Your questions answered
New questions about COVID-19 seem to come up every day. We're listening to you, and as we receive your questions, we'll provide answers here.
You wake up with a sore throat or feeling achy. The first thing you may think is: is it COVID-19? But how can you tell? After all, COVID-19 has many symptoms. It may be confusing to tell if you’ve got symptoms of COVID-19 or if your symptoms might just be an everyday cold or flu.
But if the thought crosses your mind that it might be COVID-19, it’s best to check it out. Here’s what you can do:
- Check your symptoms. Use our symptom checker to help assess your risk for COVID-19 and get treatment recommendations.
- Unless you need immediate medical care, it’s best to stay in. You’ll be protecting yourself and others by staying where you are.
- Call your provider. You may be able to schedule a telehealth visit so you can talk with your doctor or provider from home and get recommendations on what to do next.
If your doctor orders a COVID-19 diagnostic test for you, you can use our testing locator to find a location near you.
Here’s another tip — be sure to get a flu shot
This flu season, the CDC believes it’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading. Flu shots are the best way to protect yourself, your family and others from the seasonal flu, according to the CDC.1 And there’s good news: Flu shots may be covered at 100% for most health plans ($0 out-of-pocket) and available at convenient locations. Check your benefits plan to find out if you are covered at $0 out of pocket costs. Learn more about flu shots.
1. First things first: Call your health care provider.
If you don’t have a provider you see regularly, look at your member ID card and search our directory to find a provider that’s in your health plan network.
2. When you connect with a provider, explain that you were around someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Your provider may ask you questions to determine the level of potential exposure. They may tell you to quarantine. That means, you stay home and separate yourself from others. If you get this advice, be sure to ask your doctor how many days to stay away from others to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19.
They may tell you to get tested for COVID-19. The test would probably be a virus/antigen detection (diagnostic) test. This kind of test will most likely show if you’re currently infected with COVID-19.
If your provider says you need a COVID-19 test, you can use our testing locator to find a location near you.
According to the CDC, the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines will help protect you from getting COVID-19. In fact, each vaccine reported strong protection from the disease:
- Pfizer-BioNTech: According to the FDA, the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine was ~95% effective at preventing COVID-19 in people age 16 and older, based on the Pfizer-BioNTech Phase 3 trial.
- Moderna: According to the FDA, the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine was ~94% effective at preventing COVID-19 in people age 18 and older, based on the Moderna Phase 3 trial.
Follow vaccination instructions from the manufacturer. The effectiveness is the level the vaccine prevents COVID-19.
Important reminders on the protection COVID-19 vaccines provide:
- Vaccines can take several weeks after the second dose to provide protection
- COVID-19 vaccines will help protect you from getting COVID-19, but you should follow CDC and state health guidelines to stop the spread of the disease
- The duration of protection against COVID-19 is currently unknown
Because of these reasons, continue to follow public health safety guidelines to help protect yourself and others. Wear a face mask, practice physical distancing and wash hands regularly.
The U.S. vaccine safety system makes sure all vaccines go through an extensive process to confirm levels of safety, including the recently FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines. Even after emergency use authorization, the FDA continues to review clinical data about the vaccines. The CDC website has additional COVID-19 vaccine safety information.
As with other vaccines and according to the CDC, people report some side effects with the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines. The side effects may feel like flu and might even affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days.
In the event of an emergency, you should call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.
If you have side effects that bother you or do not go away, you should report them to your vaccination provider or primary care provider. You should also notify the CDC at 1-800-822-7967 or use the CDC’s v-safe mobile app, which will help you monitor side effects and get second dose reminders.
The current FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines are not recommended for people with certain conditions or of different ages. If you have questions about getting FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines, talk to your health care provider.
According to the CDC, if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine or an injected medicine, you should ask your doctor if you should get the COVID-19 vaccine. A severe reaction is one that requires treatment at a hospital or with medications like an EpiPen (epinephrine).
The CDC recommends the people who have seasonal allergies or allergies to food, pets or oral medications, can still be vaccinated. If you have any questions, you should check with your health care provider.
Since supplies are limited at this time, vaccination will be in phases, with those at highest risk getting vaccines first. FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine distribution is being coordinated by the CDC and state health departments.
The first groups of people who should be offered the vaccine next are below, as recommended by the CDC:
- Phase 1a: Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities
- Phase 1b: Essential workers (e.g., police officers, firefighters, teachers, etc.) and people age 75 and older get vaccinated next
- Phase 1c: People who are 65 to 74 years old; people 16 to 64 years old with high-risk, underlying medical conditions; and other essential workers (e.g., transportation, food service, public safety, etc.)
Visit your state health department for more information about COVID-19 vaccination plans in your area.
You can check with your state health department on which groups are currently prioritized. You can also speak with your primary care provider or other health care professional about vaccine recommendations given your specific health conditions.
As vaccines become more widely available, we are committed to helping you get the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine easily and conveniently. This page and your online UnitedHealthcare account will have the latest information.
Initially, FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines will be available at certain locations. Your state health department is a resource for learning about local availability.
As vaccines become more widely available, you will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccination at participating retail pharmacies, as well as doctors’ offices, hospitals and federally qualified health centers.
Like the flu vaccine, vaccination providers will administer the COVID-19 vaccine based on availability. Vaccination providers may not have all FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines at their location. If you have questions, we encourage you to talk to your health care provider.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccination should be offered to members regardless of whether they’ve already had COVID-19 infection. Members should not be required to have an antibody test before they are vaccinated.
However, anyone currently infected with COVID-19 should wait to get vaccinated until after their illness has resolved and after they have met the criteria to discontinue isolation.
Additionally, current evidence suggests that reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 is uncommon in the 90 days after initial infection. Therefore, people with a recent infection may delay vaccination until the end of that 90-day period if desired.
Here’s what we understand today:
- For people with Medicare plans, you will need to show your Medicare number which is on your red, white and blue Medicare card.
- For people with other health plans, you will need to show your insurance card.
Coming out of your vaccination appointment, you will get a vaccination card. We encourage you to carry your vaccination card with you. Taking a picture of the vaccination card with your phone is a great way to keep it with you. Also be sure to schedule the second dose when you receive the first.
Additional information on preparing for your vaccination appointment can be found on the CDC website.
You will need to get both doses in the required time frame to have protection from COVID-19. We encourage you to schedule appointments for both doses at the same time. Your vaccination provider should help you know when to get the second dose. The CDC is also offering the v-safe mobile app to help with second dose reminders.
Follow the vaccination instructions from the manufacturer, which includes making sure both doses are from the same manufacturer. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will require 2 doses, given 3 weeks apart. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will require 2 doses, given 1 month apart. We strongly encourage you to schedule both doses at the same time to meet these time frames and get protection from COVID-19. The vaccination provider should assist you with scheduling the second dose when you receive your first dose.
Getting tested for COVID-19
A virus detection (diagnostic) test determines if a person is currently infected with COVID-19, while an antibody (serology) test may determine if a person has been exposed to COVID-19. Work with your physician or a health care professional to determine if you need a COVID-19 test. See benefits coverage information or sign in to your health plan account for more details.
If your provider orders a COVID-19 diagnostic test for you, use our testing locator to find a location near you.
Remember to visit network providers, and always show your UnitedHealthcare member ID card for COVID-19-related testing. Also, keep your primary care provider (PCP) informed of any COVID-19 testing results or care you might receive.
Here’s a chart that gives you the basic details about both: a diagnostic test and an antibody test
Using the chart, you can compare and see the differences between these two types of COVID-19 tests. Your health provider would need to order either test for you. So, if you think you need a test, you can get more details when you talk to your provider too.
Testing for COVID-19 plays an important part in identifying people in need of care and controlling the spread of the virus. UnitedHealthcare strongly supports the need for reliable testing and encourages health care providers to use reliable FDA-authorized tests. Learn more about benefits coverage information for COVID-19 testing.
|Diagnostic testing (virus / antigen)||Antibody testing|
|What is it?
Determines if you are currently infected with COVID-19.
|What is it?
Detects antibodies in the blood, which may indicate a past COVID-19 infection.
|What does it tell you?
The diagnostic test does NOT indicate if you previously had COVID-19.
|What does it tell you?
Per CDC guidelines, antibody tests should NOT be used to diagnose a current infection. Antibodies can take about two weeks to develop. The presence of antibodies does not signal immunity. It is not currently known what level of antibodies, if at all, provides immunity to COVID-19 and how long the antibodies last.
|How does it work?
Nasal swab is the preferred testing method (collected by your physician or yourself). Your physician may also use other methods such as a throat swab. Test delivers high accuracy rate if sample is taken and handled correctly.
|How does it work?
All antibody tests require a blood sample. As new antibody tests continue to become available, it’s important to know that not all versions are FDA-authorized, nor are they providing reliable results.
|Should you get tested?
Talk to your health care provider to determine if you need to be tested. If your provider orders a COVID-19 diagnostic test for you, use our testing locator to find a location near you.
|Should you get tested?
Talk to your health care provider to determine if you need to be tested.
There are a few different kinds of diagnostic tests available to help diagnose COVID-19. These use different techniques to detect the virus, such as antigen and CRISPR tests. While using different techniques, these FDA-authorized tests can help determine if you currently have COVID-19. You can learn more about diagnostic tests on the CDC website.
Your physician can help you determine if you need an antibody test. Antibody tests can only determine if a person might have been infected with COVID-19 in the past. At this time, it is not known what level of antibodies, if at all, provides immunity to COVID-19.
Until there is better understanding about antibodies, the results should not be used to diagnose a current COVID-19 infection. Also, until clinical evidence is available, there are no recommendations at this time on how this test can be used. It should not be used to make employment decisions or decisions regarding the need for personal protective equipment.
Ask your physician or health care professional to use an FDA-authorized test. Tests must be FDA-authorized to be covered without cost-sharing. FDA-authorized tests include tests approved for patient use through pre-market approval or emergency use pathways, as well as tests that are developed and administered in accordance with FDA specifications or through state regulatory approval.
Visiting the doctor and getting care
If you’re on the fence about scheduling annual checkups, here are a few things to consider. While COVID-19 might be top of mind, your overall health is the bigger picture to think about.
It's important to get care when you think you may need it
When health needs are caught earlier, they may be more treatable. So definitely, check in with your health care provider if you have a concern.
Remember, your yearly checkup (or preventive care) helps keep your health on track
Skipping annual wellness visit may create problems, like missed immunizations or screenings. These are important because they may help protect you against other illnesses or possibly detect health problems earlier. So be sure to keep annual checkups on your to-do list.
Check in with your providers about yearly visits
Ask how to handle these visits during COVID-19 and to learn what’s most necessary for you and your family:
- Annual wellness visit (yearly checkup)
- Dental care
- Vision care and screenings
Not sure about going into the provider’s office?
Many providers may be able to offer telehealth visits from your own home. Simply call and ask what might be possible.
So, should you go to the doctor? There are a number of reasons why it may be right to get preventive care now. But check with your doctor or provider to get answers for your specific health care needs.
The information provided is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or to replace instructions from your health care provider.
If you think you may have COVID-19, use our online symptom checker to help assess your risk for COVID-19 and get treatment options.
If you feel like the term “telehealth” is everywhere lately, you’re spot on. It’s a way to talk with a doctor or provider, right in your own home. You’re probably hearing the term a lot because telehealth use has expanded with the pandemic. It’s become a more convenient way to help people connect with a provider from home — anytime, day or night.
With telehealth, you use digital technologies, like your smartphone or computer, to talk with a provider. You can get treatment options and even prescriptions for medications, if needed.
If you think you might have been exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing, be sure to call your doctor right away. Ask your provider if you can have a telehealth visit to help assess your symptoms.
If you have urgent care needs, you can also use telehealth services, like Virtual Visits, to get treatment and even many common prescriptions, if you need them. Urgent care visits are available through our preferred telehealth partners, including Teladoc, American Well, Doctor on Demand and other partners. Consider an urgent care telehealth visit for these common health conditions and more:
You may find telehealth is a helpful and convenient way to get care, anytime, anywhere.
Protecting yourself and others
Let’s take a look at the reasons for wearing a mask.There are so many questions about it. We looked to the experts to help us understand the why’s of wearing one.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of face masks to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, which primarily travels from person to person through respiratory droplets — which are basically any little drops that might come out of your mouth, like when you sneeze, cough, talk or even raise your voice. (Remember the saying “say it, don’t spray it”? That’s what those “respiratory droplets” are all about.) So, the masks help prevent that transmission.
Is that all? Not really. Here are a few more reasons why wearing a mask may help protect you when you’re in public spaces.
- Recent studies show that there’s a large number of people with COVID-19 that don’t show symptoms. That’s also called “asymptomatic.”
- Even people who develop symptoms later (also called “pre-symptomatic”) may transmit the virus to others before they show symptoms
- Wearing a mask may help prevent people from spreading the virus if they have it and don’t know they have it
By wearing a mask, you’re helping:
- Prevent the spread of the virus – just in case you have it and don’t know it
- Protect yourself from getting the virus – in case someone you’re around might have it and not know it
So, in short, wearing a mask is a simple and easy way we can all help protect each other. If you want a deeper dive into the why’s of mask-wearing, visit the CDC's mask resources.
When it's hot out, this is definitely an important topic. Are there ways to be comfortable in a mask on hot days? Thankfully, there are. Here are a few simple tips from Dr. Robert Kantor, UnitedHealthcare chief medical officer of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, to help make mask-wearing more comfortable in warmer weather.
- Use breathable material. Choose materials like cotton, silk or mixed polyester
- Make sure your mask fits. Your mask should fit pretty snug, but it shouldn’t be too tight
- Keep masks clean. Wash your mask after every use, especially if it becomes wet from sweating
- Don’t forget your skin. Consider skipping makeup under the mask and rinse your face after removing it
- Understand who should not wear a mask2
- Those who have difficulties breathing should not wear a face mask
- Children younger than 2 should not wear a mask, as it may be a choking hazard
Remember too — face masks are recommended along with frequent hand washing and social distancing measures.3 Learn more about how to help protect yourself and others.
We’re committed to keeping you up to date on COVID-19. We’re taking note of your questions and working hard to provide answers. Let us know how we’re doing.
We’re making regular updates to the site. Please check back often for the latest information.
- Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2020-2021 Season | cdc.gov
- How to Select, Wear, and Clean Your Mask | cdc.gov
- How to Protect Yourself & Others | cdc.gov
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