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

COVID-19 is still spreading in communities across Virginia. VDH advises all Virginians to stay home as much as possible, especially if you are at higher risk of serious illness. Keep at least 6 feet apart from others. Wear a mask when you are in public spaces, especially where keeping 6 feet apart is difficult, such as in stores. Wash your hands often, stay home if you are sick, and disinfect high-touch surfaces frequently. These all are very important ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Check out VDH's Prevention Tips to learn more.

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 the person who is infected. This type of spread is uncommon but occurs more often in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. 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.

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

  • 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
  • Providing care for a person who has COVID-19, or
  • Living with a person who has COVID-19.

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.

If you had close contact with a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, self-quarantine (stay home) and monitor your health for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days after your last contact. 

  • 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.
  • Respond to notifications. If you use the COVIDWISE app and receive an exposure notification, stay home and monitor your health for 14 days after the potential exposure.
  • 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 to your healthcare provider and wear a mask when you leave home. If you test negative during your quarantine period, you will still need to complete your full 14-day quarantine before it is safe to go back to work or be around others.
  • Stay home and away from others (“self-quarantine”). Avoid contact with others to avoid spreading COVID-19 to others. Do not go to work* or school. Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares. Your local health department can assist you with making sure that your basic needs (for example, food and medication) are being met. More information, including scenarios on when to end quarantine, is available here.
  • Monitor your health. 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.
  • How long do I need to stay home? It may take up to 14 days after an exposure for you to develop COVID-19. Self-quarantine and monitor your health for 14 days from when you last had contact with the infected person. View the VDH When to End Home Isolation and Quarantine Infographic for more information.

 

If you live with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, self-quarantine (stay home) and monitor your health.

  • Answer the call. Your local health department will contact you with instructions for what you should do when you are identified as a close contact during contact tracing.
  • Respond to notifications. If you use the COVIDWISE app and receive an exposure notification, stay home and monitor your health for 14 days after the potential exposure.
  • 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 to your healthcare provider and wear a mask when you leave home. If you test negative during your quarantine period, you will still need to complete your full quarantine before it is safe to go back to work or be around others.
  • Stay home and away from others (“self-quarantine”). Avoid contact with others to avoid spreading COVID-19 to others. To the extent possible, stay separate from sick members in the household. Avoid sharing the same space within the home, including being in the same room or using the same bedroom or bathroom. Do not go to work* or school. Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares, if possible. Your local health department can assist you with making sure that your basic needs (for example, food and medication) are being met. More information about caring for someone sick at home is available here. More information about self-quarantine, including scenarios on when to end quarantine, is available here.
  • Monitor your health. 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.
  • Clean and disinfect the household. Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in common household areas (such as tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, phones, tablets, touch screens, remote controls, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets, sinks). See CDC’s Cleaning and Disinfection for Households for additional information.
  • How long do I need to stay home? It may take up to 14 days from exposure for you to develop COVID-19. Self-quarantine and monitor your health for 14 days from:

If you test negative during your quarantine period, you will still need to complete your full 14-day quarantine before it is safe to go back to work* or be around others. 

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.

*People with certain jobs (e.g., critical infrastructure workers other than education sector workers) may be allowed to go to work after being exposed to COVID-19 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 start to feel sick, isolate yourself at home. If you test positive for COVID-19 on a viral test (nose, mouth, saliva, or throat test):

You have COVID-19 and need to stay home and separate yourself from others.The most common symptoms 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 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. Learn more about steps you can take to protect other people in your home and community if you are sick with COVID-19.

For more information:

Page Last Reviewed: November 12, 2020