By Kari Bray / Snohomish Health District
If you are tested for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and your results come back positive, it may be a scary and stressful time. The same is true for people who are close contacts or a confirmed case or people who experience symptoms of COVID-19.
Most people who become ill with COVID-19 will recover with rest and care. It is important to monitor your symptoms and follow guidance from your health care provider, as well as avoid exposing other people to the illness. People who are ill with more severe symptoms may be hospitalized for care. Those who do not have severe illness should isolate at home to make sure our hospitals have the ability to respond to more critical cases.
In this blog, we want to talk more about what to do if you have symptoms, have a positive test, are a close contact of someone with COVID-19, or are the supervisor of an employee who has COVID-19.
What should I do if I have symptoms of COVID-19?
Common symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing. The severity of symptoms can vary from one person to another. Most COVID-19 illnesses are not severe, but the illness can be serious and potentially fatal, particularly for high-risk populations like people 60 and older, people with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems, or pregnant women.
If you develop symptoms but have not been in close contact with a confirmed case, stay home and away from others. Contact your medical provider by phone or online.
Not everyone who is ill needs to be tested for COVID-19, particularly people who have mild illness, are younger than 60, are otherwise healthy, and do not work in a health care setting, public safety, critical infrastructure, or live in an institutional or congregate setting such as a long-term care facility. Most people can isolate and recover at home. However, your medical provider may want to monitor your symptoms or test you for something else, like influenza. Keep in mind that, while we and other partners are working to expand COVID-19 testing options, capacity remains limited.
If you have been notified that you are a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case and you experience symptoms, you should act as though you, too, have a confirmed case. Contact your medical provider by phone or online for guidance on your personal care.
See the following section for more information on what you should do.
What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19 or if I am a close contact of a confirmed case and start having symptoms?
Stay home except to get medical care. You should only call 911 or go to a hospital or clinic if you need urgent care. Otherwise, tele-health is the best option.
Separate yourself from other people or animals in your home. Try to use a separate bedroom and bathroom from others in the household. When that is not possible (such as if you need to share a bathroom), wear a medical face mask when you are in a shared space and make sure shared areas are being cleaned and sanitized frequently.
Rest and get plenty of fluids and healthy food. Take all of the steps you would to recover from other respiratory illnesses. There is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19, though research and trials are in progress. Your medical provider may have additional guidance or steps to take based on your specific symptoms and health history. Remember to contact your medical provider by phone or online rather than going in person to avoid exposing others.
Always follow steps to help reduce the spread of illness:
• Wash hands often with warm water and soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.
• Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like doorknobs, counters or remotes. When using disinfectants, follow instructions on the product label.
• Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue away and wash hands. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow.
• Stay home and avoid close contact with others.
• Avoid sharing personal or household items like cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding.
Monitor your symptoms. Notify your medical provider as soon as possible if they worsen. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the dispatcher that you have or may have COVID-19. If possible, put on a medical face mask before emergency responders arrive.
How long do I need to be isolated?
If you have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 and are caring for yourself at home, make sure you continue to self-isolate until:
• Your fever (if you have one) has been gone for three full days (72 hours) without the use of fever-reducing medications AND your other symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, sore throat) have improved
• Three full days (72 hours) after your symptoms (if you did not have a fever) have improved
• Seven days after symptom onset; whichever is longer.
What if I’m not sick but someone in my household is?
If you live with someone who has COVID-19 or is suspected of having COVID-19, it is crucial that you take steps to limit the spread of illness and care for your own health, as well.
The person in the household who is ill should follow all of the guidance above. Support them in doing this. Encourage them to maintain distance and self-isolate. Help with cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces in shared areas of the household. Ensure that shared spaces have good airflow by opening a window or using an air conditioner. Wash laundry and dishes thoroughly.
The CDC has guidance for cleaning and disinfecting in households with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case.
If there is a medical emergency and you call 911, tell the dispatcher that someone in the household has COVID-19.
Don’t invite or allow visitors who do not absolutely need to be there. Care for pets so the person who is ill does not. Don’t share household items like eating utensils, bedding or towels.
Monitor yourself for symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat or difficulty breathing. Call your health care provider as soon as possible if you develop symptoms, and make sure to explain not only your symptoms but also your exposure to a confirmed or suspect case.
What if an employee I supervise tells me they have COVID-19?
Take them at their word. If an employee is ill, you do not want them at the workplace. Even employees who are well should be working remotely if it is possible for them to do so.
The Snohomish Health District is contacting confirmed cases and providing a letter they can share with close contacts. However, an employee may hear of a positive test result from their medical provider before the Health District has had time to complete its disease investigation and provide that letter. Employers should not require an employee to show a letter to prove that they have COVID-19.
If an employee notifies you that they have COVID-19, ensure that you continue following all cleaning and disinfecting procedures. The CDC has environmental cleaning and disinfection guidance for facilities where there has been a suspected or confirmed case.
People who have confirmed cases are provided with the letter to notify close contacts. Additional internal communications to employees are at the employer’s discretion but must respect the medical privacy of the ill employee and should not include personal medical details, but rather focus on the measures being taken by the workplace to ensure health and safety.
Many workplaces already are temporarily closed due to orders from the Health Officer and the Governor that are currently in effect. More information on that is available in our last blog post, and a graphic with information is available online.
For workplaces that are continuing operations, you do not necessarily need to close if you learn of an employee who tested positive or is a close contact of a positive case. Once again, ensure that you are maintaining illness prevention measures:
• Attendees, customers and employees that are 60 or older, have underlying medical conditions, have compromised immune systems, or are pregnant have been encouraged not to attend or enter;
• Social distancing recommendations must be met. This means people are able to stay at least 6 feet from each other, aside from minimal and momentary contact at closer distances when absolutely necessary;
—This includes where individuals are sitting and standing, with the exception of families and/or parents/caregivers with small children.
—Along with the 6-foot distance, social distancing includes not shaking or holding hands; not sharing commonly used items like phones, keyboards or microphones; or other situations where hands are touching shared surfaces or objects without being sanitized between people.
• Employees are screened for coronavirus symptoms each day and excluded if symptomatic. Symptoms could include sore throat, cough or fever.
—Employees should ensure they are fever-free and do not have symptoms like sore throat, cough or difficulty breathing before they leave home and report for work. While at work, if they develop fever (a temperature higher than 100 degrees F or subjective fever) or respiratory symptoms like a sore throat, cough, or difficulty breathing, they should immediately:
• self-isolate (separate themselves from others)
• notify their supervisor
• go home and stay home until 7 days after symptom onset or 72 hours after symptoms resolve, whichever is longer
• if symptoms persist or worsen, call their health care provider for further guidance.
—Employers in health care settings should consider measuring employee temperatures and assessing symptoms prior to starting work. For others, relying on employee reports is acceptable in most settings.
• Proper hand hygiene and sanitation must be readily available to all attendees, customers and employees.
• Environmental cleaning guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must be followed, including more cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces at least daily.
Closing down temporarily for additional cleaning or other measures is a business-level decision.
If you receive questions from the media regarding a case at your workplace, you can reach out to the county’s Joint Information Center activated for the COVID-19 response: firstname.lastname@example.org. Do not provide personal medical information about an employee to the media.
The Public Health Essentials! blog highlights the work of the Snohomish Health District and shares health-related information and tips.