An opinion piece from Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, about what to do to prepare for the possibility of testing positive for COVID-19 – and what to do if you do test positive.
With COVID-19 cases increasing in Australia due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, many of us are directly experiencing infection with the virus for the first time – or know someone who has been infected.
Fortunately, Omicron is less severe in many people than previous variants and, with Australia’s high vaccination rates, most Australians are currently protected from the risk of severe illness and hospitalisation from COVID-19.
A COVID-19 vaccine booster dose will reinforce this protection and help to reduce the risk of transmission of the Omicron variant.
Isolating at home if you have tested positive to COVID-19 is another important way to reduce transmission and protect other people.
Given the increased possibility you or someone in your family will test positive, it is useful to prepare for a period of isolation before this occurs. Remember, you need to stay home and isolate if you test positive for COVID-19 and should not enter shops or pharmacies.
Have a plan in place for how you will isolate at home should you or other household members test positive for COVID-19. This includes consideration about how an infected person could be isolated to reduce the risk of transmission to other household members.
So, what do you do if you or a family member tests positive, either by a self-administered rapid antigen test (a RAT) or through a PCR test carried out in a testing centre or clinic?
The first thing to consider is that in most instances, a person will only have mild symptoms – or no symptoms at all. Understandably, however, you might feel anxious. There are resources and people available to provide you with support and advice – so seek them out.
You can call the Australian Government’s National Coronavirus Help Line at any time for advice about managing your symptoms, about COVID-19 vaccines or about restrictions in your state or territory.
The Help Line can also connect you to a nurse if you need assistance with managing your health. You can also use the symptom checker and find information about managing COVID-19 at healthdirect.gov.au.
The National Coronavirus Help Line also provides specific information for First Australians, people with a disability, and people who do not speak English.
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and are aged 65 or over, or are unvaccinated, or pregnant, or immunocompromised, or have a serious medical condition, you should call your GP or the National Coronavirus Help Line to seek advice on whether you are eligible for any treatments to protect you from becoming seriously unwell.
If you have a fever above 37.5, vomiting, diarrhoea, breathlessness, a persistent cough, are feeling abnormally tired and weak, or struggling to get out of bed, you may have moderate symptoms of COVID-19. If this is the case, you should seek medical advice, and again, call either your GP or the National Coronavirus Help Line.
If, however, you become seriously unwell, especially if you are having difficulty breathing, have chest pain, or feel faint, you should call 000 for an ambulance. Don’t delay, because these are signs you are in need of urgent medical attention.
Most people, however, who test positive for COVID-19 will have no symptoms, or only mild symptoms such as a sore throat, dry cough, runny nose and/or aches and pain. These are symptoms you can manage yourself at home and will usually pass after a few days.
You should get plenty or rest, eat well, drink lots of fluids, take the treatments you would normally take for a cold or flu if needed to manage the symptoms, and keep taking any regular medications.
Reach out to family and friends by phone or videocall. It is important you look after your mental health, as well as your physical health, while isolating.
My most important message is that if you are in any doubt about what to do, call the National Coronavirus Help Line – 1800 020 080 – or your own doctor for advice and support.