What to Do If You Think You Have COVID-19

Coronavirus symptoms are easily mistaken for the flu. Here's how to know whether you should get tested for COVID-19.

There's never a right time to get sick—but now feels like an especially inopportune moment. The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has continued to dominate the news cycle, and no one wants to deal with the possibility that they've been infected.

If you're experiencing symptoms, you might be wondering what your first move should be. Just because you have a cough and sore throat doesn't necessarily mean you have the coronavirus, so you might be tempted to pretend nothing's amiss. On the other hand, it's important that people who actually have the novel coronavirus get properly diagnosed, relieve their symptoms, and follow healthcare experts' protocols for quarantining, if necessary.

Not sure how to play it? Here's what to do if you think you have the coronavirus. (

What Should I Do If I Have a Sore Throat and a Cough RN?

Typical COVID-19 symptoms—fever, cough, and shortness of breath—overlap with flu symptoms, so you won't know which illness you have without getting tested. If you're experiencing mild versions of those symptoms, you won't necessarily need medical attention, but it doesn't hurt to call your healthcare provider for guidance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone who A) has a fever B) thinks they might have been exposed to COVID-19 and C) notices their symptoms worsen call their doctor ASAP. Symptoms like shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness, weakness, and high fever warrant prompt medical attention, says Robert Amler, M.D., dean of New York Medical College's School of Health Sciences and former chief medical officer at the CDC.

That said, you don't necessarily need to make an in-person appointment with your doc ASAP. Giving your doctor a heads up over the phone, rather than stopping by their office for a surprise visit, will give them a chance to assess your situation and, if warranted, take steps to isolate you from other people waiting to get checked out, says Mark Graban, director of communication and technology for the Healthcare Value Network. "The situation is fluid and changing quickly," he explains. "In some cases, hospitals are immediately giving masks to patients who have respiratory issues just in case it might be COVID-19. Patients are often being put into an isolation room to be safe. Some hospitals are setting up mobile triage centers to keep respiratory patients separated from those with other emergency room needs." (

Once you've gotten further instructions from your doc, the CDC advises staying home unless you're going to a medical appointment. "Quarantine is for 14 days, typically at home in a room or rooms that are separate from the rest of the household," explains Dr. Amler.

Finally, if you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are actively experiencing coronavirus symptoms, the CDC recommends that you wear a face mask around other people and wash your hands like you're modeling for a hand-washing PSA (though the latter is something everyone should practice 24/7, coronavirus outbreak or not). There's no treatment for COVID-19, but nasal sprays, fluids, and fever-relief medication (when applicable) can make waiting it out more comfortable, adds Dr. Amler.

How Long Does It Take to Get COVID-19 Test Results?

When it comes to getting tested for COVID-19, there are two types of tests available to determine whether or not you're currently infected with the virus. The first is a molecular test, also known as a PCR test, which looks to detect the virus's genetic material, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Typically in PCR tests, a sample from a patient (think a nasal swab) is sent to a lab for further analysis. A turnaround time for PCR test results can either be several hours to days for a lab test, according to the FDA. In the case of at-home COVID-19 tests, a patient can learn their results in minutes, according to the FDA. If a PCR test is taken at a point of care (such as a doctor's office, hospital, or testing facility), the turnaround time is less than an hour, according to the FDA.

In the case of antigen tests, which are also known as rapid tests, this exam looks to one or more proteins from a virus particle, according to the FDA. The results from an antigen test taken at point of care facilities can arrive within less than an hour, according to the FDA.

What Should I Do If I Get COVID-19 Despite Being Fully Vaccinated?

The U.S. has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the summer of 2021 and with that, a number of breakthrough infections. And what is a breakthrough infection, exactly? For starters, this occurs when someone who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (and has been for at least 14 days) contracts the virus, according to the CDC. Those who experience a breakthrough case despite being fully vaccinated may experience less severe COVID symptoms or may be asymptomatic, according to the CDC.

In the case of being exposed to someone with COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends you get tested three to five days after initial exposure. The agency also suggests that those fully vaccinated folks wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until their test is negative. If your test result is positive, the CDC recommends isolating (separating yourself from those who aren't infected) for 10 days.

Although wearing masks and practicing social distancing play vital roles in slowing the spread of the virus, the COVID-19 vaccines are still the most efficient way to stay safe. (See: How Effective Is the COVID-19 Vaccine?)

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.

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