What to do if you were potentially exposed to coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

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How people can be exposed to COVID-19

COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person. Spread occurs between people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with one another through respiratory droplets that come from the mouth or nose when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, or speaks. 

Sometimes spread can occur through airborne transmission. This means an infected person releases small droplets and particles with the virus that could linger in the air for minutes to hours and might be able to infect people who are further than 6 feet away from them. This type of spread is uncommon but occurs more often in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation (air flow). 

Less commonly, COVID-19 can spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. COVID-19 can be spread by people who are not showing symptoms or before their symptoms begin. Everyone can limit their exposure by staying home as much as possible. If you decide to go out, follow these tips to stay safe.

Close contact with someone with COVID-19

You generally need to be in close contact with a person who has COVID-19 while they are contagious to get infected. 

  • Close contact means: 
    • Being within 6 feet of a person who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, or
    • Having direct exposure to respiratory secretions (e.g., being coughed or sneezed on, sharing a drinking glass or utensils, kissing), or
    • Caring for a person who has COVID-19, or
    • Living with a person who has COVID-19.
  • People with COVID-19 can pass the COVID-19 virus to their close contacts 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 stop isolation.
  • People who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 need to quarantine (stay home). 
    • If you have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and then you test positive for COVID-19, you still need to stay home.
    • There are some exceptions where people are not required to quarantine (noted below). 

Steps to take if you had close contact with someone with COVID-19

  • Stay home and away from others (“quarantine”). Avoid contact with others to avoid spreading COVID-19. 
    • Do not go to work or school. Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares. 
    • If you live with someone with COVID-19, stay separate from sick members in the household as much as possible. Avoid sharing the same space within the home, including being in the same room. Use a different bedroom or bathroom if that is possible.  
    • Your local health department can help you with making sure that your basic needs (for example, food and medication) are being met. 
  • Monitor your health for 14 days after your last contact. 
    • Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day (once in the morning, once at night) and watch for fever. Also, watch for other signs and symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell. 
    • You can download VDH’s Daily Symptom Monitoring Log to help keep track of your symptoms. The health department might also use an electronic symptom monitoring program for those who have been assessed as exposed to COVID-19.
  • Get tested. Contact your healthcare provider to ask about getting tested. There are many COVID-19 test sites in Virginia. 
    • If you develop symptoms, you should get tested immediately. 
    • If you do not have symptoms, it is best to wait at least 5 days after your exposure to get tested. If you get tested too soon, the test may not be able to detect the virus. 
    • Even if you do not have symptoms and your COVID-19 test is negative, you will still need to monitor your symptoms for the full 14 days and stay home for at least 7 days. It is safest to stay home for 14 days. 
    • If you have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 3 months and recovered, you do not have to get tested again (even after close contact with someone with COVID-19) as long as you do not develop new symptoms.
  • Answer the call. Your local health department might reach out to you with more recommendations if you are identified as a close contact during contact tracing
    • If a health department is seeing a large number of COVID-19 cases, they may not be able to do timely contact tracing and case investigation for all reported cases of COVID-19. They 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 could spread the virus, stay home and monitor your health, even if the health department does not call you.
  • Respond to notifications. If you receive an exposure notification from the COVIDWISE app, that means your device was in close contact with a device of someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
    • Stay home and away from others, especially those at a higher risk of severe illness, as much as possible. Get tested at least 5 days after your exposure and monitor your health.

How long to stay home (quarantine) after you have close contact with someone with COVID-19

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 live with someone with COVID-19, you should stay home (quarantine) for 14 days after the last sick member of your household was released from their isolation. If household members are able to be completely separate from the infected person, then they should stay home for 14 days after their last contact with the person. Complete separation means having no contact, spending no time together in shared spaces, staying in a separate bedroom, and using a separate bathroom. 

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 on or after Day 5. You may leave home after Day 7 if the PCR or antigen test performed on or after Day 5 is negative. 

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, avoid crowds, and wash hands often) for the full 14 days after the last exposure. See the VDH When to End Home Isolation and Quarantine Infographic for more information.

*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.

Who is not required to stay home (quarantine) after having close contact with someone with COVID-19 

  • People who have had COVID-19 in the past 3 months as long as they do not develop new symptoms.* 
  • People who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 within the past 3 months as long as they have no symptoms and they are not inpatients, residents of a healthcare setting, or residents of a correctional or detention facility.*
    • Fully vaccinated means 2 weeks or more have passed since getting the second dose of a two-dose vaccine, or 2 weeks or more have passed since getting one dose of a single-dose vaccine.
    • Healthcare settings include hospitals and long-term care facilities (e.g., nursing homes, assisted living facilities). 
  • People who have had close contact with a person who was a close contact to someone with COVID-19 (“contact of a contact”). If your contact tests positive for COVID-19, then you should stay home (quarantine). 

*It is very important that people who are not required to stay home (quarantine) monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days after their last exposure and continue following all recommendations (e.g., wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet away from others, avoid crowds, and wash hands often). 

Healthcare personnel who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 within the past 3 months and who have a higher risk exposure at work, or travel or community-associated exposure, should stay home from work until they meet criteria to return (end quarantine). Exceptions can be considered during staffing shortages. They are not required to stay home (quarantine) outside of work.

Fully vaccinated inpatients, residents of healthcare facilities, and residents of correctional or detention facilities should continue to follow quarantine recommendations after close contact with someone with COVID-19.

These recommendations are based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines and protection provided by previous infection at this time. CDC and other scientists continue to research the ability of COVID-19 vaccines to prevent transmission of the virus, but this process takes time. As we learn more, changes could be made to these recommendations. 

If you start to feel sick or test positive for COVID-19, isolate yourself at home.

  • Stay home except to get medical care. Separate yourself from other people.
  • The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Other common symptoms include chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell. Not everyone with COVID-19 will have all symptoms and fever might not be present. 
  • If you develop symptoms, VDH recommends that you get tested. Please reach out to your healthcare provider. Your provider may collect samples to test you or help you to find testing sites in your area
  • Learn more about steps you can take to protect other people in your home and community if you are sick with COVID-19.

 

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Page Last Updated: February 26, 2021