istockphoto.com / Maryviolet

The world is reeling as cases of novel coronavirus continue to pop up around the globe. Travel restrictions have been enforced, schools are closing for remote lessons, museums and concerts are closed or canceled and hand sanitizer and other disinfecting products are near impossible to find in stores. Our families are scared of catching COVID-19, and you’re likely taking all the necessary steps to keep your family healthy and safe. But what if you have symptoms? Or have come into contact with someone showing symptoms? Here are the steps to take.

Know the Signs of Novel Coronavirus

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fever, cough and shortness of breath may appear in infected individuals two to 14 days after exposure. Many coronavirus symptoms parallel those of the flu, so just because you have some of these symptoms doesn’t mean you’re likely to have COVID-19. Cases have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, the most extreme cases often being in those with compromised immunity, preexisting health conditions or of old age.

While a healthy dose of worry is natural, there’s no reason for excessive concern if you and your family are in good health. “More than 80 percent of people who get coronavirus only experience mild symptoms, and they go on to have a full recovery,” says Daniel Hart, MD, Medical Director of Infectious Diseases and Travel Medicine at Summit Medical Group/City MD. According to the CDC, there’s also no evidence that kids are more susceptible to the virus (in most cases in China, it’s been reported primarily in adults).

If You Have Symptoms or Came Into Contact with Someone with Symptoms

If you find out that you’ve come into contact with a person who’s a confirmed positive or is showing symptoms, self-isolation is the safest option. Let your kid’s school principal know (whether your district is still open or not) as soon as possible so that the school can get direction from state and local health officials and follow up with your family. If you think you’ve been exposed and develop a fever or other symptoms like a cough or breathing difficulties, call your healthcare provider for insight, says the CDC.

If you’re confirmed to be sick with COVID-19 or are showing symptoms, self-quarantine is the best option. If you’re mildly ill with coronavirus, isolate yourself at home while you’re sick. Don’t leave the house besides for medical care. Prevent the spread by avoiding public areas (yes, even work) and public transportation, according to the CDC. You should stay home until you’re given the green light to leave (that’ll be when the risk of secondary transmission to others is low). Your healthcare provider can inform this decision, and will consult with the state and local health department.

You should also stay away from others in your home (preferably in one specific room) and limit your contact with pets. Try to stick to one specific bathroom if possible, and don’t let your family members use it. If you all share a bathroom, make sure to sanitize it after each use with Clorox wipes or a cleaner that’s been said to be effective by the CDC. While there are no cases of pets becoming sick with COVID-19, it’s recommended that you steer clear of petting, kissing or being licked by your dog or cat. If you’re the only person who can care for your pet, wash your hands before and after you interact with them. Close contact is defined as within six feet.

Wear a face mask when you’re around other people, pets or entering a doctor’s office to prevent the spread to others. Be sure to call ahead of your medical visit to let them know you may have COVID-19. Ask your doctor to alert the healthcare department if you’re a positive case so you can be placed under active monitoring or facilitated self-monitoring. That way, you’ll be following the direct instructions of the local health department.

As always, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough and sneeze. Throw your used tissues away in a lined trash can, and wash your hands immediately after with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Don’t share personal items like towels, bedding, dishes or glasses. After use, wash them thoroughly with soap and water.

Hand washing is the best way to prevent the transmission of coronavirus. Wash often all the time, but especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if you haven’t washed your hands. Check out the CDC’s guide for proper hand washing.

High touch surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets, phones, keyboards and tables should also be routinely disinfected. Any areas with bodily fluids should also be disinfected regularly. Use a household cleaning spray or wipe according to the label instructions

If symptoms are severe or your illness is worsening, a hospital visit and immediate medical attention may be necessary. Call your healthcare provider for advice if you’re unsure your symptoms are severe. Scroll down to see the CDC’s emergency warning signs that warrant immediate medical treatment.

When to Go to the Hospital

According to the CDC, you should get medical attention immediately if you show these emergency warning signs:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

The CDC also recommends calling your physician for any other severe or concerning symptoms.

Where to Go for a Coronavirus Test

Call ahead before showing up to the doctor, hospital or urgent care for a test. Some physicians may ask that you don’t physically come in if you have symptoms. Doctors offices report that patients can call the hospital or a physician, who will then contact health officials that’ll reach out with questions to determine if a COVID-19 test is warranted.

As of now, the state only has the resources to test 400 people and there are currently 37 potential cases being evaluated. NJ’s state lab, Public Health and Environmental Laboratories, was the one in-state location where COVID-19 tests were being evaluated, but now Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp have been taking some on, too. These tests take one to two days to show results. Thankfully, Hackensack Meridian Health also announced yesterday that the healthcare network of 17 NJ hospitals will be using new rapid-response coronavirus tests that can be analyzed within hours. They’ll be able to test 24 patients every eight hours.

The Cost of a Coronavirus Test

Congresswoman Katie Porter got the chief of the CDC to agree that the agency will pay for testing for novel coronavirus on March 12 in a congressional hearing. This was after a misleading address by President Trump, who incorrectly stated that COVID-19 patients could access free testing and treatment.

This helps the 27 million Americans without health insurance, who are most at risk for getting hit with a fee for a COVID-19 test. Many private labs haven’t even yet finalized pricing for uninsured patients who take the test. The CDC’s payment structure to make COVID-19 testing free for all is yet to be announced.

If you test positive for coronavirus and need medical attention or a hospital stay, you’ll still likely have to foot the bill for treatment. Many health insurance companies have agreed to waive co-pays for diagnostic COVID-19 testing, but not treatment. Some are offering free telemedicine visits for symptom evaluation, as well as waiving early refill limits on 30-day prescriptions for maintenance medications as well as free delivery. Plus, if you end up taking another test—like one for the flu, for instance—odds are you’ll be responsible for that cost, not to mention the office visit. It does matter what kind of policy you have, so call your insurance company to get the details.

If you’re worried about keeping costs low before you get a diagnosis, know that the bill for the emergency room will be significantly higher than one from your doctor’s office, urgent care or a telehealth center.

See a list of health insurances from America’s Health Insurance Plans to see what they’re doing about COVID-19 tests.

Hotlines and Resources

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) in partnership with New Jersey Poison Control is running a 24-hour public hotline. Call 1-800-222-1222 to speak directly with a healthcare professional who can answer your questions about tests or the virus and provide general information about COVID-19.

While your local hospital may have a general contact phone number on its website, institutions including Englewood Health, Hackensack Meridian Health and Valley Hospital are directing the public to the state’s hotline. Atlantic Health System is as well, but also offers a Nurse Screening to those concerned they have coronavirus at 1-862-260-3199 available daily from 7 am-7 pm.

For online information, consult the CDC, NJDOH, National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), World Health Organization (WHO) or National Institutes of Health (NIH).

See What Our Readers Are Saying