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 at least 15 minutes 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.

No. If you are a close contact of a person with COVID-19, even if you have a negative test after your exposure, you should self-quarantine (stay home) and monitor for symptoms until 14 days after the date of last close contact with the person infected with COVID-19. It is possible that you were very early in your infection when your sample was collected and that you could test positive later. If you fill an essential critical infrastructure role (other than an education sector worker*) and the business is unable to operate without you, you may be able to return to work sooner as long as you do not have symptoms, wear a face mask at all times for 14 days after your last exposure, maintain 6 feet of physical distance from all persons outside of your household, and if your employer checks your temperature, conducts regular monitoring and ensures your work space is routinely cleaned and disinfected.

*Education sector workers should follow the standard public health quarantine guidance outlined here.

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.

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 15 minutes or more, 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.

VDH recommends that you self quarantine (stay home) for 14 days after the last time you saw that person and practice social distancing. Social 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.

Get tested. 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.

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

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. Getting tested for COVID-19 can help to identify infections quickly, but a negative test result before the end of the 14-day quarantine period does not rule out possible infection. By self-quarantining for 14 days, you lower the chance of possibly exposing others to COVID-19.

Page last reviewed: October 13, 2020