COVID-19 Symptoms & Testing

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What to do if you have COVID symptoms

If you experience symptoms associated with COVID-19 (fever or chills, cough, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea, diarrhea) …

(1) Limit your contact with others: do not go to classes, avoid public areas, and wear a mask.

(2) If your symptoms are SEVERE or worrying, call Cornell Health for consultation: 607-255-5155 (24/7). (Severe symptoms include fever >102F, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, chest pain, severe headache, severe sore throat, vomiting.) 

(3) If your symptoms are MANAGEABLE, pick up a symptomatic test kit as soon as possible at one of the following pick-up locations: 

  • Symptomatic Test Kit pick-up – walk-up 
    Campus Road traffic booth near Carpenter Hall 
    Monday-Friday 9:00-11:00 am & 2:00-4:00 pm; Saturday-Sunday 9:00-11:00 am
  • Symptomatic Test Kit pick-up – drive-through  
    Tower Road traffic booth near Stocking Hall
    Monday-Friday 9:00-11:00 am & 2:00-4:00 pm; Saturday-Sunday 9:00-11:00 am

Find more details on Cornell's Symptomatic Testing page.

(EXCEPTION: If you had COVID-19 within the last 90 days, it is extremely unlikely that you have COVID again and symptomatic testing is not encouraged. Please recuperate at home at contact Cornell Health if you have questions or concerns.) 

(4) Self-administer the test(s) at home or in another private location. The test kit includes two components: a rapid antigen test (nasal collection), which provides rapid results within 15 minutes; and a PCR test (saliva collection), which will only be used in the event that you are symptomatic and test negative using the antigen test.

  • Follow the detailed testing instructions found on Cornell's Symptomatic Testing page. 
  • If you test positive by antigen or PCR test, follow the "What to do if you test positive" instructions below.
  • If you test negative by antigen test and need to submit a PCR test, let your professors know that you can’t attend classes while you wait for your results. Continue to wear a mask, limit contact with others, and avoid public areas until you receive your results. 

Cornell Health PCR drop box location: Samples for PCR testing can be dropped off in the vestibule inside our Ho Plaza entrance (open 24/7), or at any other drop-off location listed on Cornell's Symptomatic Testing page.

What to do if you have been exposed to COVID (no symptoms)

If you have had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, but you do not have any symptoms, you do NOT need to quarantine as long as you are fully vaccinated and boosted. Students should wear a mask around others for 10 days after the last day of exposure, and get a supplemental COVID test on day 5.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students should quarantine at home for 5 days from last exposure, get a COVID test on day 5, and wear a well-fitting mask for 5 additional days.

Visit our Quarantine & Isolation page for more information, and refer to the Tompkins County Health Department's guidelines for masking and quarantine.

What to do if you test positive for COVID (by antigen or PCR test)

All students who test positive for COVID-19 are required to self-isolate at home for a full 5 days from symptom onset or test date following the isolation guidance from the Tompkins County Health Department, regardless of vaccination status or whether you experience symptoms. Count the day of your test, or the day your symptoms started (whichever is earlier), as Day 0.

Be sure to notify close contacts that they may have been exposed, so they can self-monitor themselves for potential symptoms. 

Isolation & missing classes: 

  • When you test positive (at Cornell, at a Cayuga Health testing site, or if you self-report a positive test result), you will receive an email from Cornell with detailed isolation instructions. You can also view our Quarantine & Isolation FAQs page for general information. 
  • Included in your isolation email will be information from Student Disability Services that you can send to instructors to let them know you will not be able to participate in in-person learning for 5 days.
  • If you have questions about isolation, contact Cornell's COVID-19 Support Center (607-253-7500 or quarantinehelp@cornell.edu).

On Day 6 after symptom onset / test date:

  • If you haven’t had any symptoms, you can end isolation. You should wear a well-fitting mask around others for another 5 days. 
  • If you haven’t had a fever in 24 hours (without medication), you can end isolation. You should wear a well-fitting mask around others for another 5 days.
  • If you had other symptoms, but they have improved, you can end isolation. You should wear a well-fitting mask around others for another 5 days.
  • If you have a fever, wait a full 24 hours after your fever has resolved (without medication) before ending isolation. You should wear a well-fitting mask around others for a full 10 days from your test date.
  • If you have other symptoms, wait until they have improved before ending isolation. You should wear a well-fitting mask around others for a full 10 days from your test date.
  • You do not need to be tested for COVID (antigen or PCR test) to confirm your release from isolation. 
  • Exception: People who are immunocompromised should self-isolate for 10 days instead of 5. 

On Day 5 of your isolation period, you will receive an email from Cornell advising you about how to extend your isolation period if you still have symptoms. You may also contact Cornell's COVID-19 Support Center at 607-253-7500 or quarantinehelp@cornell.edu.

Testing after a positive COVID diagnosis:

If you test positive for COVID-19, you should not test again for 90 days. You will be excluded from required COVID-19 testing at Cornell for 90 days, so you do not receive repeated positive test results from a previous infection and be required to isolate again.

About antigen and PCR tests

Rapid antigen tests can be self-administered and provide results within 15 minutes. PCR tests must be sent to a lab for processing, and are more sensitive and accurate than antigen tests.

Both rapid antigen tests and PCR tests are very effective in identifying positive cases of COVID-19. 

  • A positive rapid antigen test shows that you have COVID-19 proteins in your body because you have an active infection and are likely contagious. You do not need to confirm a positive antigen test with a PCR test.
  • A positive PCR test shows that you have COVID-19 nucleic acids in your body, a sign of current or recent COVID-19 infection. You do not need to confirm a positive PCR test with an antigen test. Positive results are extremely accurate.