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COVID-19: Your guide to isolation and protecting others

Aug 17, 2022 By William Kimbrough

Updated March 6, 2024.

Whether you’re starting to experience symptoms or have recently been exposed, the thought of having COVID-19 can feel scary and leave you wondering about the health and safety of yourself and your loved ones. While the media may paint an alarming picture, for many people, having COVID-19 isn’t much different than having a cold or flu. Here’s everything you need to know if you think you might be sick:

What to do if you're sick

When you have a respiratory virus, including the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19, it’s important to protect those around you by staying home and away from others while you aren’t feeling well. You can return to your normal activities and spend time around other people again once your symptoms have significantly improved or resolved and you’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours (without using fever-reducing medication).

To protect those most at risk for severe infection*, take the following precautions for an additional 5 days after returning to your usual activities: covering your coughs and sneezes, washing or sanitizing your hands often, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, wearing a well-fitting mask, keeping a distance from others, and taking steps for cleaner air.

*People at risk for severe infection from upper respiratory viruses include:

  • People who have a condition that affects their immune system (including cancer), or people who are taking medications that suppress their immune system
  • Older adults, especially those over the age of 65
  • Young children, especially those less than 1 year old
  • People with chronic conditions affecting their heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, or nervous system.
  • People with diabetes
  • People who are pregnant
  • People who smoke

Please follow your local department of health guidelines if they differ from these recommendations.

Testing for COVID-19

We recommend testing for COVID-19 if you’re feeling sick with common cold-type symptoms. If you test positive for COVID-19, we suggest re-testing with an antigen test once your symptoms have improved and you haven’t had a fever for 24 hours. If the test remains positive, you may still be contagious and should continue to take extra precautions to protect others. A negative test is extra assurance that you are less likely to spread the virus. If your first antigen test is negative, take another antigen test after 48 hours. If your second test is taken before day 4 or 5 of symptoms, we recommend taking an additional test on day 4 or 5.

Using a PCR or other NAAT test within 90 days after a recent positive test is not recommended, as these kinds of tests can detect small genetic fragments from the virus for weeks to months after an infection. This can cause a false positive test.

A word about COVID-19 isolation

Until recently, the CDC recommended a 5-day isolation period for people who tested positive for COVID-19. As of March 1, 2024, the CDC dropped the “5-day” rule and instead recommends staying away from other people until your symptoms have significantly improved or resolved and you’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours (without using fever-reducing medication), and taking additional precautions for 5 more days after symptoms improve.

This might mean that you need to isolate for longer than 5 days, depending on how long it takes for your symptoms to improve. Most people feel better within 7-10 days from when their symptoms started. If you’re not feeling better after 10 days, check in with your healthcare provider.

If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19

If you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or have been told by a public health authority or healthcare provider that you’ve been exposed, you do not need to quarantine, regardless of your vaccination status. Instead, all individuals who have been exposed to COVID should wear a well-fitting mask when around others for 10 days after exposure - with day 0 being the day of exposure. You should also be tested five days after the exposure and monitor for symptoms. If you do develop symptoms, you should isolate right away and test for COVID-19.

How else can I protect others while I’m sick?

  • Stay home

Limit your out-of-home activity to medical care and do not go into school or work. You should also avoid public transportation, ride-sharing, and taxis. If you need groceries, try using a meal or grocery delivery service where your food can be dropped off right outside your door.

  • Work from home

If your job allows, and if you feel well enough to work, working from home may be a great option until your symptoms have improved enough to be around other people.

  • Separate yourself

Keep to one room as much as possible if you live with roommates or family members. You should also use a separate bathroom if possible.

  • Wear a mask

If you are sick and must go in public or be around other people, it’s important to wear a face mask to prevent spreading the virus. Remember to also put a facemask on before entering the doctor’s office or when traveling to and from your doctor’s appointments. If you don’t have one upon arriving, your provider should provide one for you that you can keep on-hand for transportation home and future use.

  • Do not share personal items

To avoid spreading germs, do not share dishes, utensils, towels, or other personal items with other people in your household. Any shared items should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.

  • Wash your hands

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Stay in contact with friends and family virtually

Research shows that quality time with people you care about can boost your happiness level. If you are isolating, try to still connect with your friends and family through video chat or phone calls.

  • Monitor your symptoms

If you find your symptoms worsening, contact your primary care provider or reach out to our 24/7 virtual care team. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911

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William Kimbrough, One Medical Provider
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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.