When you get a positive test result back from the lab (or a home test, if you’ve been fortunate enough to wheedle one), it’s hard to know how to feel: Chagrinned, like you’ve been found to be unclean? Triumphant, like you’re on-trend with the other thousands of people testing positive? Or preemptively exhausted, since while you sort your feelings out you’ll also have to make arrangements for staying home, isolating, staying hydrated, and composing social media posts?
Fortunately, the state has issued new guidance (as of December 30, 2021) on what to do if you test positive. It’s a little hard to follow, but we’ll do our best to walk you through it. The short version is: The best thing you can do is get vaccinated BEFORE you get sick, and the second best thing you can do is avoid people as much as possible for a week after a positive diagnosis.
The Washington Department of Health recommends that you follow the latest CDC advice when it comes to quarantining, which (for now) means isolating for five days, and then, if you're asymptomatic, five days of wearing a mask around other people.
The reduction from 10 to five days of isolation, it should be noted, came just days after the CEO of Delta Air Lines wrote a letter to the CDC asking them to shorten the duration, so … I dunno, I’d take the full ten off just to be safe, since five seems to leave no margin for error. Obviously, not everyone has the luxury of being able to do that in this quicksanding plague-pit of a country.
Everyone you came into close contact with should isolate as well. “Came into close contact” means that you spent at least fifteen minutes around them within the two days before your positive test.
While you’re inside, wear a mask whenever you’re near other people in your household. (Better yet, stay in a totally separate room.) Preferably, the mask should be a KN95, KF-94, or a 3-ply surgical mask. Make sure the fit is tight — here’s a video showing you how to do that, and why double-masking can help:
I don’t know why the doctor looks like he was photographed through a filter like a Hollywood starlet of the 1940s. Maybe the camera was double-masking, or maybe he was flirting with Cary Grant.
With temperatures dipping below freezing, you’re not going to like this, but the WA DOH recommends briefly opening your window from time to time to let fresh air in. Leave the fans in your heating system on high to circulate the air (I dunno, that seems like it would just blow the virus around more, but that’s what they advise) and use an air filter. During the smoke-choke of 2019 I got a Coway air filter machine that I’m quite fond of — it’s usually very quiet, unless I burn dinner at which point its fans kick into high gear to let me know exactly what they think of my culinary skills.
Report your positive test result to the state through the WA Notify app, so they can give a heads-up to the people you might’ve come in contact with. But the state doesn’t know your contacts as well as you do, so you should reach out to anyone you’ve been around for more than fifteen minutes in the two days prior to your positive test result. Tell them you’re sorry to be the bearer of bad news, and forward them this article. If you’re reading this after someone forwarded it to you, try not to be too mad at them. We’re all whores, darlin’.
Regarding treatment: Unless your symptoms are so bad you need hospitalization, there’s not much you can do aside from drinking lots of soup and waiting for symptoms to abate. At least now you have an excuse to watch every episode of Murder She Wrote. Drink lots of fluids, take acetaminophen for your aches and pains, and whimper pitifully to extract the minimum amount of sympathy from those around you. Consider giving yourself bangs. That's not the state's advice, I just think they'd look cute on you.
The state says you should “seek medical care” if you have trouble breathing, have persistent chest pain, or experience confusion or difficulty staying awake. Another warning sign is pale blue or gray lips, skin, or nail beds. Get a pulse oximeter if you can — they’ve been sold out of every store I’ve checked, but maybe you’ll have more luck — and seek help if your oxygen levels drop too low.
Hold on, though: What does “seek medical care” even mean? The DOH doesn’t say, so that’s up to you. Most of the advice I’ve seen has been “talk to a doctor,” which is a laugh — how, by accosting them when they trudge, exhausted, to their car at the end of their shift? It can take weeks to get a doctor’s appointment. (The wait time for just a telemedicine visit at UW’s sleep clinic is currently half a year.) Unless you’re fabulously rich, you’ll probably have to go to an emergency room, which will not be fun. (Neither is suffocating.) Be prepared to wait hours to be seen. It will probably be expensive, but the alternative is that you might die, so … do what you feel is best, I guess. What a country!
If all this seems like a huge miserable pain in the ass, well, yes! It really is! You can minimize the misery by getting vaccinated (if you’re over 5) and boosted (if you’re over 16), and protect yourself even further by avoiding large crowds and indoor gatherings.
Those precautions — canceling plans and missing your friends and family — stink, they really do. The only thing that stinks more is finding yourself in a position where you have to make sense of all this shifting medical advice, navigating our overwhelmed and overpriced healthcare system, and enduring an illness that may leave you and the people around you with long-lasting chronic disabilities.
Take care of yourselves.