and boosted,” Bleasdale said.
Q: What should I do after testing positive?
A: First, if you took a rapid test, you don’t necessarily need a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis. Bleasdale said this isn’t necessary if you have symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, or a known exposure, consider a follow-up PCR if there is concern about a false positive. But she added, “Right now, with the significant increase in cases, we’re not seeing very many false positives. “
Next, make sure to tell people you were around recently. Notify anyone you saw the two days prior to when either you developed symptoms or tested positive. You should also tell anyone you were around when you had symptoms.
Q: What’s my responsibility to stay away from other people?
A: According to the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, experts advise isolating yourself from others for at least five days. Wear a well-fitting mask when you need to be around others; stay in your own room and use a separate bathroom if available.
Everyone who has presumed or confirmed COVID-19 should stay home for at least five full days (day zero is considered when symptoms started or, for asymptomatic people, the positive test) and wear a mask in public for an additional five days.
At home, maintain a 6-foot distance from others, Bleasdale said.
If at the five-day mark, if you are fever-free for 24 hours without any medication and other symptoms have improved, you can end isolation but should still wear the mask. The CDC notes that loss of taste and smell may persist for weeks or months and doesn’t need to delay leaving isolation.
Avoid people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for at least 10 days. Do not go places where you are unable to mask, such as restaurants or eating around others at home or work. Avoid travel for the full 10 days.
Q: Do I need to test negative before leaving isolation?
A: The CDC hasn’t been requiring this, but the agency recently added advice that if someone “has access to a test and wants to test,” use an antigen test toward the end of the five-day period. If that result is positive, isolate until day 10. Even if that test is negative, though, continue to wear a mask around others at home and in public until day 10.
Q: What happens if my symptoms continue?
A: You may need to remain in isolation longer; check with your health care provider.
Q: What might be my susceptibility going forward?
A: People appear to be protected for at least 90 days from reinfection, Bleasdale said. “There are a few people who have been reinfected within 90 days, with the transmission from delta to omicron, but those are not very common,” she said. Similar to a vaccine, the longer from infection, the more likely for reinfection.
Q: Is it worth testing in future days or might my tests remain positive for weeks or months afterward?
A: In general, testing for return from isolation is not advised, except for in certain circumstances, like health care workers returning to work. PCR tests can remain positive for some time.
Q: Does any of this guidance change with omicron? Is 6 feet still enough distance, for example?
A: Masking is still critical, Bleasdale said. The CDC hasn’t changed what’s considered close contact, which remains someone less than 6 feet away from an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
Bleasdale advises that masking might be more important than social distancing. Vaccination remains most important in preventing severe disease.
Q: What is the likelihood I could later develop long COVID-19? Is there anything I can do now to mitigate the risk?
A: We don’t know yet if there’s a difference with omicron or the risk of long COVID, Bleasdale said. Again, she says vaccination is the best prevention.
Q: What should you do if you have kids in the house? How long should you be around them masked, or any other precautions for parents who can’t fully isolate from children?
A: Bleasdale recommends wearing masks around them for 10 days. “It’s hard to do when you are caring for children,” she said. But make sure to mask, and wash your hands and disinfect commonly touched surfaces often.
Q: Should people in the same house who all test positive, such as couples or roommates, stay away from each other, or is there any concern they could reinfect each other?
A: No, you won’t reinfect each other, Bleasdale said. It’s OK to stop isolating if everyone is infected, she said. But keep your distance from others in the household who aren’t.
Q: What is the likelihood of boosted individuals spreading COVID if infected?
A: Bleasdale says boosted people can get it and spread it as easily as others, but appear to be better protected against severe disease, especially in the older population over 65 who really need that booster.