COVID-19 is a contagious disease caused by a virus discovered in 2019. It most often causes respiratory symptoms that can feel like a cold, flu or pneumonia. Sometimes, it can affect other parts of your body. Most people have mild symptoms, but some people can get very sick.1 Fortunately, COVID-19 vaccines are a safe, effective way to help prevent serious illness.2
Let’s learn more about COVID-19 symptoms, testing and vaccines. Sign in to your health plan account or call the number on your member ID card to find information about how some member benefits may have changed with the end of the public health emergency on May 11, 2023.
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You may experience a wide range of symptoms from COVID-19. Your symptoms may vary based on your vaccination status and the COVID-19 variant you have. (Viruses change over time to create new versions called variants.) Symptoms typically appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Possible symptoms may include the following.3
Fever or chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle or body aches
New loss of taste or smell
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea or vomiting
The list doesn’t include all possible symptoms. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) symptoms of COVID-19 page for the most recent information.
Testing for COVID-19
There are two main types of tests for the virus that causes COVID-19: nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) and antigen tests. Read on to learn more about each type.4
NAATs: Also known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based tests, this is the test you typically get at a doctor’s office, lab or testing facility. NAATs are generally the most reliable tests for people with or without symptoms. You may have to wait up to a few days to get your results.
Antigen tests: These are rapid tests that provide results in 15 to 30 minutes. Over-the-counter (OTC) at-home tests are usually antigen tests. Antigen tests tend to be less reliable than NAATs, especially if you don’t have symptoms. If you test negative, the CDC recommends taking another antigen test at least 48 hours after your first test as the best way to rule out infection.4
If you need a PCR-based test, contact your primary care doctor to make an appointment. This type of test may require a deductible or coinsurance, depending on your plan benefits.
If you need an OTC at-home test, visit your local network pharmacy. You can also order tests from many retail pharmacies online. Most UnitedHealthcare plans do not include coverage for OTC at-home COVID tests after the national public health emergency period ended on May 11, 2023. However, if you have a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA), you can typically use these to pay for OTC at-home tests.
COVID-19 vaccines are an important part of protecting your health and your loved ones. They are safe, effective and teach our immune system to fight the virus that causes COVID-19.1 Many providers offer COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, including retail pharmacies, doctors’ offices and other health systems. Most UnitedHealthcare plans include COVID-19 vaccines and boosters at no additional cost at network providers, as part of your preventive care benefits. Sign in to your health plan account to view your coverage details.
COVID-19 protection and safety frequently asked questions
If you think you were exposed to COVID-19 (the CDC’s exposure risks can help you evaluate your situation), follow the CDC guidelines on what to do if you were exposed to COVID-19.
If you were exposed to COVID-19, the CDC recommends you wear a high-quality mask for 10 days instead of quarantining. Get tested on day 5.5 If you test positive for COVID-19, follow the CDC isolation guidelines.
Regardless of vaccination status, you should isolate from others when you have COVID-19. You should also isolate if you’re sick and think you may have COVID-19 but don’t have test results yet. Follow the CDC isolation guidelines if you test positive.
While most people get over COVID-19 within a few weeks of illness, some people can experience long-term effects from their infection known as Post-COVID Conditions (PCC) or Long COVID. These conditions can include a wide range of ongoing health problems that can last weeks, months or years. Vaccination can help reduce your chances of developing Long COVID. Visit the CDC website to learn more about Long COVID.