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COVID Symptoms Usually Appear in This Sequence

Catch them early and avoid infecting others.

As Halloween approaches, we're all looking forward to reclaiming some sort of normalcy this holiday season. COVID cases are declining steadily nationwide, and nearly 70 percent of American adults are fully vaccinated. At the same time, we're all spending more time indoors, that traditional vector of colds and flu, and it's important to be aware of COVID symptoms to catch them early and avoid infecting others. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.


The Most Common Early Symptoms

Woman blowing her nose into tissue

Researchers at the COVID Symptom Study have been tracking the symptoms of new COVID cases, and they report they've changed somewhat since the early days of the pandemic. They say these are now the most commonly reported early symptoms, if you're vaccinated: 

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of smell

If you haven't been vaccinated, experts say your early symptoms are likely to be similar to earlier strains of COVID-19, including fever, a cough that may be severe, and body aches, along with runny nose, headache and sore throat.


Common Cold-Like Symptoms Now Frequently Seen

Woman smelling flower.

"At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the main distinguishing symptoms of COVID-19 were thought to be fever, cough and loss of smell (anosmia), often known as the 'classic three or triad'," the COVID Symptom Study scientists say. "Many of the symptoms of COVID-19 are now the same as a regular cold, especially for people who have received two doses of the vaccine, making it hard to tell the difference."

How to tell them apart? It can be tricky. The researchers say loss of smell is still a telltale COVID sign. But if you develop cold or flu symptoms, experts recommend getting tested to rule COVID out, and self-isolating until you get a negative result.

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Additional Common COVID Symptoms

According to the CDC, other common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • 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

If you experience any of the symptoms, get tested for COVID-19 ASAP, even if you've been fully vaccinated.

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The Dangers of Delta—And a Solution

Infected patient in quarantine lying in bed in hospital

Experts say the Delta COVID variant

  • is much more transmissible than previous strains of the virus
  • causes more severe disease
  • tends to make people sicker, quicker
  • is twice as likely to cause hospitalization

Getting vaccinated majorly reduces your chance of getting severely ill, being hospitalized, or dying of COVID-19. Breakthrough infections happen but are generally mild. And they're pretty rare: The risk is about 1 in 5,000 per day, and perhaps even lower if you take additional precautions or live in a highly vaccinated area, the New York Times reported recently: "The risks of getting any version of the virus remain small for the vaccinated, and the risks of getting badly sick remain minuscule." 

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Woman with face mask getting vaccinated, coronavirus, covid-19 and vaccination concept.

Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael