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

COVID-19 Symptoms

People with COVID-19 might not have any symptoms. If they do have symptoms, symptoms can range from mild to severe. Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:

  • fever
  • headache
  • chills
  • new loss of taste or smell
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • nausea or vomiting
  • muscle or body aches
  • diarrhea

Not everyone with COVID-19 will have all these symptoms. 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 certain medical conditions are also at a higher risk for more severe illness. 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 develop symptoms of COVID-19. 

Long-standing health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting very sick and dying from COVID-19. 

Though most people recover from COVID-19 quickly, and many people have mild symptoms, some people feel sick for weeks or months. The term post-COVID conditions, also referred to as long COVID, is used when someone continues to have health issues more than 4 weeks after they first became sick with COVID-19. Even people who did not have symptoms when they were infected with COVID-19 can have post-COVID conditions. Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 can prevent long COVID. More information is located in the “Long COVID” section below.

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. Testing can help determine if you are sick with the flu or COVID-19. It is also possible to be sick with both COVID-19 and the flu, or other respiratory diseases, at the same time. That’s why testing is so important if you have symptoms.

For more information, see VDH’s Feeling Sick Comparison Chart (English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Korean) and CDC’s The Differences and Similarities between Flu and COVID-19 page.

Steps to take if you are sick with COVID-19 or think you might have COVID-19 

Anyone who has symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19 should follow the steps and recommendations on this page, even if they are fully vaccinated. 

  • Stay home except to get medical care. Avoid all public areas.
    • Do not go to work or school. 
    • Do not use public transportation, such as buses, trains, ride-sharing, or taxis.


  • Separate yourself at home in a specific room away from other people and animals. Use a separate bathroom if possible. This is called isolation or home isolation. 
    • Do not share  household items such as dishes, drinking glasses, utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. After using these items, wash them  well with soap and water or laundered and dried.
    • Wear a mask when you have to be in the same room with other people or animals in your home. 
    • Wash your 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 available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in a lined trash can. Wash your hands right after.
    • 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 isolating.


  • Get tested for COVID-19, even if you are fully vaccinated. Contact a healthcare provider to find out how to get tested and to learn which type of test may be best for you. You can also visit Virginia COVID-19 Testing Sites to find testing locations in your area and VDH’s COVID-19 Testing for more information.



  • Seek medical care if your illness worsens. If you have any type of medical emergency, call 9-1-1 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, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone.


  • Clean and disinfect all frequently touched or high touch surfaces daily.
    • High touch surfaces are places that are touched frequently. These may include counters, tabletops, toilets, phones, and other places. 
    • If a caregiver or other person needs to clean and disinfect a sick person’s space, they should wear a mask and disposable gloves while cleaning. The person who is sick should also wear a mask. 
    • Open outside windows and doors and use fans and heating  and air conditioning settings to increase air flow. Do not touch your face while cleaning. Wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning.
    • Use a household cleaning spray or wipe. Follow the instructions on the label to ensure safe and effective use of the product. CDC has more information on household cleaning and disinfection.

Tell anyone you had close contact with that you are sick so that these people know to quarantine (stay home), get tested, and stay alert for symptoms.

  • Call your contacts and tell them you are sick. By sharing your information with others, you can slow the spread of COVID-19.
    • Learn how to identify and talk with your close contacts.
    • Tell people in your family and others you had close contact with while contagious (when you could spread the virus to others) that they need to stay home, get tested, and monitor their health to make sure they do not get sick and infect others.
      • People with COVID-19 are considered to be contagious starting from 2 days before they became sick (or 2 days before they were tested if they never had symptoms) through the end of isolation (when it is safe to be around other people).
      • Let your close contacts know that the health department may call, and ask them to speak with health department staff if they do call.
    • 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.


  • Answer the call. Your local health department might contact you to check-in on your health, ask you to stay at home to isolate, discuss who you’ve been in contact with, and notify your contacts. This is part of contact tracing. You may also get a text message with more information from VDH.


  • Anonymously notify others. Use Virginia’s free COVIDWISE Exposure Notification app to report your positive COVID-19 test. This will send an anonymous notification to people you were in close contact with who also use the app.

Treat symptoms with non-prescription medicines and follow care instructions from your healthcare provider or local health department.

  • Take care of your physical health. 
  • Get rest and drink plenty of water or clear liquids. Avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine, such as sodas, tea, and coffee.
  • Use over-the-counter medications based on your symptoms. Follow all usage and warning information on the label. See the table below for more information. 
  • Follow care instructions from your healthcare provider or local health department.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you need monoclonal antibody treatment. This therapy can treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and children 12 and older (must weigh at least 88 pounds), who are at high risk for developing severe illness.
    • Monoclonal antibody treatment is not a substitute for COVID-19 vaccination. Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is the best way to protect yourself from severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19. This is because monoclonal antibody treatment provides a short burst of immunity. Vaccination gives people longer-lasting immunity.
      • Two monoclonal antibody products, REGEN-COV and bamlanivimab plus etesevimab, can also be used to help people who meet specific criteria prevent the development of COVID-19 in the first place. However, these products are not meant to take the place of COVID-19 vaccination.
    • Research has shown that people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who received monoclonal antibody treatment did not have their disease progress about 70-80% of the time. This was compared to people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who did not receive monoclonal antibody therapy.
      • The definition of disease progression was different in different studies. It could mean going to an emergency department due to COVID-19. Or, it could mean being hospitalized or dying due to COVID-19.
  • Put on a mask before going to medical appointments.
  • Get medical care right away if you have any medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 and notify the dispatcher that you have or may have COVID-19.


Please note: The FDA has not approved or authorized the use of ivermectin for COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health has also determined that there is not enough evidence to recommend it for treating COVID-19. Ivermectin is used in the U.S. for the treatment and prevention of infection caused by parasites. Taking large doses of ivermectin or using animal ivermectin products is dangerous. Animal ivermectin products are very different from those approved for humans. More information is available here.


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.

Manage your stress and anxiety.

  • Take care of your mental health. 
  • Being ill can be stressful. Remember that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.
  • Being ill with COVID-19 might be especially hard because there is a lot of news coverage. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.
  • 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.
  • 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 9-1-1 right away for any medical emergencies.
    • Call VA C.O.P.E.S., 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. Spanish speaking counselors are available. For assistance, please call toll free at 877-349-6428, 9:00 A.M. - 9:00 P.M. Monday - Friday, 5:00 P.M. - 9:00 P.M. Saturday and Sunday.
    • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. 
    • 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 more about steps you can take to cope with stress and ask for help and support if you are struggling.

Learn when it is safe to be around others.

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 last for weeks or months after recovery. 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, getting another COVID test to determine when to end isolation is not recommended. If you have severe to critical COVID-19 and/or a weakened immune system because of a health condition or medication, check with your healthcare provider about when to stop isolation.

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

Post-COVID Conditions (“Long COVID”)

Post-COVID conditions (also known as “long COVID”) are symptoms that can last for weeks or months after being infected with COVID-19. The symptoms can also start weeks after the infection, even if the person did not have symptoms initially. A variety of long-term symptoms have been reported and people may have different combinations of any of the following symptoms:

  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (“brain fog”)
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Dizziness on standing
  • Fever
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities
  • Chest pain


Not everyone with post-COVID conditions will have all these symptoms. For example, you may or may not have a loss of smell or taste. These conditions can also have different combinations of health problems for different lengths of time. 

More serious long-term symptoms are less common, but can also occur. These may affect different organ systems in the body, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and brain functions. The effects of COVID-19 on multiple organs can also include conditions that occur after COVID-19 like multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS). Post-COVID conditions also can include the longer-term effects of COVID-19 treatment or hospitalization like post-intensive care syndrome (PICS), severe weakness, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you think you have long COVID or a post-COVID condition, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about treatment options. 

The best way to prevent these long-term complications is to prevent COVID-19. Get vaccinated today even if you already had COVID-19. 

CDC and other scientists continue to study the long-term effects of COVID-19 to better understand their impact on health. For more information, visit CDC’s Post-COVID Conditions. View the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation dashboard to track how many Americans have long COVID by state, county, and region.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS)

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, neck pain, bloodshot eyes, red or cracked lips, red or bumpy tongue, or swollen hands and feet.

CDC has also received several reports of cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in adults (MIS-A) linked to COVID-19. Adults can develop MIS-A days to weeks after having COVID-19. MIS-A can cause problems with the heart, gastrointestinal tract, skin, or brain. Signs and symptoms may include fever, low blood pressure, gut pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, rash, chest tightness or pain, or feeling very tired. 

If you or your child develop any of these signs or other symptoms of COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider or pediatrician. If you or your child show 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, severe belly pain, pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone, or other concerning signs, call 9-1-1 right away.

For more information:

Page Last Reviewed: October 14, 2021