20 Dec 2021

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

8:30 pm on 20 December 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. You can get either a PCR test (nasal swab) or a rapid-antigen test.

Rapid antigen testing is only available for people over 12, without symptoms, who are unvaccinated and require a test for travel. You will get a result in 15 minutes but if it is positive you will need to take a PCR test as well.

If you've had a PCR test, you should get your result in 1-2 days - sometimes this is longer if your test is negative. Make sure you always have your phone on you.

You need to stay home while you wait for your result. Don't go out to get food or medical supplies, if you need something you can ask someone to drop it off and leave it outside for you to get once they have left. If you don't have anyone to do this, you can find support services like food banks by clicking here.

If your test is positive and you have Covid-19, your doctor or another health professional will call you to let you know.

If you test negative, you will get a text message to the number you gave when you got tested.

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.

I was told I have Covid-19, now what?

Within 24 hours of being told you have Covid-19:

You will get a phone call from a health professional from either the Ministry of Health or a public health unit, like your DHB. Sometimes you'll get this call before you have been told you're positive. They will tell you who they are and will ask you for your name and contact details.

This first phone call is called a case interview and can take up to an hour. If you don't feel well this can be done over a number of shorter phone calls. You or someone you know can ask for an interpreter if you need one.

Here's what they will ask you in that phone call:

  • They will ask about everywhere you have been recently and details about this, like who you were with. You will be asked to check your diary, calendar, bank statements, and your Covid tracer app.
  • They may ask you to check these details with your family, whānau and friends.
  • You will discuss whether you will move into MIQ or stay at home in self-isolation.
    • You will be asked this information because they are trying to work out who or where you got Covid-19 from and who you may have passed Covid-19 on to, to help stop the virus spreading to other people.

      You will be given a phone number which you can call anytime of the day or night for health support. You will also be given the details of someone who will be there for you when you have health and wellbeing needs. This might be someone, or a team of people, from your GP, your primary care provider or a local community health service - it depends where in the country you are.

      This person will check on you to make sure you and your household are safe. They will tell you how often they are going to contact you.

      Within 48 hours:

      You'll get a health pack that has all the information you need. You'll also get any health equipment you may need, like a pulse oximeter.

      After 48 hours:

      How often someone checks on you will depend on your symptoms and recovery.

      If your illness is mild and you are low risk, this might be every second day. If you have moderate symptoms or are more at-risk, you'll be checked on daily.

      10-14 days after testing positive:

      A medical professional will give you a health assessment. Exactly what day this is on will depend on if you are vaccinated or not.

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

      People in your household are called close contacts and are at higher risk for getting Covid-19.

      They have to stay home for the entire time you and anyone else in the household who tests positive are self-isolating.

      They will need to get tested straight away, again five days after their last contact with you and again eight days after their last contact with you. If they develop symptoms, they must get a test straight away.

      People in your household will need to isolate at least 10 days longer than you. This is because anyone you live with who hasn't tested positive will need to start a further 10 days of isolation once the last person in your household to test positive finishes their isolation. This is to make sure they haven't also caught Covid-19.

      Can I self-isolate at home?

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

      Whether you can stay at home will depend on if you are fully vaccinated and how severe your illness is, as well as if you can isolate away from other people in your home.

      You and everyone in your household need to isolate away from other people. You will either do this at home, other suitable accommodation like a holiday home, or in MIQ.

      You will need to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days if you are fully vaccinated and 14 days if you aren't.

      If you are self-isolating, you will only legally be allowed to leave your home if you're asked to have another test or because you need to access an essential health service and it can't wait until you're well, or 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.

      What if I need to go to MIQ?

      You may be told you need to go into a managed isolation quarantine facility and you can decide whether you'd like your family to join you.

      You won't need to pay for the cost of your stay, and you'll be provided with three meals a day and snacks. There'll be Wifi and laundry services available to you and you'll get basic toiletries and refreshments.

      When you first arrive you'll get a welcome pack which will tell you more about what to expect during your stay.

      Your physical and mental health will be closely monitored by staff and you'll have a dedicated health team looking after you.

      If you don't need to go into hospital during your illness, you'll be allowed to go home when the health team are confident you're no longer infectious. But both you and your household will need to be in MIQ for 10 - 14 days after you first have symptoms. Once you have had no symptoms for 72 hours after this period, you will be sent home.

      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.

      If you have been given an oximeter and you have chest pains or feel short of breath, 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.

      "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."

      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?

      If you test positive, you will be contacted by someone who will assess your needs and the Ministry for Social Development (MSD) will coordinate the support you need with local partners, providers, and community groups.

      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 or in MIQ.

      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.

      The Immunisation Advisory Centre says people who have had Covid-19 can get vaccinated.

      "It is recommended to start vaccination from 4 weeks after recovery, or from the first confirmed Covid-19 positive PCR test if asymptomatic, and when cleared to leave isolation by a clinician."

      Can my pet get Covid-19?

      The SPCA says there isn't evidence to indicate pets can give their owners Covid-19, but can they catch it from you?

      While there hasn't been a study done on this in New Zealand, research out of Utrecht University found Covid-19 is common in cats and dogs whose owners have tested positive.

      Swabs were taken from 310 pets in 196 households where a human infection had been detected.

      Six cats and seven dogs returned a positive PCR result, while 54 animals tested positive for virus antibodies.

      "If you have Covid, you should avoid contact with your cat or dog, just as you would do with other people," Dr Els Broens, from Utrecht University, said.

      "The main concern is not the animals' health but the potential risk that pets could act as a reservoir of the virus and reintroduce it into the human population."

      The authors of the study said no evidence of pet-to-owner transmission had been recorded to date but it would be difficult to detect while the virus was still spreading easily between humans.

      Most infected pets tend to be asymptomatic or display mild Covid-19 symptoms.

      If you're going into MIQ, SPCA recommends that pets remain at home if possible or with a trusted person.

      MPI advises people to avoid contact with pets and other animals, as they would with people.

      If you're a farmer who has tested positive, MPI says before yarding cattle, you should speak to your processor and supply chain partners (such as transporters), as they will have rules and requirements around loading and transporting animals.

      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

      RNZ / BBC