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

Person with tissue illustration

How people can be exposed to COVID-19

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 is spread in three main ways: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them. It is also 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 can spread from people to animals in some situations, but this is uncommon. Pet cats and dogs can also sometimes become infected after close contact with people with COVID-19. Additionally, cases of reinfection with COVID-19 remain rare​.​  

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 fully vaccinated or if you have a weakened immune system. 

  • Fully vaccinated means 2 weeks or more have passed since getting the second dose of a two-dose vaccine (e.g., Comirnaty/Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine), or 2 weeks or more have passed since getting 1 dose of a single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen).This also applies to COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization (e.g., AstraZeneca/Oxford). Information on additional situations where individuals may be considered fully vaccinated is available here.

    • If you have a condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, you may not be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated. You should continue taking all precautions until your healthcare provider says you no longer need to do so.  
      • Family and friends of people with weakened immune systems should get vaccinated to help protect these people. 
      • People with moderately to severely weakened immune systems should receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine after the initial 2 doses. Even with this additional dose, these people might not be fully protected and should continue taking precautions until told otherwise by their healthcare provider. 
    • CDC recommends a booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine for certain populations. More information is available here

    Fully vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus to others. Infections in fully vaccinated people (also called breakthrough infections) are uncommon. A small number of these infections is expected because no vaccine works 100% of the time. When these infections happen, they tend to be mild. 

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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. 

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.

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 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. For more details about close contact and quarantine in K-12 school settings, see Clarification of VDH K-12 Close Contact Definitions and Quarantine Periods

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) until it is safe to be around other people (stop isolation).

People who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 need to stay home and away from others. This is called quarantine.

  • There are some exceptions where people are not required to quarantine (stay home). These exceptions are described below
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Steps to take if you had close contact with someone with COVID-19

  • 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.  
    • 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 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 symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell. 
    • 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. Learn more about How Sara Alert™ Works
    • You can also download VDH’s Daily Symptom Monitoring Log to help keep track of your symptoms. 
     

  • Get tested. Contact your healthcare provider to ask about getting tested. There are many COVID-19 test locations in Virginia and some of these offer free testing. 
    • If you are not fully vaccinated or have not recently recovered from COVID-19, get tested immediately and again 5 to 7 days after your exposure if your first test was negative.
    • 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. 
    • If you are fully vaccinated and do not have symptoms, you should get tested 5 to 7 days after exposure and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until you receive a negative test result. 
    • If you develop symptoms, you should get tested immediately, even if you already had a negative test or you are fully vaccinated.
    • If you are a healthcare worker with higher-risk exposures or a  patient who was exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should get tested immediately (but no sooner than 2 days after exposure) and again 5 to 7 days after exposure if the first test was negative. This guidance is the same regardless of vaccination status. 
    • Even if you do not have symptoms and your COVID-19 test is negative, you should monitor your symptoms for the full 14 days and follow quarantine recommendations. 
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  • Talk to your healthcare provider about monoclonal antibodies. FDA has authorized 2 types of monoclonal antibody therapy for certain people after exposure to someone with COVID-19. 
    • This medication can be considered for those aged 12 years or older who are not fully vaccinated (or not expected to have adequate immune response to vaccination) and who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and who are at high risk for developing severe COVID-19.  
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  • Answer the call. Your local health department might reach out to you with more recommendations if you or your child are identified as a close contact during contact tracing
    • 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.
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  • 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 and monitor your health.

 

Person looking out of window illustration

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) warn 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 and are not fully vaccinated or recently recovered, you should stay home (quarantine) for 14 days after the last sick member of your household can end isolation and safely be around others again. If household members are able to be completely separate from the sick 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. 

Note: A full 14-day quarantine period might be required by your school, daycare, or workplace. Contact your school, daycare, or workplace to learn more and follow its quarantine recommendations.

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 spaces with poor airflow, 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.

*For healthcare settings, shortened quarantine options can be considered, but they are not a preferred option according to CDC

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.* 
    • This includes healthcare personnel and patients in healthcare settings. 
  • People who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 as long as they do not have symptoms.*
    • Fully vaccinated people should get tested 5-7 days after close contact exposure and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test.
      • Fully vaccinated people who have ongoing exposure (i.e., live with someone or taking care of someone with COVID-19) should get tested 57 days after their first exposure and wear a mask when in contact with the person with COVID-19 until the end of that person’s isolation period. 
      • They should get tested again 57 after the end of isolation for the person with COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after the infected person’s isolation period ends or until the fully vaccinated person receives their final negative test result. 
        • If there are multiple people in a household with COVID-19, fully vaccinated contacts should follow the testing recommendations above based on the most recently infected household member
      • Fully vaccinated people who live with someone with a weakened immune system, at increased risk of severe disease, or unvaccinated (including children under age 12 years) could also wear a mask at home for 14 days after close contact with someone with COVID-19 or until they receive a negative test result.
  • In general, healthcare personnel (HCP) who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 do not need to stay home (quarantine) after a workplace or community exposure or be restricted from work as long as they do not have any symptoms and do not test positive for COVID-19. VDH may recommend work restrictions for fully vaccinated HCP with higher-risk exposures in certain situations. These include if the HCP has a moderately or severely weakened immune system or during an outbreak where COVID-19 infections are identified among fully vaccinated HCP. For additional details, see here. HCP should continue to follow all travel recommendations
  • Fully vaccinated patients in healthcare settings
    • In general, fully vaccinated patients in healthcare settings do not need to quarantine after close contact exposure if they do not have any symptoms or test positive for COVID-19. Quarantine might be recommended in certain situations. These include if the patient has a moderately or severely weakened immune system or if there is a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility that is not controlled with initial public health measures.
  • Fully vaccinated people who have either traveled in the United States or arrived back in the United States after traveling internationally. 
    • Visit VDH’s Travelers website for information about testing requirements and recommendations for travelers.
  • 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 fully vaccinated, but who are not required to stay home (quarantine) because they have had COVID-19 in the past 3 months, monitor their health 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 poorly ventilated areas, and wash hands often). Fully vaccinated people should also monitor their health after exposure to someone with COVID-19 and follow masking recommendations provided above. 

People with weakened immune systems (immunocompromised) who have been fully vaccinated should talk with their healthcare provider about whether staying home (quarantining) after close contact exposure is recommended. 

Thermometer with a temperature reading of 100 Fahrenheit

If you start to feel sick or test positive for COVID-19, separate yourself from others and stay home (self-isolate), even if you are fully vaccinated.

  • Stay home except to get medical care or be tested. Wear a mask before going to any medical appointments.
  • Separate yourself from other people, including people who live with you, as much as you can. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, such as buses, trains, ride-sharing, or taxis.
  • The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Other common symptoms include, but are not limited to: 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. Some people with COVID-19 might not have any symptoms. 
  • 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
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you need monoclonal antibody treatment. This therapy can treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and children 12 and older (must weigh at least 88 pounds), who are at high risk for developing severe illness.
  • Learn more about steps you can take to protect other people in your home and community if you are sick with COVID-19.
Red headed women wearing a mask

For more information:

Page Last Updated: November 1, 2021