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What to do after exposure to COVID-19

Quarantine - COVID-19

After being exposed to COVID-19, you can spread the virus even if you don’t show any symptoms. Quarantine keeps people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 away from other people. This helps prevent the spread of the illness.

If you need to quarantine, you should stay at home until it is safe to be around others. Learn when to quarantine and when it is safe to be around other people.

When to Quarantine

You should quarantine at home if you have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Examples of close contacts include:

  • Being within 6 feet (2 meters) of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or longer over a 24-hour period (the 15 minutes does not have to occur all at one time)
  • Providing care at home to someone who has COVID-19
  • Having close physical contact with someone with the virus (such as hugging, kissing, or touching)
  • Sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses with someone who has the virus
  • Being coughed or sneezed on, or in some way getting respiratory droplets on you from someone with COVID-19

You DO NOT need to quarantine after exposure to someone with COVID-19 if:

  • You have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 3 months and recovered, as long as you do not develop new symptoms
  • You have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 within the last 3 months and show no symptoms

Some places in the United States and other countries ask travelers to quarantine for 14 days after entering the country or state or upon returning home from travel. Check your local public health department website to find out what the recommendations are in your area.

While in quarantine, you should:

  • Stay at home for 14 days after your last contact with someone who has COVID-19.
  • As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from others in your home. Use a separate bathroom if you can.
  • Keep track of your symptoms (such as fever [100.4 degrees Fahrenheit], cough, shortness of breath) and stay in touch with your doctor.

You should follow the same guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19:

  • Use a face mask and practice physical distancing anytime other people are in the same room with you.
  • Wash your hands many times a day with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. If not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Do not share personal items and clean all "high-touch" areas in the home.

When to End Quarantine

You can end quarantine 14 days after your last close contact with a person who has COVID-19.

Even if you get tested for COVID-19, have no symptoms, and have a negative test, you should remain in quarantine for the entire 14 days. COVID-19 symptoms can appear anywhere from 2 to 14 days after exposure.

If, during your quarantine, you have close contact with a person with COVID-19, you need to begin your quarantine over from day 1 and remain there until 14 days have passed with no contact.

If you are caring for someone with COVID-19 and can't avoid close contact, you can end your quarantine 14 days after that person has been able to end home isolation.

Reducing the Length of Quarantine

The CDC provides optional recommendations for the length of quarantine after the last exposure. These two options can help reduce the burden of having to remain away from work for 14 days, while still keeping the public safe.

According to CDC optional recommendations, if permitted by local public health authorities, people who do not have symptoms can end quarantine:

  • On day 10 without testing
  • On day 7 after receiving a negative test result (test must occur on day 5 or later of quarantine period)

Once you stop quarantine, you should:

  • Continue to watch for symptoms for the full 14 days after exposure
  • Continue to wear a mask, wash your hands, and take steps to stop the spread of COVID-19
  • Immediately isolate and contact your health care provider if you develop symptoms of COVID-19

Your local public health authorities will make the final decision about when and how long to quarantine. This is based on the specific situation within your community, so you should always follow their advice first.

When to Call the Doctor

You should call your health care provider:

  • If you have symptoms and think you may have been exposed to COVID-19
  • If you have COVID-19 and your symptoms are getting worse

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion or inability to wake up
  • Blue lips or face
  • Any other symptoms that are severe or concern you

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: Domestic travel during the COVID-19 epidemic. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-during-covid19.html. Updated February 2, 2021. Accessed February 7, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: When to quarantine. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/quarantine.html. Updated February 11, 2021. Accessed February 12, 2021.

  • Face masks prevent the spread of COVID-19

    Face masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 - illustration

    Using face masks correctly in public settings helps reduce the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 spreads to people within close contact via small droplets sprayed into the air by someone with the disease who coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes. Wearing face masks or cloth face coverings that cover the nose, mouth, and chin and fit snuggly across your cheeks helps reduce the spray of respiratory droplets from the nose and mouth. Wearing a face mask may also protect you from infection.

    Face masks prevent the spread of COVID-19

    illustration

  • How to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19

    How to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 - illustration

    Wearing face masks or cloth face coverings helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. For masks to work, they have to be worn properly. Choose a mask with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric that completely covers your mouth and nose and fits snugly against the sides of your face, leaving no gaps. Do not wear a mask that is too loose on the sides. Do not pull the mask low on your nose, below your nose, or below your mouth or chin. Do not leave your chin or your mouth exposed or dangle the mask from one ear. Do not wear the mask in any other way that does not entirely cover your mouth and nose. Wash your hands before and after wearing the mask and use only the loops of the mask to put it on and take it off. Do not touch the front of the mask while wearing it. If you use a cloth mask, wash it and dry it daily and keep it in a clean, dry place.

    How to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19

    illustration

    • Face masks prevent the spread of COVID-19

      Face masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 - illustration

      Using face masks correctly in public settings helps reduce the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 spreads to people within close contact via small droplets sprayed into the air by someone with the disease who coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes. Wearing face masks or cloth face coverings that cover the nose, mouth, and chin and fit snuggly across your cheeks helps reduce the spray of respiratory droplets from the nose and mouth. Wearing a face mask may also protect you from infection.

      Face masks prevent the spread of COVID-19

      illustration

    • How to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19

      How to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 - illustration

      Wearing face masks or cloth face coverings helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. For masks to work, they have to be worn properly. Choose a mask with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric that completely covers your mouth and nose and fits snugly against the sides of your face, leaving no gaps. Do not wear a mask that is too loose on the sides. Do not pull the mask low on your nose, below your nose, or below your mouth or chin. Do not leave your chin or your mouth exposed or dangle the mask from one ear. Do not wear the mask in any other way that does not entirely cover your mouth and nose. Wash your hands before and after wearing the mask and use only the loops of the mask to put it on and take it off. Do not touch the front of the mask while wearing it. If you use a cloth mask, wash it and dry it daily and keep it in a clean, dry place.

      How to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19

      illustration

    Self Care

     
     

    Review Date: 2/7/2021

    Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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