How To Prepare for Possible COVID-19 Infection

Even if you've been vaccinated and boosted, here's what you can do to make sure you're ready for anything COVID-19 throws at you.

In December 2022, the Omicron variant was the predominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in the United States. Viruses constantly mutate, and variants like Omicron result from mutations. Sometimes, mutations make a virus spread more easily than before or give it defenses against treatments and vaccines.

So, the Omicron variant allows many more people—even those vaccinated and boosted—to test positive for COVID-19.

However, don't lose hope if you've done your due diligence to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Also, variants like Omicron don't mean you can shirk other protective measures like wearing a face mask and keeping your distance from infected people.

However, for anyone, preparing for possible COVID-19 infection is key. Getting vaccinated and making a plan for isolation, if necessary, are important first steps. Here's what else you can do to prepare for a positive COVID-19 test result.

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Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19 (and the Flu) ASAP

First, getting vaccinated is still one of the best ways to avoid COVID-19. Vaccination will also help ensure your symptoms are mild if you contract the virus. In general, vaccines help protect you from becoming seriously ill, being hospitalized, and dying.

Your primary vaccination series includes two doses of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), two doses of the Novavax protein subunit vaccine, or a single-dose Johnson & Johnson-Janssen (J&J) vaccine. After the primary series, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a booster dose

In the fall of 2022, the Food and Drug Administration approved two bivalent boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Bivalent vaccines offer more protection than the original monovalent vaccines. In other words, bivalent vaccines protect against not only the original virus that causes COVID-19 but also Omicron variants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you're eligible for a booster dose if you're two months from the end of your primary series or your last booster.

While you're at it, consider getting your flu shot, too. The flu shot can help you sidestep infection and hospitalization for the flu during a time when healthcare facilities are crowded due to COVID-19.

Upgrade Your Personal Protective Equipment

In addition to vaccination and boosting, remember to cover your mouth and nose with a snug-fitting, high-quality mask in public spaces. Some of the best options include N95, KN95, or a surgical mask with a fabric mask on top.

While you can wear a mask at any time, the CDC advises wearing masks in the following situations:

  • In public indoor spaces, such as on public transportation
  • In crowded outdoor spaces
  • In places where local or state authorities require wearing one 
  • If you're at high risk of getting sick
  • If you live with someone who's at high risk of getting sick
  • If you're sick or think you may be getting sick 

However, if you test positive for COVID-19 or have had recent exposure, you shouldn't go out in public unless you have to.

But the right mask isn't just for situations outside the home: You'll especially want proper personal protection equipment (PPE) on hand to stop the spread if you become contagious or plan to look after a household member who contracts the virus.

For example, healthcare facilities use PPE like glasses, goggles, or face shields for additional protection. That equipment can help protect your eyes during brief interactions with infected household members if you want to play it extra safe.

Have At-Home COVID-19 Tests on Hand

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are the gold standard for detecting COVID-19. Still, having at-home tests at your disposal is important, too. At-home COVID-19 tests, also known as at-home rapid tests or antigen tests, aren't quite as sensitive as PCR tests. However, they can be helpful in a few situations.

Testing at the right time is key. If you test too early, your result may not be accurate. According to the CDC, if you have COVID-19 symptoms, take a test right away. Also, if you were in a situation where you might've gotten COVID-19 but do not yet have any symptoms, wait five days, then test.

Having at-home tests on hand is also helpful for identifying asymptomatic people. For example, you can and should test yourself before getting together with friends or family indoors, especially if someone falls into a high-risk group. Those groups include older adults, people with weak immune systems, and anyone not vaccinated or boosted.

Locate Your Local PCR Testing Facility

PCR tests are the way to go in confirming a COVID-19 diagnosis. So, finding a place near you that performs those tests is helpful. Google can help here: Search "COVID-19 test near me" to find your closest testing center.

Keep in mind that many places offer COVID-19 tests, including urgent care centers, pharmacies, and other healthcare facilities or clinics. Try prioritizing places you can walk or drive to since you shouldn't take public transportation if you have COVID-19 symptoms.

Also, choose a drive-through or outdoor testing option or facility with short wait times to minimize potential exposure. Plan to wear a high-quality mask, as well.

Invest in a Thermometer and Pulse Oximeter

If you're sick, monitoring mild COVID-19 symptoms can help you sidestep crowded medical facilities and keep your infection at home. Ideally, you can self-monitor with two basic devices. One of them, a thermometer, can help you keep tabs on your temperature.

The other device is a pulse oximeter, which measures your blood oxygen percentage. Low blood oxygen levels make it difficult for your body to work properly and can even be dangerous.

With severe COVID-19 cases, blood oxygen levels can drop. Sometimes, a pulse oximeter reading can alert you to low oxygen levels before you have difficulty breathing. If you have difficulty breathing, get medical attention right away.

Armed with those two tools, you can monitor those health markers if you test positive for COVID-19 and are isolating at home. You may also want to take regular readings when you're healthy to easily detect a downward trend if you get sick. Knowing your temperature and oxygen levels normally can help alert you to any changes.

Body Temperature

There are a few ways to measure body temperature. For instance, an electronic thermometer can take your temperature in the mouth or armpit. Also, you can use an electronic forehead thermometer.

You can place a thermometer in the rectum for infants and small children. Just keep in mind to have separate oral and rectal thermometers.

The average body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But even if you're not exactly at that average, don't fret. Some people are normally a little higher or lower than average. Also, where you take the measurement can affect the result. So, you'll want to use the same thermometer and measure from the same place every time.

Blood Oxygen Levels

Measure your blood oxygen level by clipping the pulse oximeter on your finger. Remove any nail polish which may interfere with the reading. 

A normal reading is around 95% or above. However, your levels may be lower if you have lung disease or live at a high elevation.

Typically, if you dip below 92%, you should reach out to a healthcare provider. Still, keep in mind that some evidence suggests that pulse oximeters may not work as well in people with darker skin tones than others.

Stock Up on the Essentials

Whether you have symptoms or are asymptomatic, the last thing you want to do after testing positive for COVID-19 is run to the pharmacy for a get-well kit. 

Instead, if you do the following three things when you're healthy, you'll thank yourself later if you get COVID-19:

  • Stock your medicine cabinet with pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • Make sure you have enough fluids on hand. Consider buying a large water bottle if you don't already have one.
  • Keep stock of disinfectants or sanitizing products and soap. Maintaining cleanliness and proper hygiene, especially if you or a family member comes down with COVID-19, helps prevent spreading the virus.

Regarding antiviral medicines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, you can't stock up on those. The three antiviral treatments—Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir/ritonavir), Veklury (remdesivir), and Lagevrio (molnupiravir)—are for mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 in people who are likely to get sick. You'll have to talk to a healthcare provider about the right treatment options for you.

Make a Plan for Isolation

To figure out the best course of action if you or someone in your household develops COVID-19, familiarize yourself with the isolation guidelines. As you read through those guidelines, think about how to implement them in your home.

Regardless of vaccination status, everyone should stay home for five days after testing positive for COVID-19. Also, wear a mask if you have to be around others. After five days, you can end isolation if you have no symptoms.

In contrast, suppose you still have symptoms five days later but are getting better. In that case, you can end isolation if you haven't had a fever for 24 hours or have taken any fever-reducing medication. Also, if you lose your sense of taste or smell, you don't need to continue isolating. Loss of taste and smell can last as long as several months.

However, if those five days pass and your symptoms aren't improving, continue isolating until you haven't had a fever in the last 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medication. If you have moderate symptoms, like shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, you'll need to isolate for 10 days.

If you find out you've had COVID-19 exposure but don't have symptoms, reduce the chance of unknowingly spreading the virus to others by wearing a mask. Also, take the following precautions for the next 10 days:

  • Wear a high-quality mask or respirator whenever you are around others, whether at home or in public. Avoid traveling if possible.
  • Take extra precautions around people who could get very sick from COVID-19.
  • Watch for COVID-19 symptoms, especially fever, cough, and shortness of breath. 

Every isolation scenario will look different. If you live with other people, stay away from anyone who does not have COVID-19. For example, if possible, stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom.

Or, if you're isolating yourself from others in your home, you may need to devise a meal plan. Also, parents will want to determine how they'll care for and occupy their children if they feel too ill to be primary caregivers.

Know the Symptoms—And When To Get Emergency Medical Treatment

You have likely heard the symptoms of COVID-19 several times by now, but they still bear repeating. The CDC lists the following as the main COVID-19 symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Regarding Omicron, the variant spreads more easily than others, like the Delta variant. Omicron symptoms are similar to previous variants. Also, in general, Omicron causes less death and severe illness. If vaccinated, your risk of severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death lessens.

If you're unvaccinated, COVID-19 is more likely to turn serious. The following symptoms are signs that you need to seek emergency care right away:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

Contact a Healthcare Provider, Make a Hospital Plan

While many COVID-19 cases resolve without treatment or hospitalization, there's still a chance that your case could become severe—again, mostly if you're unvaccinated. If you have severe symptoms, seek out your nearest hospital or an urgent care center.

To prepare for possible illness, locate the medical center you would go to. Think through how you'll get there if you're sick. For example, if you have to use public transportation, wear a high-quality mask and stay as far away from others as possible.

If you test positive for COVID-19, notify a healthcare provider right away. Healthcare providers can advise you on what to do for treatment and how to identify an emergency situation. Also, they can tell you how and when to test to determine when it's safe to be around others.

If you tested positive with an at-home test, a healthcare provider might advise taking a PCR to confirm your diagnosis. They can report your case to your community's health department, which helps health officials keep track of rising cases.

Remember To Go Easy on Yourself

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented difficulties for everyone, limiting our contact and introducing people to the fear of contracting a possibly deadly virus. There's been an enormous amount of stress on many people.

There's also been a hint of stigma around contracting the virus, but there shouldn't be. You could do your best to prevent getting COVID-19 and spreading the virus to others. Preparing for a possible infection can make testing positive less stressful than normal, as can finding ways to cope with COVID-19 stress.

A Quick Review

While a COVID-19 diagnosis may interrupt your life, it may be less disruptive if you're properly prepared. The first, and one of the most important, thing you can do is get vaccinated and boosted. Vaccines can prevent you from getting severely ill, being hospitalized, or dying.

Also, reducing stress and getting rest are some of the best things you can do to recover if you're infected. However, if your symptoms are becoming severe, seek medical attention right away.

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