I survived COVID-19 in Poland. Here’s what to do if you think you might have it

(illustration: PaliGraficas)

Polish cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) are once again on the rise as we ascend another curve on 2020’s wild, endless-feeling roller coaster of hell.

Having contracted and recovered from COVID myself earlier this month, I experienced firsthand what the disease is like and how to deal with it in the Polish healthcare system/quarantine scheme. If you live in Poland, here’s what you need to know.

(Note: This article was updated in early October 2020. We will try to update it as the situation evolves, but some of it may become outdated. Always follow the recommendations of your doctor and local health officials.)

Know the symptoms of COVID

Frequency of COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptoms according to the World Health Organization
Frequency of COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptoms according to the World Health Organization

Scientists are still learning about COVID-19, and it’s possible that the virus is mutating. Different people may experience different symptoms.

Usually, COVID is more like a flu than a cold – sneezing and a runny nose are not common symptoms. Most common are fever, dry cough, and fatigue. A smaller number of people experience muscle pain, headache, sore throat, coughing up phlegm, shortness of breath, chills, nausea, or diarrhea. Contrary to popular belief, most people do not lose their sense of smell, or some lose it later rather than earlier, so this is not a reliable indicator.

Here was my personal experience – which, again, may be different for you, especially if you are older or have other medical complications:

I had a light cough for a few days which I thought might be due to the weather. Then, one evening, I suddenly became very tired and dizzy with pain in my back and head. I was freezing and then woke up sweating, feverish. These symptoms lasted for a few days, and only after a half-week of illness did I finally lose my sense of smell. Another symptom which only began after a few days was tightness in my chest – as if my lungs were smaller and breathing took more effort.

After about a week of sleeping a lot I started to gradually feel a bit better, although during the recovery phase I lost my voice for a few days. I felt mostly better after about a week and a half, and after two and a half weeks I feel back to normal.

Getting tested

A nasal swab is performed to test for COVID-19 DNA

If you experience symptoms of COVID, get tested. Even if you don’t feel too bad, it’s important to get tested so you can know what to expect, protect yourself and the people around you, and provide the Polish healthcare system with accurate information.

People who have symptoms and who have Polish/European health insurance can get a free test at many public hospitals. In Krakow, the best place is the Jagiellonian University Hospital in Prokocim. There is a special designated testing center which should be well-marked. The official website currently says the main testing point is open every day from 8-12:30, though they may test after that point if there is a queue. Avoid taking public transportation there, and remember to wear your face mask which completely covers both your mouth and nose (as you should all the time in public anyway).

At the testing center, you may have to stand in a line outside to maintain social distancing. When you are summoned into the back for testing, the doctor (who will likely speak English) will ask you some questions about your symptoms. Then they will do a test which involves sticking a long swab deep into your mouth and nostrils to collect potential COVID DNA. Finally, they’ll give you a paper with a link to a website where you can find your results, probably within 24-48 hours (depending on how busy the laboratory is).

If you don’t have symptoms and want to get tested anyway – for example, because you want to travel or have been exposed to an infected person – you can do it at the same location for 400 PLN, or privately (for example, at Dworska Hospital) for a similar price. Alternatively, your GP/family doctor might give you a referral (skierowanie) for the public hospital – you should call them and ask, avoiding going there in person if possible.

So, you’ve tested positive…

If your online results say something like “WYKRYTO materiał genetyczny SARS-CoV-2”, our condolences – you have coronavirus.

First, try not to panic. You are probably going to be okay.

Polish rules for COVID-positive people from the beginning of September require you to quarantine inside at home for 13 days from the onset of symptoms. Your quarantine is lifted after that, under the condition that the last three days are symptom-free. This is strictly enforced, with a steep fine for violations. It is likely that the police will come to your residence and ask you to prove that you’re home, for example by waving out the window.

Within a few days of your positive diagnosis, you should also get a call from Sanepid, the Polish agency overseeing the pandemic response. They will ask you (in English if you prefer) about who you had contact with and where you may have gotten the virus. If you have any more questions about what you need to do to comply with current regulations, ask them.

You will probably also have to download an app on your mobile device called ProteGO Safe. Developed by the Polish Ministry of Health (and now available in English!), it provides information on the illness/procedures to you and can alert nearby people via Bluetooth that they should be cautious. It is available for Android on the Google Play Store or for iOS. If you don’t install it, you may get a daily SMS badgering you to do so.

You should contact anyone with whom you have recently been physically close, such as your friends and employer, to alert them to your diagnosis as soon as possible.

If you need food, medicine, or other supplies, ask a friend or neighbor to leave them outside your door. Several large grocery chains in Poland as well as takeout restaurants offer contactless home delivery. Do not leave your home unless absolutely necessary, like for a medical emergency (see the next section on when and how).

After your quarantine, you are currently not required by law to get a second test. However, you may consider getting one anyway, and continue to use special caution when going out in public. Wear a mask, sanitize your hands frequently, and social distance.

When you feel better, you may be able to ask your family doctor for a sick leave form – known as L4 in the Polish healthcare system – to officially clock your time off with your employer and/or get a tax break for the time you were unable to work.

How to survive COVID

The Krakow Post is not a medical resource and I am not a doctor, so do not rely on this article for health recommendations. Follow the advice of your doctor.

Most people are healthy enough to survive coronavirus without serious suffering or long-term complications.

Fever and some other symptoms may be alleviated to some extent with acetaminophen, which in Poland is commonly branded as APAP or Panadol. Theraflu tea contains the same main ingredient and can help soothe your throat, while APAP Noc may help you sleep. Follow the instructions of the packaging and your doctor if you decide to medicate yourself.

You will probably not have to stay at the hospital for treatment unless you have serious problems breathing (or another severe symptom). If that happens, call the Polish emergency number, 112. They are required to have English-speaking operators, and if they decide that you require emergency treatment they will dispatch an ambulance to you as soon as possible. (Read our tips for staying in a Polish hospital.)

Hopefully you can avoid coronavirus by wearing a mask, washing your hands, and observing social distancing guidelines. Even if you do contract it, as many people have and will, if you treat it responsibly then there’s a good chance you will be fine after a couple of weeks and can protect other people too.

Do you have more advice? Did we get something wrong? Let us know in the comments.

One thought on “I survived COVID-19 in Poland. Here’s what to do if you think you might have it

  • October 4, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    Glad to know you’re OK


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