20 Mar 2021

Testing positive for Covid-19: What you need to know

11:00 am on 20 March 2021

Explainer - You may have been in contact with someone who has Covid-19 or felt sick and needed to get a test. Maybe you didn't have any symptoms and you got tested for work, or before travelling.

Now you've tested positive and you aren't sure what comes next.

What happens when you test positive for Covid-19 and what should people living with you do? RNZ is here to clear all up.

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Photo: RNZ / Vinay Ranchhod

How will I know if I have Covid-19? 

The first step is to get a test. We are in phase three of the Omicron response and rapid antigen tests (RAT) are now the main form of testing in New Zealand.  

Rapid antigen tests are free if you have symptoms or someone you live with has tested positive, or you meet other criteria such as being a critical worker, requiring one to attend court, are a healthcare worker, are an emergency worker. You can pick up rapid-antigen tests from a community testing centre or have someone collect them on your behalf by having them call 0800 222 478, choosing option 3 (8am-8pm, 7 days a week), or fill out this form – they will need access to a mobile phone to verify the order. 

Some doctors and other health providers offer tests, contact them directly to check. 

You can also buy RATs from a range of places like supermarkets and pharmacies if you’d like to test for other reasons. 

Once you take the test you will get your result in 15 minutes – to understand how to read the results check the information provided with the test or you can find this on My Covid Record. You can report your result or that of someone else there too. Here’s a step-by-step guide to reporting results via My Covid Record. You can also call 0800 222 478 and choose option 3 to report your result. 

If your RAT shows a negative result it’s likely you don’t have Covid but the test is not 100 percent accurate. You may not have done the test correctly or there may not be enough virus in the sample. 

If you have symptoms but got a negative result, stay at home and do another RAT the next day. If your symptoms get worse, contact your local healthcare provider or call Healthline on 0800 358 5453

PCR tests are still used in some situations and a health professional will be able to let you know which test suits your circumstances. If you've had a PCR test, you need to self-isolate and you should get your result in 2-5 days. Make sure you always have your phone on you.  

PCR test results are sent by text. You will get your results from 2328 – an official number. You can also access your test results on My Covid Record. 

Regardless of whether you are waiting for your results, you tested negative or you have Covid-19, if you feel unwell or start to have symptoms call your GP or Healthline on 0800 358 5453. You can call them any time of the day or night.  

If you or someone else needs an interpreter, Healthline will be able to sort this out for you.  

The NZ Relay Service and the Video Interpreting Service can be used to call Healthline.  

I've tested positive for Covid-19, now what? 

You will not need to get a PCR test to confirm you have Covid if your rapid antigen test comes back positive. You should tell people you live with that you have Covid so they can isolate straight away. You should also tell people you have been in close contact with so they can monitor for symptoms. If you have symptoms, that’s anyone you spent time with two days before the symptoms started. For anyone else it’s two days before you took a test.  

You need to report your result (as explained above) if you took a RAT test you will receive a text message from 2328 up to 24 hours later. If you had a PCR test you will also receive this text message, but you won’t need to self-report your result, health officials will already have this on file. In the text message you will see there is a link to an online form. Click on this link to fill out the form.  

Doing this helps make sure you get the right support you need to isolate safely.  

You will need to self-isolate for seven days. This starts from day 0 — the day your symptoms started or the day you got tested. 

It will give you information on self-isolation, what help is available, ask you what your needs are, and how to let other people know that you have Covid-19.  

An access code in the text message will be for a contact tracing form. Generally, if you’ve been within 1.5 metres of each other for more than 15 minutes and not wearing a mask you are close contacts. Kissing, sharing a cigarette or vape, sharing drinks, spending time inside together dancing, shouting or singing also means you’re close contacts.  

If you prefer to be contacted by phone or it isn’t easy for you to do things digitally – either on a phone or computer – a phone call is still an option for you.  

If you don’t fill out the form but are known to be at high risk for severe illness, someone will call you within 12 hours. 

If you are self-managing Covid-19 you will be given clear advice about what to do if you start to feel more unwell. You’ll also be given a phone number for 24-hour health support. You can find advice about monitoring your symptoms here

If it is decided you need more care, you will be contacted regularly.  

What should my family and people I am living with do?  

People in your household are at higher risk for getting Covid-19.  

They have to self-isolate for seven days, starting the same day as your seven days of isolation.   

They will need to get tested on day three, and again on day seven. 

A household contact is considered anyone who lives with you permanently or on a part-time basis and who spent one night or day at the same house as you during your infectious period. 

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Photo: Unite Against Covid-19

Some household contacts who are classed as critical workers may be able to still go to work through the Close Contact Exemption Scheme but they must not be symptomatic, be fully vaccinated and have a negative test before going to work. Self-isolation guidance must also be followed when they are not at home. 

A partner who doesn’t live with you but who you spent the night with is considered a close contact, as is someone who lives in the same group accommodation, like transitional housing or halls of residence. They will need to monitor for symptoms and test if symptoms develop. 

How do I self isolate?

Things have changed from the beginning of the pandemic when everyone who tested positive for Covid-19 was taken to a managed isolation facility.  How do I self-isolate? 

When self-isolating at home, or in other suitable accommodation, you need to stay 1.5 metres away from people and if possible, don’t share a bed or bedroom with anyone else. Try to spend as little time as possible in shared spaces and make sure you have windows and doors open throughout the house.   

You shouldn’t make food for anyone else either and you’ll need to wipe down surfaces you share with other people, like taps and benches in the kitchen and bathroom. You can use soap, water and a cloth to do this.  

Make sure you don’t share food, cutlery, dishes, cups, towels, toothbrushes, soap or pillows and you should do your own washing, including your clothes and dishes.  

Wear a mask to help keep people in your house safe and wash your hands often.  

You will need to self-isolate for seven days. You’ll get a text when your isolation is complete, and you can return to life as usual – though you don’t need to wait for this text if you’ve finished your seven days.  

If you are still sick once the seven days are up, you need to stay home until you are well and for 24 hours after your symptoms resolve. You should also avoid any high-risk settings if you are still unwell. 

You don’t need to test again to leave self-isolation because it’s likely to come back positive – this doesn’t mean you are still infectious. 

If you are self-isolating, you will only legally be allowed to leave your home if you're asked to have another test or to exercise outdoors in your neighbourhood, to visit a dying relative who is not expected to live beyond your self-isolation period, to attend court, visit the body of a relative before a funeral or tangihanga, or because you need to access an essential health service and it can't wait until you're well. You can also leave self-isolation if your safety/life or someone else's safety/life is at risk.  

That's all outlined in the Section 70 notice - which states what is legally required of someone with Covid-19. If you don't do what is required, or refuse to, you can face up to six months' prison time and/or be fined up to $4000.  

I tested positive while on holiday, can I go back home? 

Whether or not you will be able to go home will depend on where you are. You will only be allowed to leave if you and the people you are with can drive home without stopping anywhere on the way (unless it's a contactless petrol station or somewhere like a bathroom). 

If you took public transport or a flight to get to your destination, it's very likely you'll need to stay where you are and self-isolate there. 

You need to tell your accommodation provider you have Covid-19 and your close contacts will need to do the same. You will also need to tell your rental car company or the owner of the car you are driving. 

If you can't return home, you need to follow the self-isolation rules above. 

I'm worried about how sick I am, who should I call? 

If you need urgent medical help, call 111. If you have Covid-19, you won't need to pay for ambulance services or hospital care - it's free.  

You can also call your GP or Healthline any time of the day or night on 0800 358 5453. Make sure you call them if you are getting more unwell.  

The NZ Relay Service and the Video Interpreting Service can be used to call Healthline.  

If you have chest pains or feel short of breath, you’re confused, feeling faint or pass out, call an ambulance by dialing 111.  

Pasifika Medical Association chief executive Debbie Sorensen told RNZ if someone is feeling unwell, very short of breath and feeling like they can't get a breath, they need to call for medical help regardless of what number is showing on the oximeter, if they are using one.  

"It is really important that people understand that if they are feeling terrible, and that doesn't seem like the number matches how they are feeling, then they need to get medical attention and not wait for somebody to tell them that it is okay to do that."  

If you need medication, contact a local pharmacy or GP who can organise for your medication to be delivered to your home.  

Will anyone know I've tested positive? 

The Ministry of Health will share the result of your Covid-19 test with your doctor if you ask them to. 

They may also tell emergency services in your area if it is helpful for them to know. 

They will not share your positive result for police enforcement or immigration-related reasons. 

Your employer needs to protect your privacy and shouldn't share your information in your workplace. 

Will I get sick pay? 

Sort of, it's called the Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme and your employer applies for this on your behalf. It covers two weeks of work and is paid to your employer all at once. This is available for your close contacts who also need to self-isolate. 

If you usually work full-time and were working 20 hours or more each week, the payment is $600 per week. If you usually work part-time and were working less than 20 hours each week, the payment is $359 per week. 

This is the absolute minimum amount your employer must pay you unless you usually earn less than those amounts - in that case they must pay you as they usually would. 

The Ministry of Social Development says employers must try their hardest to pay you your normal pay or at least 80 percent of your normal pay. 

There are a few people who can't get this payment. Find out if you're eligible here. 

I don't have any food in the house, what should I do? 

You can contact your care coordinator or the Covid-19 support line any day of the week by calling 0800 512 337 for help with kai or welfare support.  

If someone is able to, they can drop off food to you by leaving it at your door. You need to wait for them to leave before you open the door. You can't have contact with them or anyone else.  

You can find support services like food banks by clicking here.  

If you aren't currently in paid work and need financial assistance you can contact the Ministry of Social Development. You'll find phone numbers and contact information here.  

You can also get help through Whānau Ora to help meet basic needs for food, accommodation, heating, internet connectivity, water and sewerage. If you live in the North Island, you can call them on 0800 929 282, or in the South Island the number is 0800 187 689.  

I wasn't vaccinated when I tested positive, can I go and get vaccinated now? 

You can't get vaccinated if you're self-isolating. 

If you've got a vaccination appointment booked, you'll need to ring 0800 28 29 26 or visit the Book My Vaccine website to change your appointment. 

Once you recover, you'll be able to get vaccinated four weeks later. If you need your booster dose, you’ll have to wait three months. 

What happens once I recover and finish isolating?  

You will have got a text message to tell you that you can stop isolating, though if your seven day period is up, you don’t need to wait to get the text before you leave isolation.  

Once you’ve recovered, you won’t need to isolate again for three months if someone in your household tests positive during this time. While you can get Covid again at any time, the chance of reinfection during this time is low. If you did get Covid again, you would need to isolate again as you’d be considered a new case. 

You should clean and disinfect your home 12 hours after you or someone in your home recovers from Covid-19. Make sure you wear gloves and clean all the places you touch the most in your house, like door handles, remote controls and light switches. Once you’re done cleaning, give mop heads a clean too.  

Wash all dishes that were used in warm water and try to air out your home by opening windows and doors.  

Throw away any rubbish, tissues and masks. Put them in a sealed bag and into the general house rubbish.  

Wash and dry your bedding and clothing – just don’t shake them before they are washed.  

I'm feeling overwhelmed, is there someone I can talk to? 

Everyone reacts differently to testing positive for the virus, and it's understandable if you're feeling worried, confused, sad, angry, anxious or distressed. 

You can find some tips on looking after your mental health here. 

If you need support you can call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason. 

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. 

There's also a range of other services you can contact: 

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Kaupapa Māori mental health services

South Seas Healthcare Trust: Languages spoken: Samoan, Tongan and English. Phone 09 278 2694

West Fono Health Trust: Languages spoken: Samoan, Tongan and English. Phone 09 837 1780

Le Va: National Pacific mental health and suicide prevention provider. Phone: 09 261 3490

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

OUTLine: Free LGBTQI support, call 0800 688 5463 (6pm-9pm)

Asian Family Services: Freephone 0800 862 342 to access help in 10 languages, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and English. The helpline provides nationwide free and confidential services from Monday to Friday between 9am-8pm.

If you're in an unsafe home environment:

Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It's Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

Victim Support: 0800 650 654

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

The National Network of Family Violence Services NZ has information on specialist family violence agencies.

For drug and alcohol support:

Alcohol Drug Helpline: 0800 787 797

Drug Help website

*This article was first published on 20 December 2021 and was updated as New Zealand's Covid-19 response changed.