Although the news reports about Covid-19 are alarming, reports from China, Italy, the U.S., and elsewhere indicate that for most people, infection with the novel coronavirus is on par with getting the flu. These steps can help you know if you need formal medical care and, if not, how to care for yourself safely at home.
Getting tested for COVID-19 is not necessary; a test result won’t change your medical care because there is no treatment at this time other than the usual recommendations for any cold or flu: drink plenty of liquids, rest, stay home, and try over-the-counter remedies. (A test will, however, alert you to be extra careful not to infect others.)
It is however important to know when to seek medical care for yourself or your loved ones. The reasons to seek immediate care today are no different than they were before the Covid-19 outbreak. The severe symptoms listed in the table below suggest that you need medical attention. Otherwise, if you have a fever and cough or other cold or flu symptoms, but are otherwise healthy, are under age 60, aren’t having difficulty breathing, and don’t feel seriously ill, you’re better off caring for yourself at home.
Severe symptoms that suggest the need for medical attention (please note that this is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but provides general guidance)
Don’t go straight to a doctor’s office or urgent care. Start by calling a medical advice line or a telemedicine option instead. It’s wise these days to stay away from crowded places, and that includes emergency departments, hospitals, doctors’ offices, urgent care centers, and clinics — unless you are seriously ill. These are places where you could pick up the coronavirus if you don’t have it, or spread your batch to other people.
Many health plans have 800 numbers with nurses or doctors on call to answer questions by phone, as do some doctors’ offices. Look at your insurance card and make the call. Some clinics are conducting video visits, also known as telemedicine. If you call an advice line first, you can often get the guidance you need without spreading infection or unnecessarily exhausting yourself.
Save testing for those sick enough to need hospitalization. Testing for Covid-19 will not change your medical care because there is no treatment available or necessary for mild symptoms. (People with serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should get supportive care in the hospital.) Tests are currently in short supply and are being prioritized for those who have severe symptoms or who have been exposed to someone diagnosed with Covid-19. If you do not fall into one of those two categories, resist the urge to request testing unless public health officials encourage you to get tested for tracking purposes. (We know as we write this that the indications for testing may loosen in the days ahead as testing supplies increase.)