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Published on March 24, 2020

COVID-19 virus illustration

How to Self-Isolate at Home

So what you were hoping wouldn’t happen has happened: You or a family member has tested positive for COVID-19, or you have come down with symptoms like fever of 100 degrees, cough or shortness of breath.

You’ve been told to “self-isolate at home.” How do you do this?

“Most people who develop COVID-19 illness will experience mild to moderate symptoms and will be able to recover at home,” said Kevin Post, DO, Chief Medical Officer for Avera Medical Group.

You can download a one-page guide on this information here.

You can download a one-page guide in Spanish here.

Get medical attention immediately if you experience warning signs:

  • Respiratory distress: Monitor your breathing by asking yourself, “How is my breathing? Do I feel comfortable?” If you cannot talk in full sentences, you need to see your physician.
  • Gastrointestinal distress: You cannot keep fluids or food in your system due to vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Lips or face take on a bluish tint.
  • New confusion or inability to arouse from sleep.
  • Fever of 104 or higher that is not responding to acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Here are tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for how to recover from COVID-19 illness at home.

  • Stay home except to get medical care. If you need medical care, call first and tell them you have or may have COVID-19.
  • Do not go to public places like grocery stores. Ask a friend or family member to do shopping for you and leave it outside the door of your home. If you must go out, wear a face mask.
  • Separate yourself from other people in your home. If possible stay in a specific “sick room” and away from other people in your home. Use a separate bathroom, if available.
  • Limit contact with pets and animals. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick with COVID-19. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with them.
  • Wear a face mask if you are around other people and before you enter a health care provider’s office or clinic. Wear a face mask if you are caring for someone who is ill.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in a lined trash can.
  • Wash hands often for at least 20 seconds, and immediately after blowing your nose, sneezing, coughing, using the bathroom, or before eating/preparing food.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people in your home. After using these items, wash them thoroughly with soap and water or put in the dishwasher.
  • Clean high-touch surfaces in your isolation area (“sick room” and bathroom) every day. High-touch surfaces include phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables. Use a household disinfectant if available.

“It’s important to stay in home isolation as long as necessary to prevent transmission of this virus. Even if your symptoms are mild, you could come into contact with someone who could become severely ill or even die from this virus,” Post said. “In other words, you can save the lives of others by staying in home isolation.”

Follow the guidance of your health care provider, however, you can generally leave home after these things have occurred:

  • You have had no fever for at least three full days (72 hours) without the use of fever-reducing medicine
  • Other symptoms have improved (for example, when your cough or shortness of breath have improved) AND
  • At least seven days have passed since your symptoms first appeared.

Health care and other workers may have more stringent guidelines and may need to seek permission from their employer before returning to work. Learn more at

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