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COVID-19 – what to do when you are sick

COVID-19 isolation; COVID-19 home isolation; Home isolation and COVID-19

Staying at home when you have COVID-19 helps protect other people who are not infected with the virus. You should stay at home and away from other people until it is safe to be around others.

How to Isolate from Other People

Even if you have been vaccinated, you should stay at home and away from others inside and outside your home if you have symptoms of COVID-19, with or without a positive test.

These are important steps you can take to help prevent spreading COVID-19.

  • As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from others in your home. Use a separate bathroom if you can. Do not leave your home except to get medical care.
  • Avoid traveling while sick. If you need to travel while sick, wear a mask to prevent spreading the virus to others.
  • Take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, taking over-the-counter medicines for specific symptoms, and staying hydrated.
  • Keep track of your symptoms (such as fever >100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or >38 degrees Celsius, cough, shortness of breath). You may receive instructions from your health care provider on how to check and report your symptoms.
  • Stay in touch with your provider Ask your provider if you are eligible for treatment with antiviral medicines (such as Paxlovid). Antiviral medicines help protect people at risk from getting severe illness.
  • If you have severe symptoms, call 911 or the local emergency number.
  • Use a well-fitting face mask or respirator that fits well over your nose and mouth without gaps when you see your provider and anytime other people are in the same room with you. If you can't wear a mask, for example, due to breathing problems, people in your home should wear a mask if they need to be in the same room with you.
  • Avoid contact with pets or other animals. While rare, SARS-CoV-2 can spread from people to animals.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. Droplets that are released when a person sneezes or coughs are infectious. Throw out the tissue after use.
  • Wash your hands many times a day with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. Do this before eating or preparing food, after using the toilet, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. If soap and water are not easily available, you should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Do not share personal items such as cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding. Wash anything you have used in soap and water.
  • Clean all "high-touch" areas in the home, such as doorknobs, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, toilets, phones, tablets, counters, and other surfaces. Use a household cleaning spray and follow instructions for use.
  • Take steps to improve ventilation in your home. You can do this by opening windows, turning on exhaust fans in your bathrooms and kitchen, using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners, and setting the fan on your furnace or air conditioning to "on" if you have central heating and cooling in your home.

When to End Home Isolation

Once you start to feel better, you can go back to your normal activities if BOTH of the following things are true:

  • For at least 24 hours, your symptoms have improved AND
  • You have not had a fever for at least 24 hours, and you are not using fever-reducing medicine

Even though you feel better, you may still be able to spread the virus to others for several days. For this reason, once you go back to your normal activities, protect others from illness by continuing to take these steps for 5 days:

  • Practice good hygiene by washing your hands and cleaning "high touch" areas around your home
  • Take steps to bring cleaner air inside your home by opening windows and using exhaust fans
  • Wear a mask around others
  • Practice physical distancing by avoiding close contact and avoiding crowds
  • Self-test for COVID-19 before being indoors with others

You should also practice these steps for 5 days if you tested positive for COVID-19, but did not have any symptoms. Even though you have no symptoms, you can still spread the virus to others. Doing so will protect people at risk for serious illness, such as people who are immunocompromised.

If your fever returns after resuming normal activities, you should go back to staying home and away from others. Once your fever and symptoms improve for more than 24 hours, you can resume activities while taking steps to protect others for 5 more days.

When to Call the Doctor

You should contact your provider:

  • If you have symptoms and think you may have COVID-19
  • If you have COVID-19 and your symptoms are getting worse

Call 911 or the local emergency number if you have:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion or inability to wake up
  • Blue, gray, or pale skin, lips, face, or nail beds
  • Any other symptoms that are severe or concern you


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Preventing the spread of respiratory viruses when you're sick. Updated March 1, 2024. Accessed March 10, 2024.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Respiratory virus guidance. Updated March 1, 2024. Accessed March 10, 2024.

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Review Date: 2/22/2023

Reviewed By: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 03/12/2024.

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