With coronavirus cases surging in many states, you might find yourself receiving a phone call from a friend, relative, or co-worker to say they’ve come down with the virus. Or you might find yourself testing positive and wondering, how should I tell people I have COVID-19?
Perhaps the most important thing here is that you do tell the people you’ve spent time with (whether indoors or outdoors, masked or unmasked). Not only do those people deserve to know they’ve been exposed, but they need to know so that they can avoid potentially spreading the virus to others. (Anyone who knows they’ve been exposed should quarantine for 14 days from their last contact with an infected person). You also should notify establishments where you spent time, like restaurants, so they can implement contact tracing.
In terms of how to tell people, I think -- as a nurse -- it’s best to be forthright. Call, text, or email people and simply say, “I’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and wanted you to know” or “I’m sick with what appears to be COVID-19, and I wanted you to know.” You may also want to let them know when your symptoms started or when you got tested so that they can get a sense of when they could expect symptoms to arise or when they should go in for testing (they need to wait a few days after exposure before they get tested; doing it too soon result in a false negative).
Telling someone that you might have passed along a serious infection to them is not easy, I know. Many people feel guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed for having potentially exposed others to COVID-19, and that’s understandable. But it’s important to push through those difficult feelings and do the right thing by letting people know they may be at risk.
Another thing to consider is when to tell people you have COVID-19. Some experts recommend informing your associates as soon as you develop any symptoms that could be COVID-19. Others advise against “freaking each other out” by telling friends and relatives about every illness you come down with -- which may or may not turn out to be COVID-19.
As I nurse, it’s my feeling that if your suspicion is strong enough to prompt you to get tested, you should go ahead and inform people -- at the very least, people you’ve been in close contact with or have spent a substantial amount of time with. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is this: If you need to test, you need to tell. And since it can take several days to get test results back, make the phone calls and send the texts at the time of testing -- just to let them know that COVID-19 is a possibility -- and then you can update them when you get the results back. Having this information, they may choose to go ahead and quarantine, or they may simply take extra precautions here and there (like skipping their weekly outdoor walk with their elderly mother or canceling their porch visit with neighbors).
Though some of the pre-testing etiquette may be a gray area, once you get a positive result, the guidelines are clear: If you test positive for COVID-19 (whether or not you have symptoms), you definitely should tell anyone you’ve been in contact with during the 2 days before your positive test or onset of symptoms. If you develop an illness with fever, you also should inform others -- because whether it’s COVID-19 or a different virus, you still may have spread it to others before your symptoms developed.