Campus Life

Coronavirus: What should I do if I feel sick?

Tips for what to do if you’re sick and how to protect others in your home and community from coronavirus

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Editor's note: For the latest guidance on what to do if you believe you may have been exposed to or have symptoms of COVID-19, see this updated Penn State News story.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As coronavirus spreads across the country, the number of cases continues to rise in Pennsylvania. Along with practicing social distancing, taking everyday precautions such as washing your hands, not touching your face, and avoiding contact with sick people can help you protect yourself and others from the virus.

If you find yourself feeling sick, you may be understandably anxious about what your symptoms could mean. If you have symptoms of fever, cough and/or trouble breathing, you should seek medical care. Make sure to call before you visit a doctor’s office, health center, urgent care center or hospital emergency department, given current demands on the health care system and also for the protection of staff and other patients.

Students at University Park should call the 24-hour University Health Services Advice Nurse Advice Line at 814-863-4463 for advice about how to get medical care. Students at Commonwealth Campuses should contact their on-campus health services office.

Any Penn State employee who develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and leave work immediately or remain at home. Employees should self-isolate and contact their personal health care provider for a phone assessment or use Penn State Health OnDemand. In addition, employees must contact Penn State Absence Management at or 814-865-1782 if they are self-quarantining, exposed to or develop symptoms of the virus.

Tell your provider about any recent travel and describe your symptoms. Health care providers may provide specific instructions about how to come to their facility and where to go upon arrival to minimize the risk of exposing others, or depending on your symptoms, may give you self-care advice that you can follow at home.

If your provider recommends treatment, when traveling to the health care facility:

  • Avoid contact with others as much as possible.
  • Do not take public transportation.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not the hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wear a mask, if available, upon arrival.

The following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Pennsylvania Department of Health offers additional information about what to do if you’re sick and how to protect others in your home and community:

  • What are the symptoms of COVID-19? Common symptoms of coronavirus include mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.
  • What should I do if I have mild symptoms? If you are worried but wouldn't typically call or visit a doctor for your symptoms, please stay home. If you start to feel worse, call your doctor. Going to a hospital or doctor’s office if you have a cold, for example, can place an extra burden on the health care system and expose you to the virus. 
  • What should I do if I have severe symptoms? If you have a fever over 100 degrees, shortness of breath and cough, call your health care provider. If you feel you have an emergency, seek medical care immediately, but call your provider’s office or the hospital before you go, especially if you’re symptomatic. By calling first, they can prepare for your visit and protect health care workers and patients.
  • What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to COVID-19? Stay home and call your health care provider if you develop symptoms such as fever, cough, and/or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19, according to the CDC. You can also call 1-877-PA-HEALTH to discuss your exposure and medical options.
  • Can I be tested for coronavirus? Contact your health care provider to discuss if you should be tested.
  • How can I care for myself at home? When caring for yourself at home, monitor your symptoms carefully and if they get worse, call your health care provider. Be sure to get rest, stay hydrated, cover your cough and sneezes, and wash your hands often. As much as you can, stay in a separate room away from other people; avoid sharing items like dishes, towels and bedding; and use a separate bathroom. Wear a facemask if you need to be around other people in your home. Clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces daily such as doorknobs, handles and tabletops.
  • How long do I have to stay home if I’m sick? If you’re sick, you should self-isolate at home until you are symptom free for at least three days. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, you should self-isolate until you are symptom-free for three days and seven days has passed since you received your positive test. If symptoms worsen, call your health care provider.
  • Do my roommates or family also have to stay home if I have symptoms? Yes. If one person has symptoms and is diagnosed with COVID-19, all members of the household should self-quarantine for 14 days.
  • Should I let friends or colleagues who I've been around know I’m sick? Yes. You should let people know if you have symptoms or have been diagnosed with COVID-19, so if they were in close contact with you, they can quarantine for 14 days and monitor for symptoms or signs of illness.

For the latest updates and information on Penn State’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including an extensive FAQ and information specific for students, faculty and staff, visit

Last Updated August 21, 2020