Exposure to COVID-19

A case is an identified COVID-19 infection that has been confirmed with a positive laboratory result. If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you must isolate, which means separate yourself from people who are not sick to avoid spreading illness. For details see FAQ Section Isolation / Quarantine / Movement Restrictions / Public Health Monitoring.

Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period or having exposure to the person’s respiratory secretions (for example, coughed or sneezed on; shared a drinking glass or utensils; kissing) while they were contagious. A person with COVID-19 is considered to be contagious starting from 2 days before they became sick, or 2 days before they tested positive if they never had symptoms. Contacts of COVID-19 must quarantine, which means stay at home to limit community exposure to illness and to see if symptoms develop. For details see FAQ Section Isolation / Quarantine / Movement Restrictions / Public Health Monitoring.

COVID-19 spreads through close contact with an infected person. This can be either by being within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period or having exposure to the person’s respiratory secretions (for example, coughed or sneezed on; shared a drinking glass or utensils; kissing) while they were contagious. Your local health department will reach out to you with more recommendations if you are identified as a close contact during contact tracing. Using COVIDWISE can help keep track of exposure. COVIDWISE is an early notification tool that individuals can use to notify contacts, or be notified themselves of an exposure. 

VDH recommends that you self quarantine (stay home) for 14 days after the last time you saw that person and practice physical distancing. Physical distancing means keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from others. Do not go to work or school during this time period. Avoid all public spaces, public activities, and group gatherings and do not take public transportation such as buses, trains taxis, or ride-shares during this time. If necessary, your local health department can ensure that your basic needs (for example, food and medication) are being met.

  • Monitor your health closely during this 14-day time period. When monitoring your health, be aware of the most common signs of COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath). Other signs of COVID-19 include chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and a new loss of taste or smell. If you develop signs of illness, take appropriate actions. If you have only mild illness, it is important to stay home and rest to prevent spreading infection to others. Not everyone with COVID-19 will have all symptoms and fever might not be present. If you do have symptoms and want to get tested for COVID-19, please reach out to your healthcare provider. Your provider may collect samples to test you or help you to find sampling sites in your area. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 and let them know that you have had exposure to a person with COVID-19.
  • Answer the call.  Your local health department will reach out to you with more recommendations if you are identified as a close contact during contact tracing. However, if a health department is seeing a large number  of COVID-19 cases, they may not have the resources to do timely contact tracing and case investigation for all reported cases of COVID-19 and will need to prioritize certain contact tracing and case investigation efforts. If you know you were a close contact to someone with COVID-19 while they were contagious, stay home and monitor your health, even if the health department does not call you.
  • Respond to notifications. If you use the COVIDWISE app and receive an exposure notification, stay home and monitor your health after the potential exposure. 
  • Get tested. VDH recommends testing on or after day 5 from exposure. Contact your healthcare provider to ask about getting tested because of your exposure. There are many test sampling sites available throughout the state to get yourself tested. Call ahead and wear a mask when you leave home. 
  • How long do I need to stay home (quarantine)? It can take up to 14 days after an exposure for you to develop COVID-19. It is safest to stay home for 14 days. If you are not able to stay home for 14 days after your last exposure and you do not have symptoms, you have 2 options*:
    • Counting your date of last exposure as Day 0, you may leave home after Day 10; or
    • If PCR or antigen testing is available, you can get tested. You may leave home after Day 7 if the PCR or antigen test performed on or after Day 5 is negative. If you receive a negative test result before Day 7, you should not leave home yet. 

Even if you do not stay home for the recommended 14 days, it is very important to continue monitoring for symptoms and follow all recommendations (e.g., wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet away from others, wash hands frequently, and avoid crowds) for the full 14 days after the last exposure. 

*These options to leave home (end quarantine) earlier than 14 days after exposure do not currently apply to healthcare workers or people in healthcare settings. People with certain jobs (e.g., critical infrastructure workers other than education sector workers) should stay home (quarantine) if they have been exposed, but they may be allowed to go to work if the business cannot operate without them. They can only go to work if they do not have any symptoms and if additional precautions are taken to protect them and the community. Learn more about VDH's recommendations for potential exposures for critical infrastructure workers.

If you have had close contact with a person with COVID-19, VDH recommends that you get tested for COVID-19 on or after day 5 since your last exposure. The day of the exposure is considered day 0.  

It can take up to 14 days after an exposure for you to develop COVID-19. This is why VDH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise people to stay home (quarantine) for 14 days after their last contact. It is safest to stay home for 14 days. If you are not able to stay home for 14 days after your last exposure and you do not have symptoms, you have 2 options*:

  • Counting your date of last exposure as Day 0, you may leave home after Day 10; or
  • If PCR or antigen testing is available, you can get tested. You may leave home after Day 7 if the PCR or antigen test performed on or after Day 5 is negative. If you receive a negative test result before Day 7, you should not leave home yet. 

Even if you do not stay home for the recommended 14 days, it is very important to continue monitoring for symptoms and follow all recommendations (e.g., wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet away from others, wash hands frequently, and avoid crowds) for the full 14 days after the last exposure.

It can take up to 14 days after an exposure for you to develop COVID-19. This is why VDH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise people to stay home (quarantine) for 14 days after their last contact. It is safest to stay home for 14 days. If you are not able to stay home for 14 days after your last exposure and you do not have symptoms, you have 2 options*:

  • Counting your date of last exposure as Day 0, you may leave home after Day 10; or
  • If PCR or antigen testing is available, you can get tested. You may leave home after Day 7 if the PCR or antigen test performed on or after Day 5 is negative. If you receive a negative test result before Day 7, you should not leave home yet

*These options to leave home (end quarantine) earlier than 14 days after exposure do not currently apply to healthcare workers or people in healthcare settings. People with certain jobs (e.g., critical infrastructure workers other than education sector workers) should stay home (quarantine) if they have been exposed, but they may be allowed to go to work if the business cannot operate without them. They can only go to work if they do not have any symptoms and if additional precautions are taken to protect them and the community. Learn more about VDH's recommendations for potential exposures for critical infrastructure workers.

If you had or continue to have close contact with a contact you must take preventative actions, by washing your hands with soap and water, covering your coughs and sneezes, and cleaning surfaces frequently. You must be alert for symptoms of COVID-19.

If you had or continue to have close contact with a contact you must take preventative actions, by washing your hands with soap and water, covering your coughs and sneezes, and cleaning surfaces frequently. You must be alert for symptoms of COVID-19.

VDH does not recommend testing for contacts of a contact. Quarantine is also not recommended. 

For example, person A has been in close contact with person B. Person B has been in close contact with person C, who has tested positive for COVID-19. Person B should quarantine for 14 days and contact a healthcare provider for a clinical evaluation and testing. Person A does not need testing or quarantine, unless they develop symptoms concerning for COVID-19. If Person B were to test positive for COVID-19, and Person A had close contact with Person B within 48 hours before diagnosis or 10 days after diagnosis, Person A would now become a contact of a case. 

A person with COVID-19 is considered to be contagious starting from 2 days before they became sick, or 2 days before they tested positive if they never had symptoms. Available data indicate that persons with mild to moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptom onset. To continue safe contact with others, they should also be fever free for 24 hours with improvement of symptoms. 

To be considered exposed to COVID-19, you have to have had close contact with someone with COVID-19. Close contact includes:

  • Living with a person who has COVID-19
  • Providing care for a person who has COVID-19
  • Being within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, or
  • Having exposure to respiratory secretions from a person with COVID-19 (e.g., being coughed or sneezed on, sharing a drinking glass or utensils, kissing)

A person with COVID-19 is considered to be contagious starting from 2 days before they became sick (or 2 days before they tested positive if they never had symptoms)until they meet the criteria to discontinue isolation.

Being indoors, such as a classroom or hospital waiting room, with a sick person with COVID-19 and remaining more than 6 feet away, does not put you at a higher risk of getting sick. Additionally, briefly walking by or being briefly in the same room as a sick person with COVID-19 does not put you at a higher risk of getting sick. However, there is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away. Airborne transmissions occur within enclosed spaces that have inadequate ventilation.

Even if you don’t have symptoms, it is important to stay at home for 14 days since your last exposure. It can take up to 14 days after exposure to the virus for a person to develop COVID-19 symptoms. By self-quarantining for 14 days, you lower the chance of possibly exposing others to COVID-19.

 If you are not able to stay home for 14 days after your last exposure and you do not have symptoms, you have 2 options*:

  • Counting your date of last exposure as Day 0, you may leave home after Day 10; or
  • If PCR or antigen testing is available, you can get tested. You may leave home after Day 7 if the PCR or antigen test performed on or after Day 5 is negative. If you receive a negative test result before Day 7, you should not leave home yet

*These options to leave home (end quarantine) earlier than 14 days after exposure do not currently apply to healthcare workers or people in healthcare settings. People with certain jobs (e.g., critical infrastructure workers other than education sector workers) should stay home (quarantine) if they have been exposed, but they may be allowed to go to work if the business cannot operate without them. They can only go to work if they do not have any symptoms and if additional precautions are taken to protect them and the community. Learn more about VDH's recommendations for potential exposures for critical infrastructure workers.

If you have traveled to an area where COVID-19 is spreading in the community or if you have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19, you should take your temperature twice daily and remain alert for signs of illness, including fever, cough, chills, muscle or body aches, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. It is important to not eat, drink, or exercise for at least 30 minutes before taking your temperature.

It is very important that people with even mild signs of illness (fever, cough, chills, shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat) stay home to prevent spreading illness to others! 

For more information on what you should do if you have been exposed to COVID-19

VDH Exposure to COVID-19 Website

Page last updated: January 12, 2021