Tracking COVID-19: Know the Symptoms and How to Get Care


Covid 19 NAL

Update: There's new information available on how TRICARE covers COVID-19 tests. Visit Coronavirus Testing Coverage to learn more.

Take action and stay informed about the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Simple measures can protect you and your community. It’s also important to identify the symptoms of COVID-19 and know when to seek help.

“Like with any disease, taking preventive measures and watching for early symptoms are key,” said Dr. John Kugler, director of the Clinical Support Division at the Defense Health Agency (DHA). “You play an important role in helping to keep yourself and your family healthy.”

How does COVID-19 spread?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 spreads person-to-person, generally between people within 6 feet from one another. It also spreads through respiratory droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person. These droplets can reach the noses, mouths, or lungs of nearby people. It’s possible that the virus can spread from contact with infected surfaces, but this isn’t the main way the virus spreads.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

This list does not include all possible symptoms.

When is the disease most contagious?

People with COVID-19 are the most contagious when they’re very sick. Some spread may be possible before people show symptoms. That’s why you should stay home if you believe you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

What should I do if I feel sick or think I was exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and have been in close contact with a person sick with COVID-19 or traveled to areas where infection is ongoing, don’t make an appointment or walk into your local military hospital or clinic. Instead, stay at home and speak with a Military Health System (MHS) registered nurse, who will assess your symptoms. The nurse can screen you for potential or suspected exposure or infection. If needed, they can coordinate a virtual telephone visit with a health care provider.

You can reach a registered nurse in these ways:

  • Call the MHS Nurse Advice Line at 1-800-874-2273, option 1 (in the U.S.) or visit
  • Call your military hospital or clinic primary care team, or your civilian provider.
  • Call your military hospital or clinic appointment line, or your civilian provider appointment line.
  • Send a secure message through TRICARE Online or MHS GENESIS Patient Portal to your military hospital or clinic primary care team.

What will happen after I speak to a registered nurse?

If the nurse determines your symptoms may be due to COVID-19 or a communicable illness requiring treatment, the nurse will arrange a virtual visit between you and a health care provider. The provider will discuss your potential exposure to COVID-19, your symptoms, and a treatment plan with you. Depending on your symptoms, the provider may recommend self-care advice for you to use at home. The provider may direct you to call your military hospital or clinic or civilian provider to be seen.

Why do I need to have a virtual visit with a provider first?

You should have a virtual visit with a provider first to discuss your potential exposure and symptoms. This will help protect you, other patients, and medical staff from unnecessary exposure to COVID-19.

What are some emergency warning signs for COVID-19?

In adults, emergency warning signs for COVID-19 include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

If you reasonably think that you have an emergency, go to the nearest emergency roomThe hospital department that provides emergency services to patients who need immediate medical attention. or call 911 immediately. Let the emergency room or 911 dispatcher know if you believe you have COVID-19. This will help them take care of you, limit their own exposure, and protect other patients.

Should everyone get tested for COVID-19?

No. Only patients who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested. Your health care provider will determine if you need to be tested.

The Department of Defense and DHA are closely monitoring all COVID-19 developments. You can bookmark the TRICARE coronavirus page for updates about COVID-19. Read how to protect your household and common coronavirus questions and answers. As always, take command of your health.

This article was updated to include the COVID-19 symptoms released by the CDC on June 30, 2020.

At the time of posting, this information is current. Visit or TRICARE COVID Guidance for the most current COVID-19 information.

Last Updated 6/8/2022