Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments.
The global pandemic COVID-19 has led to millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide.
The severity of COVID-19 varies, with some groups more at-risk for severe complications from the disease:
- Older adults
- People with underlying health conditions (i.e. heart, lung, or kidney disease)
- People with compromised immune systems (i.e. from cancer treatments)
Even people who are not in high-risk groups still can feel significant effects from COVID-19 and face a difficult recovery.
What Should I Do If I Get COVID-19?
COVID-19 brings a wide variety of symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Many people who get COVID-19 can recover at home. However, you should seek care immediately if you or a loved one experience any of the following emergency symptoms:
- Fever for more than a few days
- You get worse after feeling better
- Trouble breathing
- Severe, persistent chest pressure or pain
- Extreme difficulty breathing (gasping for air or cannot talk without catching your breath)
- New confusion
- Bluish lips or face
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Severe and constant dizziness or lightheadedness
- Serious disorientation (acting confused)
- Unconscious or very difficult to wake up
- Slurred speech (new or worsening)
- Signs of low blood pressure (too weak to stand, light headed, feeling cold, pale, clammy skin)
Seek emergency care at the nearest emergency department. Call 911, or if possible, call the emergency department in advance so the staff can make preparations before your arrival.
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Recovery from COVID-19 at Home
If you have mild symptoms, you can manage your recovery at home. However, you should monitor your symptoms; if they worsen, you may need to seek additional care.
To recover from COVID-19 at home, and to prevent its spread, there are several steps you should take:
- Stay home: Don’t go out in public, unless it’s to seek medical care. If you do need to seek care, call your doctor and get instructions about how to proceed.
- Care for yourself: There are currently no approved outpatient medications for COVID-19. However, you can take medicine to improve your symptoms like acetaminophen. Staying hydrated and getting rest are also important.
- Self-isolate: If you live with other people or pets, separate yourself from them. Stay in a separate room, and use a different bathroom than others if possible.
- Wear a facemask: If you need to interact with other people at any time, wear a cloth face covering that covers your nose and mouth. If you go out to seek medical care or for any other reason, wear a covering and maintain 6 feet of social distancing. You do not need to wear a face covering if you are alone.
- Cover coughs and sneezes: Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze. Throw the tissues away in a lined wastebasket. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds immediately afterward.
- Wash your hands frequently: Use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Don’t share personal items: Avoid sharing items like glasses, plates, utensils, bedding, or towels. After using these items, wash them thoroughly with soap and water or use a dishwasher or washing machine.
- Clean high-touch items and common areas: Sanitize high-touch items like cell phones, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, etc., daily with household cleaners or disinfectants. If you live with someone else, you should clean the surfaces in your “sick room” and separate bathroom if one is available. Others can clean surfaces in common areas. If someone else cleans your “sick room” and bathroom, he or she should wear a mask and disposable gloves.
When Have I Recovered From the Coronavirus?
If you had COVID-19 with symptoms, the CDC considers you to be no longer contagious if you meet all three of these conditions:
- Your fever has been gone for three days, without the use of fever-reducing medicine
- Your respiratory symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) have improved
- 10 days have passed since you first experienced symptoms
You should check with your doctor or public health office before ending COVID-19 precautions like home isolation, especially if you’re in a high-risk group.
If you tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic, you are considered no longer contagious if 10 days have passed since your positive test. You also are considered no longer contagious if you have two negative tests, with more than 24 hours in between.
Also, exposed contacts, including members of your household, may become sick up to 14 days after their last day of contact with you when you were contagious.
COVID-19 Recovery: What to Expect
It’s possible to experience complications from COVID-19 even after recovering from the disease itself.
The severity of your illness, and whether you’re in a high-risk group, could play a role in your overall recovery time. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), recovery time is about two weeks for people with mild symptoms. The cough is the symptom that tends to linger the longest.
For people with severe illness, recovery can take up to six weeks — or longer, the WHO reports.
Recovery from COVID-19 can be especially difficult if you were admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU). Patients with severe COVID-19 may require stays of 10 days or longer in the ICU and mechanical ventilation.
According to a report in Heart & Lung, people who were admitted to an ICU may experience physical, cognitive, and emotional effects. This condition, known as post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) can last weeks, months, or even years.
To reduce the risk of complications from COVID-19 recovery, the report recommends rehabilitation, either in-person or through telehealth.
COVID-19 Recovery and Mental Health
The mental health of people who have or have recovered from COVID-19 is also important. Prevention methods like self-isolation may have emotional effects. Also, some people who have been in intensive care may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It’s important to keep mental health in mind during your illness or recovery. If you can’t interact with people in person, use telephone or video chats to keep in touch with others.
If you are experiencing significant emotional impacts either during your illness or afterward, you can seek professional help through therapy.
Recovery from COVID-19 may look different depending on how severe your illness was. You may experience effects even after you’re no longer contagious. If you do, you can contact your doctor to see what you should do — although recovery may be difficult, it’s possible.
For more information on COVID-19, visit UPMC.com/COVID19.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Symptoms of Coronavirus. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html#seek-medical-attention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Discontinuation of Isolation for Persons with COVID -19 Not in Healthcare Settings. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What to Do If You Are Sick. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html
Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, When You Can be Around Others After You Had or Likely Had COVID-19. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/end-home-isolation.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fprevent-getting-sick%2Fwhen-its-safe.html
Jason R. Falvey, PT, and Lauren E. Ferrante, MD, Heart & Lung, Flattening the Disability Curve: Rehabilitation and Recovery After COVID-19 Infection. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7211743/
World Health Organization, Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/who-china-joint-mission-on-covid-19-final-report.pdf
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