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

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

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.

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. Stay safe when you go out by following these prevention tips and knowing the COVID-19 Community Level in your area. 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.

COVID-19 Community Levels are a tool to help you decide what prevention steps to take.

In areas where the COVID-19 Community Level is

People with weakened immune systems or who are at increased risk for severe illness should talk to their healthcare provider about what extra precautions, like masks, they may need.

VDH encourages everyone to stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, and increasing ventilation in indoor spaces, regardless of community level. People may choose to mask at any time.

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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 12 days before and the 23 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)

People who are exposed to someone with COVID-19 after they completed at least 5 days of isolation are not considered close contacts.

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, child care settings (for children ages 2 years and older and staff who can consistently wear well-fitting masks), colleges and universities, and workplaces. It does not apply to healthcare facilities or high-risk congregate settings. This information is also available in VDH’s When to End Isolation or Quarantine infographic(PDF) (3 pp, 572 KB).

Use VDH’s Quarantine Calculator below to determine how long you should stay home (quarantine) if recommended and take other precautions.

Your Vaccination or Infection Status Days from exposure Your Steps to Take
If you:
Are NOT up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines. This includes people who are not vaccinated, people who have not received their full primary vaccine series, or people who have gotten their primary vaccine series and are eligible for a booster but haven’t gotten one. [Español]
Days 0-5: Quarantine (stay home). The date of your last exposure is Day 0. Wear a well-fitting mask when you cannot separate from others in your home.

Schools may consider forgoing quarantine for students ages 12-17 years who completed their primary vaccine series but have not yet received all eligible boosters.
Days 0-10 Watch for fever of 100.4°F or greater, cough, shortness of breath, or other COVID-19 symptoms. If you develop symptoms, get tested immediately and stay home.
Day 5 If you don’t have symptoms, get tested if possible.*

If you test positive or develop symptoms, isolate (stay home) and follow isolation recommendations.
Day 6 If you don’t have symptoms and you test negative, you may leave home. If you don’t have symptoms and were not tested, you may leave home.
Days 6-10 Continue to wear a well-fitting mask around others at home and in public. If you are not able to wear a well-fitting mask around others, then you should quarantine (stay home) through Day 10. If you must travel during days 6-10, take precautions. Avoid being around people with weakened immune systems and others at high risk for severe disease
Days 0-10 If quarantine is not possible, you must wear a mask from Days 0-10.
If you:
Are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines. This means that you have gotten your primary vaccine series and you have gotten your booster if you are eligible.
Days 0-10 The date of your last exposure is Day 0. You do not need to quarantine (stay home) unless you develop symptoms. Wear a well-fitting mask around others. Watch for fever of 100.4°F or greater, cough, shortness of breath, or other COVID-19 symptoms. If you develop symptoms, get tested immediately and stay home.
Day 5 If you don’t have symptoms, get tested if possible.If you test positive, isolate (stay home) and follow isolation recommendations.If you travel during days 6-10, take precautions. Avoid being around people with weakened immune systems and others at high risk for severe disease.
If you: Had confirmed COVID-19 within the last 90 days (meaning you tested positive for COVID-19 using a viral test),
AND
Are recovered and without new symptoms If it has been more than 90 days since you have tested positive and recovered from COVID-19, you should follow recommendations based on your vaccination status above.
Days 0-10 You do not need to quarantine (stay home) unless you develop symptoms. If you do not have symptoms, you do not need to get tested. Wear a well-fitting mask around others at home and in public. If you travel during days 6-10, take precautions. Avoid being around people with weakened immune systems and others at high risk for severe disease.

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. 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. 

Recommendations for ongoing exposure depend on your vaccination status:

  • If you are not up to date on COVID-19 vaccines  and have ongoing exposure to COVID-19, you should:
    • Begin quarantine immediately and continue to quarantine throughout the isolation period of the person with COVID-19.
    • Continue to quarantine for an additional 5 days starting the day after the end of isolation for the person with COVID-19.
    • Get tested at least 5 days after the end of isolation of the infected person that lives with them.
      • If you test negative, you can leave the home but should continue to wear a well-fitting mask when around others at home and in public until 10 days after the end of isolation for the person with COVID-19.
  • If you are up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and have ongoing exposure to COVID-19, you should:
    • Get tested at least 5 days after your first exposure. A person with COVID-19 is considered infectious starting 2 days before they develop symptoms, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they do not have symptoms.
    • Get tested again at least 5 days after the end of isolation for the person with COVID-19.
    • Wear a well-fitting mask when you are around the person with COVID-19, and do this throughout their isolation period.
    • Wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days after the infected person’s isolation period ends.
    • Isolate immediately if you develop symptoms of COVID-19 or test positive.

This information is available on the CDC Quarantine and Isolation webpage in the FAQ section .

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 and homeless sheltersall 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. 

Following travel on cruise ships, self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days is recommended for all travelers regardless of vaccination status. Those who are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines should stay home and self-quarantine for 5 days after cruise travel, even if they do not have symptoms

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. 

Get tested.

You should get a COVID-19 test 5 days after your last exposure, if possible. If you recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days, you do not need to get tested if you don’t have symptoms. There are many COVID-19 test locations in Virginia and some of these offer free testing. If you test positive for COVID-19, learn about what to do on the If You are Sick or infected webpage.

Monitor your health for 10 days after your last contact.

Check your symptoms

Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day (once in the morning, once at night) to watch for a fever. Also, watch for other symptoms of COVID-19 [Español ], such as cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell.

Keep track of your symptoms

You can also downloadVDH’s Daily Symptom Monitoring Log (PDF) (3 pp, 165KB) to help keep track of your symptoms.

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 right away to see if COVID-19 treatment options are appropriate for you

FDA has authorized certain 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.

Respond to exposure notifications

If you receive an exposure notification from the COVIDWISE app [Español], that means your device was in close contact with a device of someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

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) based on vaccination status.

Guidance for healthcare settings

Patients, residents, and visitors to healthcare settings

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

In general healthcare personnel (HCP) do not require work restrictions following a higher-risk exposure if they are up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and do not develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19. 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 , regardless of whether they are up to date with vaccines, 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).

Learn more

For more information:

Page Last Reviewed: May 17, 2022

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