Key clinical pearls on the management of patients suspected of or diagnosed with Covid-19 in the outpatient setting

Here are some key points to remember when managing patients with Covid-19 symptoms in the outpatient setting.  These points are primarily based on the CDC guidelines and the current literature. They may be particularly useful to primary care providers (PCP) who do not have ready access to Covid-19 test kits or radiographic imaging in the diagnosis of patients suspected of or diagnosed with Covid-19.

  • Isolation precautions. 1,6-7 Minimize chances of exposure by placing a facemask on the patient and placing them in an examination room with the door closed. Use standard and transmission-based precautions including contact and airborne protocols when caring for the patient. Put on an isolation gown and N95 filtering facepiece respirator or higher. Use a facemask if a respirator is not available. Put on face shield or goggles if available. Adhere to strict hand hygiene practices with the use of alcohol-based hand rub with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol before and after all patient contact. If there is no access to alcohol-based hand sanitizers, the CDC recommends hand washing with soap and water as the next best practice.


  • Risk Factors.2-3 Older patients and patients with severe underlying medical conditions seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from Covid-19 illness. Known risk factors for severe Covid-19 include age over 60 years, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and immunosuppression.


  • Symptoms.2,4,8,9 Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. These symptoms may appear after a 2- to 14-day incubation period.
    • Fever at any time 88-99%
    • Cough 59-79%
    • Dyspnea 19-55%
    • Fatigue 23-70%
    • Myalgias 15%-44%
    • Sputum production 23-34%
    • Nausea or vomiting 4%-10%
    • Diarrhea 3%-10%
    • Headache 6%-14%
    • Sore throat 14%
    • Rhinorrhea/nasal congestion (4.8%)
    • Anosmia (undocumented percentage)


  • Treatment for mild illness.5 Most patients have mild illness and are able to recover at home. Counsel patients suspected to have Covid-19 to begin a home quarantine staying in one room away from other people as much as possible. Patients should drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated and rest. Over the counter medicines may help with symptoms. There is controversy regarding the safety of NSAIDs in Covid-19 (See related P4P pearl). Generally, symptoms last a few days and  patients get better after a week. There is no official guidance from the CDC or other reliable sources on how often a PCP should check in with a patient confirmed with Covid-19 and in quarantine. Please use good judgement and utilize telehealth capabilities via phone call, video call, etc… if possible.


  • Treatment for severe illness.3 Patients should be transferred immediately to the nearest hospital. If there is no transfer service available, a family member with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) precautions, should drive patient to nearest hospital for critical care services.


  • Ending home isolation. 5
    • Without testing: Patients can stop isolation without access to a test result after 3 things have happened. 1) No fever for at least 72 hours. This is 3 full days of no fever and without the use of medication that reduces fever; 2) Respiratory symptoms have improved.; and 3) At least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
    • With testing. 5 Home isolation may be ended after all of the following 3 criteria have been met: 1) No fever for at least 72 hours. This is 3 full days of no fever and without the use of medication that reduces fever; 2) Respiratory symptoms have improved; and 3) Negative results from at least 2 consecutive nasopharyngeal swab specimens collected more than 24 hours apart.

To all the healthcare providers out there, please be safe and stay healthy!


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Contributed by Erica Barnett, Harvard Medical Student, Boston, MA.



  1. CDC. Evaluating and Testing Persons for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
  2. CDC. Symptoms and Testing.
  3. World Health Organization. Operational Considerations for case management for COVID-19 in health facility and community.
  4. Partners in Health. Resource Guide 1: Testing, Tracing, community management.
  5. CDC. Caring for someone at home.
  6. CDC. Using PPE.
  7. CDC. Hand Washing.
  8. Harvard Health Publishing. COVID-19 Basics.
  9. Guan W, Ni Z, Hu Y, et al. Clinical characteristics of Coronavirus disease 2019 in China. N Engl J Med 2020, March 6. DOI:10.1056/NEJM022002032


Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

Key clinical pearls on the management of patients suspected of or diagnosed with Covid-19 in the outpatient setting

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