With the number of cases increasing each day, you might be asking yourself, what actually happens if you’re diagnosed with the coronavirus (COVID-19). Or maybe you’re wondering what happens to you if you think you might have it.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Naturally, people are curious when something is unfamiliar. Will you need to be hospitalized? Will you need a ventilator? Or will it feel like your typical flu?
“First and foremost, COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, meaning it invades and attacks your respiratory system,” says family medicine specialist Neha Vyas, MD. “So protecting that system — most importantly your lungs — is not only your body’s main priority, but also your doctor’s main priority.”
According to one report, approximately 80% of those with COVID-19 end up having a mild response — and most of these cases only last about two weeks. But the same report also says that over 13% of those with the virus will have a severe response, which can last several weeks or even months.
When you’re infected with COVID-19, your body might respond in one of two different ways.
You might feel pretty crummy, think: dry cough, fever, fatigue, sore throat, diarrhea or a new loss of taste and smell. It’s critically important to stay home during this time and away from other people. (It’s also vital to note: Sometimes a person won’t experience any symptoms, but they can still have the virus. This is yet another reason that social distancing is necessary to slow down the spread of COVID-19.) In this case, you’ll need to isolate at home for 14 days and special treatment isn’t required in most cases.
If you’re fully vaccinated and have come in contact with someone who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, you will need to quarantine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends getting tested five to seven days after the exposure and wearing a mask indoors in public for 14 days or until you get a negative test result.
This can include shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing up thick mucus, loss of appetite, chills, sweating and new loss of taste and smell. A severe reaction to COVID-19 can land you in intensive care and can lead to pneumonia, respiratory failure, sepsis and, at worst, death. According to the World Health Organization, about 1 in 5 people will have a severe reaction. Older adults and those with chronic or underlying conditions (like diabetes or lung or heart disease) are more likely to have this type of reaction.
If you were diagnosed with COVID-19 or believe you were exposed to it, seek urgent medical attention if have difficulty breathing or you’re not getting better. Calling your healthcare provider and putting on a face mask before you go to any medical facility is also recommended. If you need to call 911, notify dispatch that you have COVID-19 or have possibly been exposed to it. If possible, put on a face mask before the emergency team arrives.
Once at the hospital, here’s what you can expect:
Most times, if you’re hospitalized for COVID-19, you’ll stay for several weeks until you have recovered and are stable enough to go home.
“Most people with mild symptoms of COVID-19 — about 80% — can and should recover at home,” says Dr. Vyas. “Mild-to-moderate cases of the virus can be managed through over-the-counter medications, drinking plenty of fluids and rest.”
Pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) can relieve minor aches and pains. Cough suppressants or expectorants may also be recommended, but it’s best to get specific advice from your healthcare provider.
“COVID-19 can range from very mild to very serious, but it’s important for people to understand that not all cases require urgent medical attention,” says Dr. Vyas. “Most people will be able to monitor their symptoms and manage it through OTC medications at home. While anyone can get COVID-19, those who are most at-risk and may need hospitalization for medical support are the elderly and those with other underlying chronic conditions.”
While a lot of things have changed throughout the pandemic, the methods for protecting ourselves have remained the same. To protect yourself, your family and your community, here’s what you can do:
Millions of vaccine doses have been safely provided in the U.S. The available vaccines met the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality needed to support approval or authorization of a vaccine. Serious safety problems have been rare and under FDA requirements, each of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines was studied for at least two months (eight weeks) after the final dose. So far, no long-term side effects have been detected.
Vaccination can protect you from getting very sick and significantly reduce your chances of hospitalization or even death.
If you’re not vaccinated, wear a mask in public spaces. This also goes for those who are immunocompromised and fully vaccinated because of how infectious the Delta variant is. In most cases, you don’t need to wear a mask outside unless you’re unable to avoid close contact with others.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after you have been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.