Testing positive for Covid at home: What you need to know

·8-min read

So you are one of the tens of thousands people who are testing positive for Covid-19 across Australia every day — what do you do now?

With 80 per cent of those infected likely to only experience mild symptoms, according to the Royal Australian College of GPs, most people will be able to manage the virus at home.

If you tested positive with a PCR test, the relevant state health authority will automatically be alerted of the result.

However, if two lines on a home rapid antigen test confirmed your infection you will need to submit the positive result via your state's reporting feature, such as the one that went live on the Service NSW app, on Wednesday.

If someone does not have the app, registering a positive result can be done by calling NSW Health or the relevant state health authority.

A dog watches on as a woman has a swab taken at a drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney.
If you tested positive with a PCR test, the state health authority will automatically be alerted of the result. Source: AAP

Reporting is mandatory as part of an updated public health order and residents can face a fine of up to $1000 if they do not comply.

Australians have also been instructed by the government to alert their general practitioners if they test positive for Covid, especially if they are pregnant, have a pre-existing condition or are concerned for their health.

If your symptoms worsen or you develop new ones like shortness of breath and chest pains, people are urged to contact their GP and/or go to a hospital.

You can also obtain advice from the national help line 1800 020 080.

You must immediately begin isolation

If you have the virus you must stay at home for your state or territory's set isolation period unless you need medical care or feel unsafe in your home, according to a guide to managing Covid at home published by the Royal Australian College of GPs.

If you live in a home with other people, you must try and stay in a separate, well-ventilated room away from other people in the household who are Covid-19 negative. Try to avoid shared spaces and wear a mask as much as possible.

No one from outside the home can enter unless they are providing necessary medical and personal care.

A high-angle view of family using various technologies in living room, in relation to people testing positive for Covid at home.
If testing positive for Covid, you must stay at home for your state’s set isolation period. Source: Getty

What if the only Covid infection in the house is a child?

Dr Charlotte Hespe, the NSW/ACT Chair for the Royal Australian College of GPs, told ABC’s RN Breakfast on Thursday if one household member, such as a child, was ill, isolating them would depend on their age and competency.

“You have to make a decision, do you isolate them away from everybody else? Which you should obviously try and do to the best of your ability,” she said.

“It’ll depend upon the age and the competency of that person.

“Obviously if it is a two or three-year-old that’s a ridiculous proposition.”

If the child is older, Dr Hespe recommended trying to keep them in their bedroom and serve them meals, give them access to fresh air and keep windows open.

“But just try and keep the rest of the household running completely separately from all of the things for that particular person, that includes the bathroom,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s impossible, in which case you just have to say we’ll do our best, we’ll wash hands, wear masks and just clean surfaces down.”

People are seen wearing masks in Bourke street in Melbourne, Sunday, July 19, 2020.
If you live in a home with other people, you must try and stay in a seperate, well-ventilated room away from other people in the household. Source: AAP

Notify your close contacts

Close contacts are defined as a household or intimate contact who has spent more than four hours with a positive case and should be notified of an infection.

You should also tell anyone who you spent time with in the two days before developing symptoms or testing positive — whichever was first, Health Direct’s advises in its managing Covid guide.

That includes colleagues, school and social contacts.

What Covid symptoms might I have?

Most people with the virus will experience mild symptoms like a fever, fatigue, loss of taste and smell, coughing and phlegm.

They can also include a sore throat, headaches, mild shortness of breath, runny nose, nausea, diarrhoea and muscle or joint pains.

The Royal Australian College of GPs recommends people track their symptoms and offer an action plan online.

A health worker and a driver at The Cavanbah Covid 19 Testing centre at Byron Bay, Monday, November 29, 2021.
Close Covid contacts should be notified of an infection. Source: AAP

“It will help you track how you are feeling. It will also help your GP or nurse track your symptoms and determine whether your management plan needs changing,” their guideline says.

“It is a good idea to share it with a household member or a friend you trust who can check in with you each day while you are in isolation. If you need to speak with any healthcare professional or call for an ambulance, show them this plan.”

Covid danger signs and 'red flags'

More serious Covid symptoms dubbed the “red flags” are: Difficulty breathing, a low oxygen level, blue lips or face, pressure in the chest, clammy skin, fainting spells, coughing up blood, struggling to wake up and little to no urine output despite drinking lots of fluids.

If you develop any of the above, you should go to your nearest hospital.

The college recommends checking your oxygen levels with a pulse oximeter, which can be supplied through a GP, in a pharmacy or online. They said the pulse oximeter function on smartwatches and phones is not accurate and should not be considered.

Health Direct also offers a Covid symptom tracker for more information.

How to treat Covid symptoms

Because the virus can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, doctors recommend stocking up on hydrating fluids and drinking lots of water.

Pain relief medicine like paracetamol and ibuprofen, which has flown off supermarket shelves in the last week, can be taken to ease fevers and headaches.

You should also continue taking any usual medications.

Members of the public queue for a Covid-19 PCR test at a doctor's surgery.
Covid is more likely to spread within a household than in many other settings. Source: AAP

How do I avoid spreading the virus?

Covid is more likely to spread within a household than in many other settings.

You should help protect the household by washing your hands often and using hand sanitiser.

You should also wear a mask when coming into contact with someone else and clean and disinfect surfaces you touch.

If you are a breastfeeding mum, you can continue to do so, but should wear a mask and wash your hands prior.

What to do if you don’t have a GP or you can’t get through?

Dr Hespe said people who registered their positive rapid tests would be contacted with phone numbers for national and state helplines.

“They will run you through a questionnaire but they will also enable you to go through a pathway to ask for advice if you need it,” she said.

“So if you can’t get on to your GP, or you don’t feel like you have a GP that you can contact, then those helplines are absolutely designed to get you the information.

“Again, knowing that it’s like the rest of the health system, there’s a huge number of people trying to access that same advice so it may take a little while to get through, but I know that as long as you’re patient, it won’t take too long.”

Should people over 65 recuperate at home?

Dr Hespe told ABC home was "the best place to be” for people over 65, but they should assess whether they were suffering any “red flags” or have another illness like diabetes that “need to be proactively managed”.

“Being at home and making sure you have all your meds, and arrange for someone to ring you every day if you’re living alone to make sure you’re ok,” she said.

What do I do at the end of my isolation?

The Australian government has said if someone with Covid doesn’t have symptoms on the seventh day of their isolation then they can leave and don’t need a further test.

They are urged to wear a mask when leaving their home and avoid any high-risk settings.

However, states and territories may have different isolation and testing rules in place, which can be found here.

“Some people feel anxious after they are allowed to leave their home again after being isolated with Covid-19,” the Royal Australian College of GPs says.

“Some people find it hard to be around other people again. You can be confident that you are no longer infectious after your period of isolation has been completed and the local public health unit has confirmed you are safe to leave your home.

“You might find that you need to reassure your family and friends about this. It is natural for people to find these conversations difficult sometimes.”

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