The Omicron variant is making headlines for its increased infectious rate and rapid spread across the world. There are signs that suggest the variant is less severe, but many doctors and scientists are not willing to commit to this statement yet. Omicron is more contagious than its variant counterparts, and we must prepare for the possibility that it may lead to more breakthrough infections.
With holiday gatherings in full swing this year and cases rapidly spreading, it's important to know what to do with a positive case. Here’s what to do if you or someone close to you tests positive for COVID-19.
I’m Vaccinated. Do I Have to Worry About Omicron?
Vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, but the variant is spreading rapidly even in places with high levels of immunity in the population.
The breakthrough case rate among fully vaccinated New Yorkers in early December was about double the rate observed among vaccinated people from the month prior in November.
The good news is that Omicron breakthrough infections are less dangerous for vaccinated individuals. However, they are still risky for the U.S. as a whole. Almost 40% of the population is still unvaccinated, and children, immunocompromised and elderly people are at higher risk for more severe illness.
I Came into Close Contact with Someone Who Tested Positive. What Do I Do?
The next steps depend on your vaccination and symptom status.
If you are fully vaccinated with no symptoms:
No quarantine is required, but you should get tested 5-7 days after exposure. You should also wear a mask indoors in public until you receive a negative test result. If you don’t get tested, you should wear a mask in public indoors for 14 days after exposure.
If you are fully vaccinated and have symptoms:
Quarantine for 10 days and get tested 5-7 days after exposure.
If you are unvaccinated:
You should quarantine for 10-14 days, depending on local health department recommendations.
What Do I Do if I Test Positive for COVID-19?
- Quarantine immediately.
- Inform your “close contacts.”
The CDC defines a “close contact” as anyone you’ve been within 6 feet of for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. Some doctors think this is outdated, and recommend telling anyone that you came in contact with indoors without a mask on. If you started experiencing symptoms a few days before testing positive, tell the people you were in close contact with during those first few days of symptoms.
- Isolate for a full 10 days (regardless of whether you test negative during the 10 days or not).
The start time depends on how your symptoms present.
If you tested positive and are experiencing symptoms: The 10-day quarantine starts on the first full day after your symptoms appear. (Don’t start counting from the day you get your test results back.)
If you tested positive and aren’t experiencing any symptoms: Start your 10-day quarantine the day after you were tested.
If symptoms develop after you test positive: Reset your timer — Day One is now the first day after symptoms develop.
4. Monitor your condition over the 10-day isolation.
Doctors recommend monitoring your condition at home with a thermometer and pulse oximeter, which measures your oxygen level. A normal oxygen level ranges from 95% to 100%. Make sure to stay hydrated and take over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen as needed.
How Do I Know When I Need to Contact My Doctor or Go To the Hospital?
If you have a high fever for multiple days, difficulty breathing or chest pain, or an inability to drink or eat, call your doctor.
If you experience severe shortness of breath or chest pain, go to the hospital or emergency room.
Do I Need a Negative Test Result to End My 10-Day Quarantine?
Doctors say that you don’t need a negative test result to come out of isolation after 10 days so long as your symptoms are improving. Talk to a doctor about isolating for a longer period of time if you are severely ill.
We must aim to flatten the curve yet again to get past the Omicron surge. You can still do your best to reduce risk by following these best practices:
- Wear a mask that fits your face well
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water
- Avoid large gatherings, whether it be in public or with friends and family
- Get vaccinated and boosted
With the Omicron variant now accounting for 73% of U.S. Covid-19 cases, and many of us traveling to visit loved ones during the holiday season, it’s more important than ever to stay safe by masking up and social distancing.