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Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Caring for Yourself or Others

If you or a household member have symptoms of COVID-19, follow these guidelines for preventing spread of the virus, and managing symptoms.

If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms

  • Stay home. Call your healthcare provider and tell them you have symptoms of COVID-19. Do this before going to any hospital or clinic. Follow your provider's instructions. You may be advised to isolate yourself at home. This is called self-isolation. You may also be told to stay at least 6 feet from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is called "social distancing."

  • Stay away from work, school, and public places. Limit physical contact with family members. Limit visitors. Don't kiss anyone or share eating or drinking utensils. Clean surfaces you touch with disinfectant. This is to help prevent the virus from spreading.

  • If you need to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue. Then throw the tissue into the trash. If you don't have tissues, cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow.

  • Wear a cloth face mask around other people. During a public health emergency, medical face masks may be reserved for healthcare workers. You may need to make a cloth face mask of your own. You can do this using a bandana, T-shirt, or other cloth. The CDC has instructions on how to make a face mask. Wear the mask so that it covers both your nose and mouth.

  • Don’t share food or personal items with people in your household. This includes items like eating and drinking utensils, towels, and bedding.

  • If you need to go to a hospital or clinic, expect that the healthcare staff will wear protective equipment such as masks, gowns, gloves, and eye protection. You may be advised to wait in or enter through a separate area. This is to prevent the possible virus from spreading.

  • Tell the healthcare staff about recent travel. This includes local travel on public transport. Staff may need to find other people you have been in contact with.

  • Follow all instructions the healthcare staff give you.

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19

  • Stay home and start self-isolation. Don’t leave your home unless you need to get medical care. Don't go to work, school, or public areas. Don't use public transportation or taxis.

  • Follow all instructions from your healthcare provider. Call your healthcare provider’s office before going. They can prepare and give you instructions. This will help prevent the virus from spreading.

  • If you need to go to a hospital or clinic, expect that the healthcare staff will wear protective equipment such as masks, gowns, gloves, and eye protection. You may be advised to wait in or enter through a separate area. This is to prevent the possible virus from spreading.

  • Wear a face mask. This is to protect other people from your germs. If you are not able to wear a mask, your caregivers should. During a public health emergency, medical face masks may be reserved for healthcare workers. You may need to make a cloth face mask of your own. You can do this using a bandana, T-shirt, or other cloth. The CDC has instructions on how to make a face mask. Wear the mask so that it covers both your nose and mouth.

  • Stay away from other people in your home.

  • Have no contact with pets and animals.

  • Don’t share food or personal items with people in your household. This includes items like eating and drinking utensils, towels, and bedding.

  • If you need to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue. Then throw the tissue into the trash. If you don't have tissues, cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow.

  • Wash your hands often.

Self-care at home 

There is currently no vaccine or medicine approved to prevent the virus. The FDA has approved an antiviral medicine called remdesivir for people in the hospital. It is for people 12 years and older who weigh more than about 88 pounds (40 kgs). Remdesivir is approved only for people who need to be treated in the hospital. In certain cases, it may also be used for people younger than 12 years or who weigh less than about 88 pounds (40 kgs).

Current treatment is mainly aimed at helping your body while it fights the virus. This is known as supportive care. For serious COVID-19, you may need to stay in the hospital. Supportive care includes:

  • Getting rest. This helps your body fight the illness.

  • Staying hydrated. Drinking liquids is the best way to prevent dehydration. Try to drink 6 to 8 glasses of liquids every day, or as advised by your provider. Also check with your provider about which fluids are best for you. Don't drink fluids that contain caffeine or alcohol.

  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicine. These are used to help ease pain and reduce fever. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions for which OTC medicine to use.

If you've been in the hospital for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and now are home, follow all of your healthcare team's instructions. This will include when it's OK to stop self-isolation. You may also get instructions on position changes to help your breathing, such as lying on your belly (prone positioning).

If you've had confirmed COVID-19, your healthcare team may ask you to consider donating your plasma. This is called COVID-19 convalescent plasma donation. Plasma from people fully recovered from COVID-19 may contain antibodies to help fight COVID-19 in people who are currently seriously ill with the disease. Experts don't know the safety of COVID-19 convalescent plasma or how well it works. Research continues. The FDA has approved it for emergency use in certain people with serious or life-threatening COVID-19.

Home care for a sick person 

  • Follow all instructions from healthcare staff.

  • Wash your hands often.

  • Wear protective clothing as advised.

  • Make sure the sick person wears a mask. If they can't wear a mask, don't stay in the same room with the person. If you must be in the same room, wear a face mask. When wearing a mask, make sure that it covers both the nose and mouth.

  • Keep track of the sick person’s symptoms.

  • Clean home surfaces often with disinfectant. This includes phones, kitchen counters, fridge door handle, bathroom surfaces, and others.

  • Don’t let anyone share household items with the sick person. This includes eating and drinking tools, towels, sheets, or blankets.

  • Clean fabrics and laundry thoroughly.

  • Keep other people and pets away from the sick person.

When you can stop self-isolation

When you are sick with COVID-19, you should stay away from other people. This is called self-isolation.

Your limits are different if you've had COVID-19 in the last 3 months but are fully recovered without symptoms and you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. If you are symptom-free, you don't need to stay home away from others or be retested. The CDC doesn't recommend retesting unless you have symptoms of COVID-19 and your new symptoms can't be linked to another illness. Contact your healthcare provider if you have any questions. If you develop symptoms, stay home. If you had COVID-19 over 3 months ago and have been exposed again, treat it like you've never had COVID-19 and stay home, limit your contact with others, call your provider, and monitor for symptoms.

If you are normally healthy, the CDC does not advise retesting for COVID-19 with nose-throat swabs. You can stop self-isolation when all 3 of these are true:

  1. You have had no fever for at least 24 hours. This means no fever without medicine that reduces fever, such as acetaminophen, for at least 24 hours.

  2. Your symptoms such as cough or trouble breathing have improved.

  3. It has been at least 10 days since your first symptoms started.

Talk with your healthcare provider before you leave home. Tell them if the 3 things above are true for you. They may tell you it’s OK to leave home. In some cases, your state or local area may have specific advice. Your healthcare provider will tell you more. 

If you have a weak immune system and COVID-19, or if you've had severe COVID-19, your instructions on when to stop isolation will be somewhat different. Some conditions and treatments can cause a weak immune system. These include cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplants, and conditions such as HIV or other immune system disorders. You may be advised to stay home from 10 days to 20 days after your symptoms first started. Your healthcare provider may want to retest you for COVID-19. Follow your provider's instructions.

When you return to public settings

When you are well enough to go outside your home, consider the CDC's guidance on cloth face masks:

  • The CDC advises all people over age 2 to wear cloth face masks in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when it's hard to socially distance. For example, wear a face mask in populated places such as public transit, public protests and marches, and crowded stores, bars, and restaurants.

  • Cloth masks may help prevent people who have COVID-19 form spreading the virus to others.

  • Cloth masks are most likely to reduce COVID-19 spread when masks are widely used by people who are out in the public.

Certain people should not wear a face covering. This includes:

  • Children younger than 2 years old

  • Anyone with a health, developmental, or mental health condition that can be made worse by wearing a mask

  • Anyone who is unconscious or unable to remove the face covering without help. See the CDC's guidance on who should not wear a face mask.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if a sick person has any of these:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Pain or pressure in chest

If a sick person has any of these, call 911:

  • Trouble breathing that gets worse

  • Pain or pressure in chest that gets worse

  • Blue tint to lips or face

  • Fast or irregular heartbeat

  • Confusion or trouble waking

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Coughing up blood

Going home from the hospital

If you were diagnosed with COVID-19 and were recently discharged from the hospital:

  • Follow the instructions above for self-care and isolation.

  • Follow the hospital healthcare team’s specific instructions.

  • Ask questions if anything is unclear to you. Write down answers so you remember them.

Date last modified: 10/23/2020

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry S Zingman, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson, MSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2020
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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