Fragmented COVID-19 microbes in coral and white
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know

  • If you test positive, isolate yourself, notify any close contacts who might have been exposed, and call your medical provider or community health center.
  • You are likely eligible for treatment if you are age 50 or older, have a medical condition, are immunocompromised, are pregnant, or were recently pregnant.
  • Only leave isolation once you test negative or after 10 full days to avoid spreading the virus to others.

Getting infected with COVID-19 today is very different from an infection in the early days of the pandemic. Despite the ongoing threat of the virus and its variants, the American public is now equipped with an armory of tools and strategies to fight back. As the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant BA.5 continues to slip through immune defenses, it’s important for people to know what COVID-19 care and treatment options are available. 

What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?

If you test positive, isolate immediately and only leave if you need to seek medical care. If you live with others, try to stay in a specific room and wear a high-quality mask when entering common areas.

While isolating, the next steps are to notify your close contacts who might have been exposed and your doctor. It’s important to call your medical provider even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms to keep them up to date on your condition. A doctor will also be able to inform you of any treatment options you may be eligible for. If you don’t have a medical provider, contact your local health department or a community health center to learn about your care options. 

Am I eligible to receive COVID-19 treatments?

Most people can recover from COVID-19 by resting, staying hydrated, and treating symptoms with over-the-counter medicine such as Tylenol or Advil. But people with a higher risk of complications from COVID-19 should talk to their medical provider to seek out therapeutics and reduce the chance of severe disease and death.

If you are age 50 or older, have a medical condition, are immunocompromised, are pregnant, or were recently pregnant, you are likely eligible for COVID-19 treatments. It’s important to seek out treatments as soon as you test positive since they need to be administered within five to seven days of the onset of symptoms.

How can I access COVID-19 treatments?

The FDA has authorized several COVID-19 treatment options, including antivirals and monoclonal antibodies. The most straightforward way to navigate and access them is to contact your medical provider. 

For people who do not have a medical provider, these therapeutics are still accessible. Paxlovid and molnupiravir are two antiviral pills that help prevent severe illness and death by stopping the virus from multiplying. They need to be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms.

To obtain these medications, patients can visit a test-to-treat site where they can get tested and receive the medication in one visit. Patients can also access these pills by getting a prescription from a doctor or a community health center and then visiting a location that fills the prescription. Use this tool to find test-to-treat sites or locations to fill your prescription.

Besides antiviral pills, there are two other FDA-authorized treatment options. Remdesivir is an antiviral administered in the form of an IV at a health care facility for three consecutive days. Monoclonal antibodies, administered in a single IV injection, are another option. They help treat infection by strengthening the immune system against COVID-19, though some monoclonal antibodies are no longer effective against Omicron. Both remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies need to be administered within seven days of the onset of symptoms.

Your doctor can help determine which treatment option is most suitable for your health condition. If you do not have a primary care doctor or are uninsured, contact your community health center to find treatment.

How do I know when it’s safe to leave isolation?

The CDC says people can leave isolation five days after the onset of symptoms, but some people remain contagious after this period. A recent Boston University study found that 17 percent of people who tested positive for COVID-19 continued to test positive after five days of isolation.

The best way to guarantee that you don’t pass the virus on to others is to test negative before reentering society or to isolate for a full 10 days. If you need to leave isolation after just five days, the CDC recommends continuing to wear a mask around others for five additional days. During this time, it’s important to avoid people who are at high risk and avoid places where you are unable to wear a mask, such as restaurants and gyms.