You think you have COVID-19. What should you do?

Staying at home is the best treatment unless you are seriously ill. Isolate yourself from others, even in your home. Get fluids and rest and call your doctor if you get seriously ill.
March 16th, 2020
Home sick with coronavirus
If you think you have COVID-19, isolate yourself at home and tend to your symptoms. Call your doctor for help if your symptoms worsen. Photo: Getty Images.

The key symptom that people in China had when they were getting sick with this new coronavirus was a fever. Some who later tested positive for the illness also experienced a cough, shortness of breath and gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and diarrhea.

If you are having these symptoms and you think you might have COVID-19, stay at home and isolate yourself from others.

Dr. David Steinbruner, associate chief medical officer at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, says that 80% of people who are infected with the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, will experience a mild to moderate form of the illness.

“If you have it, we think it’s an approximately 14-day course. The best thing to do once you think you have it is to go into the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and look for what the CDC recommendations are for isolating at home. And follow them,” Steinbruner said. “You probably want to really think now, before you get sick, about making sure you have medications and what you may need and have that available.”

As the number of cases grows in Colorado and the U.S., Steinbruner and other health experts are urging people with symptoms to care for themselves at home and do all they can to stay away from others. The No. 1 way to limit the spread of this virus is to isolate yourself if you are sick.

“Be thoughtful about other people. Judging from the pattern that we are seeing in other countries, there will be an intense period where we see a large number of cases and then, it is going to start tapering off,’’ Steinbruner said. “And it is probably true that we have more cases than we are aware of but I also should tell you that we do not have that many severe cases at the moment. We do expect this to change in the near future.’’

For all updates and to read more articles about the new coronavirus, please visit uchealth.org/covid19

Steinbruner said people who are not severely ill can do good for the community if they stay home and avoid sharing the illness with even one additional person.

“There’s no proven treatment for this other than treating the symptoms, but the medical community is currently working on treatments for the most severely affected,” he said.

Avoiding visiting your doctor’s office in person or going into an ER if you are not extremely ill will help medical providers preserve the resources they need to focus on critically ill patients and those who have pre-existing conditions that make the virus even worse, Steinbruner said.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, but are not sick enough to need medical help, it’s best to do home treatments. Get plenty of fluids and rest. Use over the counter medications if you have body aches or a headache. Do all you can to heal while not spreading the illness.

Steinbruner recommends that if you have a cough, sore throat, headache and fever, you should stay home and treat the illness as you would a flu-like illness. Make sure that you have medications available that you would normally use to treat yourself at home. To prevent the spread:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Dispose of used tissues in a lined trash can.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

If your illness becomes more severe and you have any difficulty breathing, Steinbruner recommends that you schedule a phone call or Virtual Urgent Care visit with a provider.

“This is really an opportunity, that for the first time in America, we will see people embrace using their phones and tablets to see a doctor,’’ Steinbruner said. “In the case of limiting the spread of this novel coronavirus, this helps in two ways:  It helps preserve resources with hospitals and prevents the spread of infection into the hospitals and clinics. And it enables people to get real-time feedback from a provider in the comfort of their own home so that they can take ownership of their health.’’

Steinbruner also recommends that people who are sick go to the CDC website and follow all of the steps to care for yourself at home.

Here is some of the guidance from the CDC:

Stay home: People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to isolate at home during their illness. You should restrict activities outside of your home, except for getting medical care.

young girl coughing into her arm, one of the ways you can help stop spread of COVID-19 symptoms.
Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze to keep germs from spreading. Photo: Getty Images.

Cover your mouth and nose if you are sick: If you have a facemask, you should wear it or otherwise cover your mouth and nose if you must share a room or vehicle with other people or when you enter a health care provider’s office.

Avoid public areas: Do not go to work, school or public areas.

Avoid public transportation: If possible, do not use public transportation, ride-sharing services or taxis to avoid spreading the virus to anyone else.

Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home: Stay away from others. As much as possible, you should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available.

Limit contact with pets and 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.

Call ahead before visiting your doctor: If you have a medical appointment, call ahead to your provider’s office and tell them that you may have COVID-19. This will help your provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.

chart of 10 things to do at home to manage your health if you have COVID-19 symptoms

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.