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It’s not easy to keep up with the latest information on COVID-19. We hear a lot of questions from patients as the pandemic continues. The answers here will give you the basics, along with some links to more detailed information.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What is COVID-19? What are variants and why should I be concerned? 

A virus called SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19. Although many people infected with COVID-19 have only mild symptoms, some experience severe illness that can be deadly. Patients who are vaccinated have less severe illness and lower chances of hospitalization and death. Some people who have COVID-19 recover but have lasting health problems. 

As the virus has mutated, new variants have emerged. The Delta variant, for example, causes more infections and spreads faster than the original virus. The Omicron variant is much more transmissible and spreads even faster than Delta. 

Because the Omicron variant spreads so easily, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health advises all residents to wear a mask when indoors, except for at home. 

What are the symptoms COVID-19? 

The symptoms of COVID-19 vary and may appear two to 14 days after you were exposed. You may have the virus if you are experiencing any of these symptoms: 

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

These are not the only possible symptoms of COVID-19 can cause. The CDC has more information about symptoms

You can also check your symptoms online, with an interactive tool from Buoy Health. Buoy matches you with appropriate local health care resources based on your symptoms, risk factors for COVID-19 and location. This is offered by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services. 

My COVID-19 test is positive. What do I do now? 

If you test positive for COVID-19, you should isolate at home — even if you have no symptoms. To isolate, you should set up a room or area only for those in the household who are positive for COVID-19. Use a separate bathroom if possible. If you do have to be near others, wear a mask that fits well. 

Notify close contacts of your positive results. Encourage them to get tested and quarantine at home. That means stay at home and limit contact with others. Unvaccinated close contacts are at higher risk of getting and spreading the virus — and should also quarantine. 

 I am positive for COVID-19, and my symptoms are increasing. What should I do? ​

  • If you have mild symptoms, isolate at home by separating yourself from others in your household. Do this even if you have no symptoms.
  • If you have moderate symptoms, isolate at home and call your primary care provider (or an urgent care center).
  • Call 911 or go to the closest emergency department, if you have any of these symptoms: 
    • Trouble breathing
    • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
    • New confusion
    • Inability to wake or stay awake
    • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

I was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Should I quarantine? Or isolate? What is the difference? 

After you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you may need to quarantine — which means stay away from others in case you are contagious to prevent spread of the virus. Wear a mask that fits well if you do have to be around others. Typically, fully vaccinated people without symptoms do not have to isolate or quarantine.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you need to isolate — separate yourself from others in your household — even if you have no symptoms. Stay in a specific “sick room” or area. Use a separate bathroom if you have one. If you need to be around other people, wear a mask that fits well. 

Whether you have quarantine or isolate and the time period required may depend on your vaccination status and age. Visit the CDC for more detail and the most current guidelines on who needs to quarantine, and how long you need to quarantine or isolate if you are exposed to or have tested positive for COVID-19.

Are there any treatments for COVID-19?

If you recently tested positive for COVID-19, there may be a treatment that can prevent your symptoms from getting worse — and keep you out of the hospital. Treatments offered at UMass Memorial Health include monoclonal antibodies, which can help your body fights off the virus that causes COVID-19, and other therapies. 

Eligibility is based on age, health condition and symptoms. Contact your doctor (by phone for by using MyChart) to ask if you may be eligible for any of the available treatments for COVID-19.  


What does it mean to be “a close contact” of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19?

You are a close contact if you were less than six feet away from someone who tested positive for COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period during certain times. For example, three individual five-minute exposures would total 15 minutes. This includes:

  • While they were symptomatic
  • Within two days before they started having symptoms
  • In the two days before their test was taken 
  • Anytime in the 10 days after the person’s test for the virus

You are a close contact even if you were wearing a mask while you were around someone with COVID-19 as described above. A close contact can also be a person who was not wearing a mask while they had direct contact with droplets from someone with COVID-19 — for example, being coughed on. 

If you test positive for COVID-19, you need to inform people you have been in close contact with. 


    I am having a health problem unrelated to COVID-19. I would normally go to the doctor, but I am worried about getting the virus.

    At all UMass Memorial Health locations, we take many precautions to protect our patients and staff from COVID-19. You can rely on UMass Memorial physician offices and hospitals to safely get the care you need. 

    If your concern is not urgent, it’s often helpful to call your primary care provider for guidance. Or you can use MyChart to send a message.

    If it’s an emergency, call 911 or to the nearest emergency room. Here are some examples of conditions that need to be treated at a hospital emergency room: 

    • Chest pain or pressure
    • Compound fracture (bone that shows through the skin)
    • Head injuries
    • Pneumonia
    • Seizures
    • Severe abdominal pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Sudden, severe headache, or paralysis or weakness
    • Uncontrolled bleeding

    You may be able to get the care you need at an urgent care clinic for conditions such as: 

    • Back or muscle pain
    • Bronchitis
    • Cuts and minor burns
    • Diarrhea
    • Earache
    • Skin conditions
    • Sprains or joint pain
    • Upper respiratory infection
    • Urinary tract infections
    • Vomiting

    I think my symptoms may be COVID-19. What should I do?

    Get tested. You can now use an over-the-counter rapid test, or get tested through a testing center. UMass Memorial offers multiple testing options for people who are symptomatic. You can also visit the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Find a COVID-19 Test website.  

    Getting your results may take several days. Please quarantine while you wait. That means stay at home and limit contact with other people. 

    The CDC provides detailed information about quarantine and isolation.

    I am having a health problem unrelated to COVID-19. I would normally go to the doctor, but I am worried about getting the virus.

    If it’s an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.