Here’s What to Do if You Think You Have Coronavirus, Even if You’re Uninsured

In Illinois, 1,535 people have so far tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and 16 have died since January, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

People experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, which can include fever and shortness of breath, are urged by officials to call their health care providers, particularly if they are over the age of 60 or have underlying health conditions.

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But what if you don’t have a doctor or health insurance? Follow these tips from the Chicago Department of Public Health Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stay home if you’re sick, and avoid others. If you’re mildly ill, there is no need to call a health care provider because there is no treatment for the virus. People who are not at an increased risk of developing a severe infection do not need to be evaluated in person and do not need to be tested for COVID-19. 

Seek medical care if you’re at higher risk for serious illness, even if your symptoms are mild. People need to seek care early if they are over the age of 60 or have underlying medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems. Health care professionals will evaluate your health and determine whether you need to be tested. 

What to do if you don’t have a doctor. If you don’t have a medical provider, are uninsured or have limited or no income and need non-emergency medical services, contact your nearest community health center by phone and tell them what you need. 

How to find a community health center. There are roughly 165 community health centers in Chicago, which receive funding from the federal government. This allows them to charge each patient on a sliding-scale fee based on a patient’s income and ability to pay. No patient will be turned away because of their inability to pay. Find the nearest center to you onlineNote: Not all centers may be screening or testing for COVID-19, and some centers may be closed due to local restrictions.

Get immediate medical attention if you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19. Those include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, bluish lips or face, and new confusion or difficulty awakening someone who may be sick. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify dispatch personnel that you have or are being evaluated for COVID-19, and if possible, put a mask on before first responders arrive.

Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of used tissues. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. (Not sure if you’re washing your hands right? Get a refresher.) If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth and face with unwashed hands.

Keep your distance from other people. Stay in one room of your home, away from other people. If available, the CDC recommends using your own bathroom, too. Don’t share dishes, glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels or bedding with other people or pets in your home. Thoroughly wash any items you use with soap and water.

If you’re caring for someone who has the virus, monitor your own health and contact a health care provider immediately if you develop symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath. The CDC recommends wearing a mask around the sick individual if they can’t wear one. (Here are more tips from the CDC for providing care.)

A note about pets: Although there haven’t been any reports of pets or animals becoming sick with COVID-19, the CDC recommends avoiding contact with them while sick. If you must care for your pet while sick, wear a face mask and wash your hands before and after you interact with them. (See CDC’s FAQ for more about COVID-19 and animals.)

Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces every day, including counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables, as well as areas that may have bodily fluids on them. The CDC says regular household cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants will suffice when used according to instructions.

Stay home for at least a week after the onset of symptoms and at least 72 hours after your fever is gone and your symptoms have improved. Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medications.

For more information about the virus, visit the city of Chicago's COVID-19 website, call its dedicated COVID-19 hotline (312-746-4835) or send an email.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz (773) 509-5452  [email protected]

Note: This story was originally published March 12. It has been updated.

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