If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, it’s important to get tested soon after you had contact with them. It’s the only way to know for sure if you’ve contracted the virus.
If you don’t get tested, you can transmit the virus to other people without knowing it. That’s because the coronavirus can be passed on before you notice any symptoms. In other cases, you might not develop symptoms at all.
If you have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, the precautions you need to take will depend on whether you’re up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations.
Being up to date means you’ve had all the recommended COVID-19 vaccines and a booster shot.
If you’re not up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines
According to the
- Quarantine at home for 5 days. Don’t go to work or school. Wear a well fitted mask if you need to be around other people in your home.
- Get tested. Even if you don’t have any symptoms, make sure you get tested 5 days after you were exposed. “Day 1” starts the day after the exposure.
- Watch for symptoms. Even if you test negative, pay attention to the development of any symptoms for the next 10 days. If you develop any symptoms, isolate yourself right away, and test yourself again.
- Avoid travel and high risk individuals for 10 days. To be safe, avoid traveling until 10 days after you were exposed to COVID-19. Also avoid being around people who are at high risk, like older adults and immunocompromised people.
If you are up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines
According to the CDC, if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and you’re up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations, you’ll need to:
- Get tested. You don’t need to quarantine, but make sure you test yourself at least 5 days after you were exposed.
- Watch for symptoms. Even if you test negative, pay attention to the development of any symptoms for the next 10 days. If you develop symptoms, isolate yourself right away, and get tested again.
- Avoid high risk individuals for 10 days. Try to stay away from people who are at high risk for at least 10 days.
- Take precautions if you need to travel. Wear a mask at all times and keep your distance from others as much as possible.
It’s also important to get tested if you’ve:
- attended a crowded event, like a concert
- developed COVID-19 symptoms
It’s crucial to note that the coronavirus may not cause symptoms in some people. You should still get tested 5 days after an exposure, even if you have no symptoms.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
Less commonly, COVID-19 might also cause:
- loss of smell or taste
- sore throat
- joint or muscle pain
- nasal congestion
- nausea or vomiting
More severe symptoms may include:
- loss of appetite
- shortness of breath
- pain or pressure in the chest
The best way to avoid severe COVID-19 symptoms and complications is to get vaccinated.
After an exposure, experts recommend that you take an at-home test.
An at-home test is a type of rapid antigen test, also called a rapid diagnostic test. It checks nasal swab samples for proteins in the coronavirus.
Before using an at-home test, it’s helpful to blow your nose. Having too much mucus in your nose can dilute the sample and increase the risk of a false negative result.
You can perform this test anywhere, so it’s very convenient. It also provides results in about 15 minutes.
A rapid at-home test is also known as a:
- over-the-counter test
- home test
You can find at-home tests at:
- local health departments
- community organizations, like libraries
In general, at-home tests are less accurate than other COVID-19 tests. The accuracy also differs depending on whether you test positive or negative.
An at-home test is most accurate when you have an active infection. So, positive results from a home test are highly accurate. But if your results are negative, it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have COVID-19.
Other types of COVID-19 tests you can take include:
- Rapid lab testing. A rapid test can also be done at a testing site, where a lab technician checks your samples. This type of test typically provides results within several minutes or hours.
- PCR test. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is more accurate than a rapid test. It checks for the genetic material of the virus.
Even if you have no symptoms, it’s important to take the following steps if you test positive for COVID-19:
- Notify people you have recently interacted with or been around.
- Isolate and stay home for at least 5 days after you test positive.
- Wear a mask if you need to be around other people in your home.
- Use a separate bathroom from other people in your home, if possible.
- Sleep in a room separate from other people.
- Get another rapid test at the end of your 5-day isolation period.
You can end your isolation after 5 days if:
- you test negative
- you haven’t had a fever for 24 hours and haven’t used medication to lower your fever AND
- your other symptoms have also improved
If, after 5 days, you still have symptoms or test positive, you’ll need to continue isolation until day 10.
It’s recommended to follow these guidelines even if you have no symptoms. That’s because COVID-19 can be transmitted by people who have no COVID-19 symptoms.
A negative test means that levels of the virus aren’t high enough to be detected at this point in time. It doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have the virus.
To be safe and confident that you haven’t contracted the virus, here’s what to do:
- Regardless of your vaccination status, wear a mask around other people, even at home.
- Wear a mask until you can test yourself again.
- Test yourself again 1 or 2 days after your negative test.
If you test negative again, you can end your quarantine. This only applies to people who aren’t up to date on their vaccinations. You don’t need to quarantine after potential COVID-19 exposure if you’re fully vaccinated and boosted.
Testing negative multiple times is the best way to confirm that you do not have COVID-19.
COVID-19 symptoms can vary widely from one person to the next. Some people may have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
In general, COVID-19 symptoms start 1 to 14 days after exposure. The average time frame is around 5 days.
If you do have COVID-19, the virus is most likely to be transmitted 1 to 2 days before your symptoms start, or 2 to 3 days after your symptoms begin.
The coronavirus can still spread up to 10 days after you contract it.
If you have a moderately or severely compromised immune system, the virus may be able to spread for up to 20 days.
If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, it’s important to get tested around 5 days after exposure. This is recommended even if you do not have symptoms.
You can take a rapid at-home test. If it’s positive, let your close contacts know and isolate for 5 days after taking the test.
If the test is negative, you’ll want to confirm the negative results. Regardless of your vaccination status, test yourself again 1 or 2 days later. Wear a mask around other people until you know for sure that you haven’t contracted the coronavirus.
It’s also a good idea to test yourself if you have COVID-19 symptoms. Similarly, if you’ve traveled or attended a crowded event, consider getting tested, even if you don’t have symptoms.