December 6, 2021

What to do if you have coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

We will be talking about what to do if you have confirmed or suspected coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

People with COVID-19 can have a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe illness. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. Not everyone with COVID-19 will have all symptoms and fever may or may not be present. Symptoms typically appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

Some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. While anyone exposed to the virus can get COVID-19, the risk for serious illness (having to be hospitalized, needing a ventilator, etc.) increases with age. The older you are, the more likely you are to get very sick if you get COVID-19. People of any age with other types of medical conditions are also at a higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19.  If you have any of these underlying conditions or other serious medical conditions including a weakened immune system, call your doctor right away if you get symptoms of COVID-19.

What to do if you have coronavirus disease (COVID-19)


If you are sick with COVID-19 or think you might have COVID-19: stay home and separate yourself from other people in the home as much as possible. This is known as home isolation.

  • Monitor your symptoms. Seek medical care if your illness worsens. If you have any type of medical emergency, call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility.
    • Emergency signs of COVID-19 include trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest that won’t go away, confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.
    • Most people will develop mild to moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that will get better without medical help. You can download VDH’s Daily Symptom Monitoring Log to help keep track of your symptoms.
  • Avoid contact with others, including those in your home. Stay in a specific room away from others and use a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Avoid using public transportation, such as buses, trains, ride-sharing, or taxis. Avoid all public areas.

Is it COVID-19 or flu?

Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Diagnostic testing can help determine if you are sick with the flu or COVID-19.

For more information, see VDH’s Feeling Sick Comparison Chart and CDC’s The Difference and Similarities between Flu and COVID-19 page.

Get tested.

If you have symptoms and want to get tested for COVID-19, please contact your healthcare provider. Your provider may collect samples to test you or help you to find sampling sites in your area. For additional information on testing sites in your area, visit the Virginia COVID-19 Testing Sites.

Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.  

  • Self-isolation means staying at home in a specific room away from other people and pets, and using a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups, utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water or laundered and dried.
  • Restrict contact with pets and other animals while sick.
  • Your local health department can assist you with making sure that your basic needs (for example, food and medication) are being met while you are self-isolating.
  • Stay in touch with others with calls (audio or video), instant messaging, or email while you are sick. You may want to ask for help and support from friends, family, or neighbors.

Inform your close contacts that you are sick so that these people know to self-quarantine and stay alert for symptoms.

  • Answer the call. Your local health department will contact you to check-in on your health, discuss who you’ve been in contact with and ask you to stay at home to self-isolate. This is part of contact tracing. 
  • Call your contacts and tell them you are sick. By sharing your information with others, you can slow the spread of illness.
    • People in your family and others you had close contact with while infectious will be asked to stay home and monitor their health to make sure they do not get sick and infect others.
      • Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes or having direct exposure to respiratory secretions, such as being coughed or sneezed on.
      • People with COVID-19 are considered to be infectious both while they are sick and for 2 days before symptoms began. People who tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, but never developed symptoms, are considered to be infectious from 2 days before the positive test to 10 days after the positive test.
    • Learn how to identify and communicate with your close contacts.
    • Encourage your close contacts to speak with health department staff when they call. These conversations are important to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in your community.

Visit Exposure to COVID-19 to learn more about how to monitor your health and protect your community if you’ve been exposed to a person with COVID-19.


Treat symptoms with non-prescription medicines and call ahead before visiting a doctor.

  • Use over-the-counter medications based on your symptoms. Follow all usage and warning information on the label.
  • Get rest and drink plenty of water or clear liquids. Avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine, such as sodas, tea, and coffee.
  • Seek medical attention right away if your illness is getting worse (e.g., difficulty breathing or fever that won’t go down after using fever reducing medication). Call the doctor’s office and tell them you have or may have COVID-19.
  • Get medical attention right away if you have any medical emergency. Call 911 and notify the dispatch personnel that you have or may have COVID-19. Emergency warning signs of COVID-19 can include: trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest that won’t go away, new confusion or inability to arouse or wake, or bluish lips or face
Symptom Over-the-Counter Treatments*
Fever or headache or body aches Use a mild pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil or Motrin)
Sore throat Use a mild pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), throat sprays like chloraseptic spray, or cough drops
Productive cough (wet cough with mucus) Use an expectorant that contains guaifenesin (e.g., Robitussin or Mucinex)
Dry cough (without mucus) Use a cough suppressant that contains dextromethorphan (e.g., Delsym)
Both productive and dry cough Use a combination guaifenesin/dextromethorphan product (e.g., Mucinex DM or Robitussin DM)
Stuffy/runny nose Use a nasal decongestant that contains phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine (e.g, Sudafed), saline nasal spray, or oral antihistamines (e.g., Claritin or Zyrtec)

*Always follow the advice from your healthcare provider and the instructions from the manufacturer about the medicine you take.

Wear a facemask or cloth face covering when around other people or pets.

  • If you are sick, you should wear a facemask or cloth face covering when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) or pets and before you enter a doctor’s office.
  • If the person who is sick is unable to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing) then other household members should wear a facemask or cloth face covering if they enter a room with the person who is sick.
  • Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help. You do not need to wear the cloth face covering if you are alone. Learn more about cloth face coverings.

Cover your coughs and sneezes and clean your hands often. 

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in a lined trash can. Wash hands right after.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol may be used. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together for at least 30 seconds until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands

Clean all frequently touched surfaces daily.

  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces that get touched often, such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, remote controls, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables.
  • Clean and disinfect areas that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them.
  • If a caregiver or other person needs to clean and disinfect a sick person’s bedroom or bathroom, they should do so on an as-needed basis. The caregiver/other person should wear a mask and disposable gloves prior to cleaning.
  • Use a household cleaning spray or wipe, according to the label instructions. CDC has more information on household cleaning and disinfection.

Manage your stress and anxiety.

  • Being ill can be stressful or cause anxiety. Remember that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.
  • Being ill with COVID-19 might be especially stressful because it is a new disease and there is a lot of news coverage. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.
  • People with pre-existing mental conditions should continue their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms.
  • If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety or feel like you want to harm yourself or others,
    • Call 911
    • Call the Virginia COVID “warm” line which has been set up to help people who are having trouble dealing with the changes in our lives due to COVID-19.  Callers can receive emotional support and referrals for mental and behavioral health and other services.  Unlike 911, which is used only for emergencies, a warm line offers support and gives people the chance to talk about their struggles and mental health.  (877) 349-6428 Toll Free, 9:00 A.M. – 9:00 P.M. Monday – Friday, 5:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M. Saturday and Sunday
    • Visit the Disaster Distress Helpline or call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517)
    • Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224

Learn when you can discontinue self-isolation.

Most people with COVID-19 can be ‘released’ from isolation and can be around others after:

  • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared, and
  • At least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication, and
  • Other symptoms are improving. (Note: the loss of taste or smell might persist for weeks or months after recovery and this should not delay the end of isolation)

If you tested positive for COVID-19 but never had any symptoms, you can be around others after 10 days have passed since the first positive diagnostic test.

For most people, a test-based strategy for determining when to end isolation is not recommended. Check with your healthcare provider, especially if you have severe to critical COVID-19 and/or a weakened immune system because of a health condition or medication.

See the VDH When to End Home Isolation and Quarantine Infographic for more.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C)

While children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults, VDH, CDC and other public health staff are investigating Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children (MIS-C) linked to COVID-19.  MIS-C may cause problems with a child’s heart and other systems in the body.  Signs and symptoms of MIS-C include fever, belly or gut pain, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, rash, red or cracked lips, red or bumpy tongue, or swollen hands and feet.

If your child has any of these signs or other symptoms of COVID-19, contact your pediatrician.  If your child is showing any emergency warning signs including trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest that won’t go away, new confusion, can’t wake or stay awake, bluish lips or face, severe belly pain, or other concerning signs, seek emergency care right away.

For more information:

Page Last Reviewed: September 24, 2020