Illness from COVID-19

People with COVID-19 have a wide range of symptoms reported ranging from mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath. Some people have other symptoms, including chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea. Not everyone with COVID-19 will have all symptoms and fever might not be present. These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure. This list does not include all possible symptoms and will be updated as we learn more about COVID-19.

It is very important that people with even mild signs of illness (fever, cough, chills, shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat) stay home to prevent spreading illness to others! 

Yes. It is possible to test positive for the flu (as well as other respiratory infections) and COVID-19 at the same time.

Both influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-COV-2 virus and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.  Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.

Both the flu and COVID-19 can cause symptoms such as fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue (tiredness), sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, and headache among others. Change in or loss of taste or smell is sometimes seen in COVID-19.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your Healthcare Provider for evaluation, treatment and possible testing. Since both the flu and COVID-19 are contagious and can lead to serious illness, it is important to stay home while sick and for the recommended length of time after symptoms improve.

For more information regarding similarities and differences between flu and COVID-19, click here.

VDH has created a chart comparing the symptoms of seasonal allergies, the common cold, strep throat, flu, and COVID-19. Please click here.
If you have concerning symptoms, you should contact your Healthcare Provider for evaluation, treatment and possible testing.

It depends on the severity of your symptoms. If you have mild illness, it is important to stay home and rest. Even those with mild illness could pass the infection to others.

Virginians can use COVIDCheck, a new online risk-assessment tool to check their symptoms and connect with the appropriate health care resources, including COVID-19 testing.

Tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours (or 2 days) before the person has any symptoms or tests positive. By letting your close contacts know they may have been exposed to COVID-19, you are helping to protect everyone.

Call 911 if you have a medical emergency: If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the dispatch personnel that you have, or are being evaluated for COVID-19. If possible, put on a facemask before emergency medical services arrive.  Emergency warning signs include (but are not limited to): trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse a person, or bluish lips or face.

If you are sick with COVID-19, or suspect you are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, follow the steps below to help prevent the disease from spreading to people in your home and community:

  • Stay home except to get medical care
    • Stay home: People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to isolate at home during their illness. You should restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care.
    • Take over- the counter medicines, such as acetaminophen, to make you feel better.
    • Stay in touch with your doctor. Call before you get medical care. Be sure to get care if you feel worse or you think it is an emergency.
    • Avoid public areas: Do not go to work, school, or public areas.
    • Avoid public transportation: Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home. This is known as home isolation
    • Stay away from others: As much as possible, you should stay in a specific “sick room” and away from other people in your home. Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available.
    • Limit contact with pets & animals: You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.
    • When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask. See COVID-19 and Animals for more information.
  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor
    • Call ahead: If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have respiratory illness and it is possible you might have COVID-19. This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
    • If you do not have a doctor, your local health department may be able to help connect you with a healthcare provider or free clinic in your area.
  • Wear a facemask if you are sick
    • If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) or pets and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office.
    • If you are caring for others: If the person who is sick is not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then people who live with the person who is sick should not stay in the same room with them, they should wear a facemask when they enter a room with the person who is sick. Visitors, other than caregivers, are not recommended.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
    • Cover: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
    • Dispose: Throw used tissues in a lined trash can.
    • Wash hands: Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Clean your hands often
    • Wash hands: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
    • Hand sanitizer: If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry.
    • Soap and water: Soap and water are the best option if hands are visibly dirty.
    • Avoid touching: Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items
    • Do not share: You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.
    • Wash thoroughly after use: After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Clean all “high-touch” surfaces every day
    • Clean and disinfect: Practice routine cleaning of high touch surfaces and your “sick room.” Let someone else clean and disinfect common areas but not your bedroom and bathroom.
      • High touch surfaces include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables.
    • If 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 should wear a face mask and wait as long as possible after the person has used the bathroom.
    • Clean and disinfect areas with bodily fluids: Also, clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them.
    • Household cleaners and disinfectants: Clean the area or item with soap and water or another detergent if it is dirty. Then use a household disinfectant.
      • Be sure to follow the instructions on the label to ensure safe and effective use of the product. Many products recommend keeping the surface wet for several minutes to ensure germs are killed. Many also recommend precautions such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product.
      • Most EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.
  • Monitor your symptoms
    • Seek medical attention: Seek prompt medical attention if your illness is worsening (e.g., difficulty breathing).
    • Call your doctor: Before going to your doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them your symptoms.
    • Wear a facemask: If possible, put on a facemask before you enter the building. If you cannot put on a facemask, try to keep a safe distance from other people (at least 6 feet away). This will protect the people in the office or the waiting room.
    • Alert health department: Ask your healthcare provider to call the local health department. Persons who are placed under active monitoring or facilitated self-monitoring should follow instructions provided by their local health department or occupational health professionals, as appropriate.
    • If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, get medical attention immediately. Emergency warning signs include*:
      • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
      • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
      • New confusion or inability to arouse
      • Bluish lips or face

* This list is not all-inclusive.  Please consult your healthcare provider for any symptoms that are severe or concerning.

Call 911 if you have a medical emergency: If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the dispatch personnel that you have, or are being evaluated for COVID-19. If possible, put on a facemask before emergency medical services arrive.

More great information about what to do if you are sick can be found at:

VDH Resources and Support

What to do if you are Sick

Older people (≥65 years of age) and persons living in a nursing home or long-term care facility are at greater risk for serious illness.

People of any age with the following conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Smoking
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus

COVID-19 is a new disease. Currently there are limited data and information about the impact of underlying medical conditions and whether they increase the risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Based on what we know at this time, people with the following conditions might be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19:

For more information please see CDC’s website on People Who Need to Take Extra Precautions.

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

  • At least 10 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared AND
  • At least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication AND
  • Other symptoms have improved

For more information, see:

What to do if you have confirmed or suspected coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

CDC Interim Guidance on Home Isolation

A pulse oximeter is a device used by healthcare professionals to measure the oxygen level (oxygen saturation) of the blood. Low blood oxygen levels can be a sign of COVID-19, but it is only one of many signs and symptoms that may be present during illness. Use of a pulse oximeter should only be used under the direction and supervision of a physician. A pulse oximeter should not replace being alert for early COVID-19 symptoms such as fever and cough.

A person who does not have symptoms of COVID-19 and does not have a positive laboratory test for the virus has no responsibility to share information about this virus with others.  It should be shared only at the discretion of the individual and with healthcare providers who need the information to provide necessary medical care services. A person suspected or confirmed to be ill with COVID-19, or confirmed by laboratory test to be infected with the virus should notify contacts who have been exposed so that the contacts can quarantine themselves for 14 days.

COVID-19 is a reportable condition. If you have a confirmed positive lab result, both the lab and your healthcare provider are required to report your status to the local health department and someone from the health department will get in touch with you.

Page last reviewed: October 20, 2020