Answers to Frequently Asked COVID-19 Questions

As the region continues to experience an increase in COVID-19 cases due to the rise of the Omicron variant, guidelines on testing and quarantining continue to evolve.

While the information contained in this post is tailored to South Shore Medical Center patients, it features a number of helpful tips that apply to the general public.

Below, you’ll find a number of common questions we’ve received about testing, quarantining, isolating, and more, along with answers to each.

Can I get tested for travel purposes?

South Shore Medical Center is not offering COVID-19 testing for travel purposes at this time – tests are only being scheduled for individuals who are exhibiting symptoms and are a close contact of an individual who tested positive.

If you require a test for travel, we encourage you to schedule a test appointment at Health Express or visit the state website for a full list of local test sites.

I’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 – what should I do?

In the case of exposure, “close contact” is key, as that’s when an exposure is of concern.

Close contact is defined as being within six feet of a COVID-positive individual for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

If your interactions with the individual meet the definition of close contact, take the following steps:

  • Boosted or recently vaccinated individuals: You do not need to quarantine after the exposure unless you develop symptoms. You should get a COVID-19 test, ideally five days after the exposure. Wear a mask indoors for ten days after the exposure. If you begin to experience symptoms, quarantine immediately until a negative test confirms the symptoms aren’t related to COVID-19.
  • Unvaccinated individuals or individuals who haven’t received a booster: Quarantine for five days. Get a COVID-19 test, ideally 5-7 days after exposure. Follow that five-day quarantine with strict mask use for an additional five days.

Graphic: What to do if you've been exposed to COVID-19

It’s important to note that the CDC considers “recently vaccinated” to be within six months of the completion of a two-dose mRNA series or two months of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

You can visit the state website for more details on how to proceed after an exposure or positive test.

South Shore Medical Center patients who require testing after a close contact should use an at-home COVID test or should schedule a test at the medical center if experiencing symptoms.

A PCR test isn’t required after exposure, but is an acceptable alternative if at-home testing isn’t possible.

What kind of at-home test should I use?

We recommend that patients who were close contacts to an individual with COVID-19 take an at-home rapid antigen test using a brand like BinaxNOW from Abbott.

There are plenty of different at-home COVID-19 tests on the market, but it’s important to make sure that the brand you choose has received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA – you can verify each brand on the FDA website.

We don’t recommend purchasing at-home tests from unregulated sources, like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, as it’s hard to verify that the tests are legitimate.

At-home tests can also provide additional peace of mind before/after travel or when preparing to visit an immunocompromised loved one.

What about testing at South Shore Medical Center?

South Shore Medical Center is scheduling self-swab COVID-19 tests at the Norwell practice for both current patients and members of the public who are a close contact to a confirmed COVID-positive individual and are currently experiencing symptoms.

Appointments are required and can be conveniently scheduled online using South Shore MyChart.

Patients who have an active South Shore MyChart account can also log in, click the "Menu" button, click "Schedule an Appointment," and follow the on-screen prompts.

Patients will park at the South Entrance of the medical center and will walk up to receive their test kit. Patients will then return to their vehicles to conduct their test and return their sample to the South Entrance.

Patients who require assistance can enter via the South Entrance to use one of the self-swab bays, which are cleaned and sanitized after every use.

In most cases, results will be available in MyChart within 24 hours. A MyChart account is required to view your results - we will not call patients with results.

If you don't have a MyChart account, you'll be prompted to create one after scheduling your appointment.

Are COVID-19 tests available elsewhere at South Shore Health?

Yes – testing is available at Health Express, part of South Shore Health, by appointment only.

Appointments can be scheduled online.

In addition, you can visit the state website to find your nearest testing site.

What should I do while waiting for my test results?

If you take an at-home rapid antigen test, your results should be available within just 15 minutes. It’s best to take the test in your home and to remain at home during that brief waiting period.

PCR tests (or similar molecular tests) have a longer turnaround time, but you can expect results within 24 hours. Results from tests at South Shore Medical Center will be available in your South Shore MyChart account.

While waiting for your PCR test results, you or your child should remain at home – postpone any scheduled activities or playdates and do not go to work or school.

What if my test is positive?

If you test positive, you should begin isolating immediately. For adults and older children, this means remaining in your bedroom with the door closed, even for meals.

If your household has a shared bathroom, wear a mask when leaving the bedroom to use the bathroom. The bathroom should be wiped down with one part bleach to nine parts water after each use. 

At this time, we are not scheduling PCR tests to confirm at-home positives – if your at-home test is positive, you should act accordingly.

Graphic: What to do if you test positive for COVID-19

Should I notify my doctor if I test positive?

An office visit or PCR test aren’t required to confirm a positive result from an at-home test – you should assume that the at-home positive is accurate. 

If you’d like to notify your provider of a positive test so that it can be added to your chart, we encourage you to send a message to your care team via South Shore MyChart.

I tested positive and I’m worried about my symptoms – what should I do?

First, determine what kind of symptoms you’re experiencing:

  • Mild symptoms include a fever below 100.4° F for adults or below 102.4° F for children older than three months, a mild cough, fatigue, and some aches/pains.
  • Moderate symptoms include a fever above 100.4° F for adults or above 102.4° F for children older than three months, a persistent cough, and shortness of breath. For children, other symptoms can include your child being sleepier than normal or less frequent urination/bowel movements than normal.
  • Severe symptoms include confusion, dizziness, chest pain/pressure, significant difficulty breathing, and pale or blue-colored skin, especially around the lips or fingernails.

For patients who aren’t at high risk

  • If you have mild symptoms, you should stay home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids. Monitor your symptoms to ensure that they aren’t getting worse.
  • If you have moderate symptoms, contact your primary care provider for further evaluation.
  • If you have severe symptoms, go to the Emergency Department or dial 9-1-1.

For patients who are at high risk

For some patients, underlying conditions put them at higher risk of developing severe complications as a result of a COVID-19 infection.

Conditions include cancer, diabetes, lung disease, heart conditions, and more; a full list can be found on the CDC website.

If you have one of the conditions listed above, test positive for COVID-19, and develop concerning symptoms, contact your primary care provider.

Your PCP will be able to evaluate your condition and determine whether or not you’re eligible to be referred for additional treatment.

What if my at-home test is negative?

If fully vaccinated, a negative test result means you are free to resume normal activities. 

For additional peace of mind, you can consider taking another at-home test a few days after your negative result, but that isn’t required.

If partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, you should only resume normal activities after two tests return negative results – your first test after confirmed exposure and a second test 5-7 days later.

How do I determine isolation vs. quarantine?

While the terms are similar, quarantine and isolation are actually two different things: you quarantine when you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 but don’t know if you’re infected, and you isolate after you’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

At a practical level:

  • Quarantine means remaining at home, but still interacting with other members of your household. The person quarantining should wear a mask whenever possible.
  • Isolation means separating yourself from the other members of your household – for example, remaining in one’s bedroom with the door closed (even for meals).

You can find more detailed information on the differences between the two on the CDC website.

All COVID-positive individuals should isolate as best as they can – as mentioned above, adults and older children/teens should remain in their bedrooms.

If your home has a shared bathroom, the COVID-positive individual should wear a mask when leaving the isolation room to use the bathroom; the bathroom should then be cleaned thoroughly after use (one part bleach to nine parts water).

What if the COVID-positive individual can’t isolate?

In some cases, including for COVID-positive young children, isolation isn’t feasible; as a result, other members of the household will continue to be exposed.

If someone in your household tests positive for COVID-19 and is unable to isolate, all other individuals in the household should wear masks consistently

If possible, a single individual should interact with and provide care for the COVID-positive individual in order to limit exposure.

Fully vaccinated members of the household do not need to quarantine, but should be tested and should monitor for symptoms.

Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated members of the household must quarantine during the ten-day contagious period and for seven additional days.

How long do I have to isolate after a positive test?

Updated guidance (Jan. 2022) from the CDC recommends that COVID-positive individuals who are asymptomatic isolate for five days, followed by five days of wearing a mask in public.

If you experienced symptoms, you can stop isolating after five days, provided that you no longer have a fever and your other symptoms are resolving.

If you have access to a test, take it on day 5. If your test is positive, continue to isolate until day 10. If your test is negative, you can end isolation but should continue to wear a mask around others until day 10.

It’s important to note that the CDC has different guidelines for healthcare workers.

When can my child return to school after a positive COVID-19 test?

According to the most recent guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, kids can return to school after a five-day isolation period, provided:

  • Their fever has resolved for at least 24 hours, without taking fever-reducing medications.
  • Their other symptoms are improving.

Kids should continue to wear a mask around others for an additional five days.

When can my child return to sports after a positive COVID-19 test?

Kids shouldn’t return to sports for a minimum of ten days after the start of their COVID-19 illness or after their positive test (if asymptomatic).

In addition, kids age 12 and older should receive cardiac clearance from their pediatrician before returning to sports.

For kids who were asymptomatic or who had a mild COVID-19 illness (less than four days of fever greater than 100.4° F and less than seven days of muscle aches, chills, or extreme fatigue), please call the medical center after 10 days.

A nurse will speak to you to ensure that there are no worrisome symptoms and review a graduated return-to-play protocol.

Kids who had more severe cases of COVID-19 will need an in-person evaluation for cardiac clearance.

How long after recovering from COVID-19 can I receive a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine?

The CDC recommends waiting until you meet the criteria for leaving isolation prior to getting vaccinated or receiving a booster dose – whether you have symptoms or not.

You can find more details on ending isolation on the CDC website.

If you received monoclonal antibody or plasma treatment while you had COVID-19, you need to wait 90 days before being vaccinated or receiving a booster dose.

Get the latest information on COVID-19.