How people can be exposed to COVID-19
COVID-19 is spread in three main ways.
Breathing in air that has small droplets and particles containing the virus. This type of spread is more likely to happen if you have close contact with an infected person. It can also happen when you are not in close contact with someone, especially if you are in enclosed indoor spaces with poor airflow and when you are exposed for a longer period.
Having small droplets and particles containing the virus land in the eyes, nose, or mouth, especially through splashes and sprays like a cough or sneeze.
Touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them. It is uncommon for COVID-19 to spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. This means that you are unlikely to get COVID-19 by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching a contaminated item.
COVID-19 is spread mainly from person to person who are in close contact.
COVID-19 is spread mainly from person to person. Spread occurs more commonly between people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with one another through respiratory droplets and particles that come from the mouth or nose when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, or speaks.
COVID-19 can be spread by people who are not showing symptoms or before their symptoms begin.
COVID-19 can be spread by people who are not showing symptoms or before their symptoms begin. Limit your exposure and stay safe when you go out by following these prevention tips . This is especially important if you are not yet up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines [Español] or if you have a weakened immune system.
You can get COVID-19 more than once.
Exposure to new variants can increase the risk of reinfection. A high number of reinfection cases have been observed with the Omicron variant.
COVID-19 can spread from people to animals in some situations, but this is uncommon.
COVID-19 can spread from people to animals, but this is uncommon. Pet cats and dogs can also sometimes become infected after close contact with people with COVID-19.
Close contact with someone with COVID-19
You are more likely to get COVID-19 if you are in close contact with a person who has COVID-19 while they are contagious or still able to spread illness to others.
People with COVID-19 can pass the COVID-19 virus to their close contacts starting from 2 days before they become sick (or 2 days before they test positive if they never had symptoms).
Current evidence shows that most COVID-19 transmission occurs closer to when symptoms start, generally in the 1–2 days before and the 2–3 days after symptoms begin. However, spread is still possible for up to 10 days after infection.
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.
K-12 exception for close contact
Exception: In indoor and outdoor K-12 settings, a student who was within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student is not considered a close contact as long as both students wore well-fitting masks [Español ]the entire time. This exception may also be applied to school buses when the following criteria are met:
- Documented seating charts and
- Assurance that masks are worn and students remain in assigned seats, either via video monitoring if available, or attestation from the bus driver or monitor.
The K-12 exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults. This means that the standard close contact definition is applied when assessing exposure in a K-12 setting that involves a student with an infected adult or an exposed adult. VDH will continue to monitor the science regarding the effectiveness of this close contact definition and the associated K-12 exception, and will update guidance as necessary.
Steps to take if you had close contact with someone with COVID-19
Follow the table to see the steps on how to stay home (“quarantine”) and mask up if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19. Count the day of your last exposure as Day 0. This guidance is for members of the general public and may be applied to K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and workplaces. It does not apply to healthcare facilities or high-risk congregate settings. In the absence of setting-specific guidance from CDC, at this time, VDH recommends not applying this guidance to children or staff in child care settings as a best practice; these settings can consider applying it to staff if there are critical staffing shortages. This information is also available in VDH’s When to End Isolation or Quarantine infographic.
If a person who should quarantine, cannot feasibly quarantine, VDH will not enforce the quarantine recommendation. VDH recommends quarantine because it is the safest option. If a school chooses to make the recommendation that quarantine is not feasible, VDH would not take action. Strict mask use for all those exposed should be maintained.
*Get tested on Day 5 or soon after, if possible. Those who are recommended to quarantine and cannot get tested 5 days after their last exposure may leave quarantine on Day 5 as long as they have had no symptoms. They should continue to wear a well-fitting mask when around others for 10 days after their last exposure.
Guidance for people with ongoing exposure (e.g., household close contact)
During isolation, the person with COVID-19 should separate from all household members as much as possible and follow other recommendations for those who are sick. This can potentially help limit the number of household contacts in the home.
- Household contacts should quarantine for 5 days following the last exposure (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) to the person with COVID-19 during their 5-day isolation period.
- Contacts should wear a mask when around others during the 5-day quarantine and for an additional 5 days after quarantine ends.
- Some people do not need to quarantine after close contact exposure, but should still take other precautions; see the table above.
Guidance for high-risk congregate settings
In certain congregate settings that have an increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 (e.g., correctional and detention facilities, homeless shelters, cruise ships) all residents should quarantine for a full 10 days after exposure, regardless of vaccination or booster status. Refer to setting-specific guidance [Español ] for more information.
Stay home and away from others (“quarantine”) unless you are not required to.
Avoid contact with others to avoid spreading COVID-19.
- Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares.
- If you live with someone with COVID-19, stay separated 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.
- If possible, stay away from people with weakened immune systems and people at higher risk for severe COVID-19 for 10 days after exposure.
- Do not travel during your 5-day quarantine. Avoid travel until 10 days after exposure.
- Do not go to places where you are unable to wear a mask, such as restaurants and gyms, and avoid eating around others at home and at work until 10 days after your last close contact with someone with COVID-19.
- Your local health department can help you make sure that your basic needs (for example, food and medication) are being met.
Monitor your health for 10 days after your last contact.
Use Sara Alert
Your local health department may ask you to check in with Sara Alert™. You’ll get a message from Sara Alert™ each day and answer a few questions about how you’re feeling. If you’re having COVID-19 symptoms, the health department will follow up with you. By checking in with Sara Alert™, you can let the health department know how you’re feeling and help to slow the spread of COVID-19 in your community.
If you start to feel sick:
If you start to feel sick or test positive for COVID-19, visit VDH’s If you are sick or Infected page to learn what steps to take.
Talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options
Currently, FDA has authorized two specific monoclonal antibody therapies for people who were exposed to someone with COVID-19 and meet additional criteria. Your healthcare provider can help determine if one of these medications is appropriate for you.
VDH’s COVID-19 Treatment Locator provides information about where people can receive monoclonal antibodies. Please note that a prescription from a healthcare provider is required for monoclonal antibodies. Many administration sites listed on the locator require a physician referral and an appointment.
Participate in contact tracing
Answer the call.
If you know you were a close contact to someone with COVID-19, follow quarantine recommendations and monitor your health, even if the health department does not call you.
Do I need to quarantine if I’m a contact of a contact?
No. People who have had close contact with a person who was a close contact to someone with COVID-19 (“contact of a contact”) do not need to quarantine. If your contact tests positive for COVID-19, then you may need to stay home (quarantine).
Guidance for healthcare settings
Patients, residents, and visitors to healthcare settings
At this time, patients, residents, and visitors to healthcare settings should continue to follow guidance from Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Healthcare Personnel During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic . Quarantine guidance for the general public does not apply.
Work Restrictions for asymptomatic HCP with higher-risk exposures
Healthcare personnel (HCP) are considered boosted if they have received all COVID-19 vaccine doses, including a booster dose, as recommended by CDC. HCP are considered vaccinated or unvaccinated if they have not received all COVID-19 vaccine doses, including a booster dose, as recommended by CDC.
Day 0 is the date of last higher-risk exposure.
* Higher Risk Exposures generally involve exposure of HCP’s eyes, nose, or mouth to material potentially containing SARS-CoV-2, particularly if these HCP were present in the room for an aerosol-generating procedure.
† Negative test within 48 hours before returning to work.
Asymptomatic HCP with lower-risk exposures , whether boosted, vaccinated, or unvaccinated, do not have work restrictions or testing recommendations.
More information for HCP
For more details, including recommendations for healthcare personnel who are immunocompromised, refer to Interim Guidance for Managing Healthcare Personnel with SARS-CoV-2 (conventional standards) and Strategies to Mitigate Healthcare Personnel Staffing Shortages (contingency and crisis standards).
For more information:
- Visit VDH’s COVID-19 website
- Visit VDH’s COVID-19 Vaccine website
- Find a free COVID-19 vaccine at vaccinate.virginia.gov [Español] or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682)
- Read VDH’s When to End Isolation or Quarantine infographic
- Read VDH’s general FAQs on Exposure to COVID-19
- Check out COVIDWISE [Español], VDH’s exposure notification app
- Learn tips for Taking Care of Sick People with COVID-19 Illness at Home (PDF) (1 pp, 798KB)
- Read VDH Notify Your Contacts (PDF) (2 pp, 2MB) resource
- Call VDH’s COVID-19 hotline at 877-ASK-VDH3 (877-275-8343)
Page Last Updated: January 14, 2022
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