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So You've Been Exposed to COVID. What Now?

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Your Step-By-Step Guide on What to do After Exposure to COVID

The current guidelines on what to do if you have been exposed to COVID may seem complicated, constantly changing, and hard to understand. Here I will try to break it down for you as simply as possible what to do if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

If you have already tested positive for COVID, read this guide instead (coming soon): So You Have Tested Positive for COVID. What Next?

First, let's define a couple of terms you may hear.

Quarantine vs Isolation. What is the difference?

  • Quarantine is what you should do if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID. Quarantine is used to separate people who might be infected from those who are not infected.

  • Isolation is what you should do if you have already tested positive for COVID. Isolation is used to separate people who are infected with COVID-19 from those who are not infected.

When do I need to quarantine?

You need to quarantine if:

  • You have been in close contact (within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes) with someone who has COVID and you are unvaccinated (if you are vaccinated, keep reading)

  • You start to develop symptoms of COVID after being exposed to someone with COVID (even if you are fully vaccinated)

You DO NOT need to quarantine if:

  • You been have been in contact with someone with COVID but you are fully vaccinated (have received 2 doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and the last dose was more than 2 weeks ago), UNLESS you start to develop COVID symptoms

  • You have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days and have recovered, UNLESS you start to develop COVID symptoms

Note: People with weakened immune systems (immunocompromised) may have weaker immune responses to COVID-19 vaccines and may need to continue to follow  prevention measures (such as wearing a mask, maintaining 6 feet of distance from others that you do not live with, and avoiding crowds, especially in poorly ventilated indoor spaces). Close contacts and loved ones of immunocompromised people should get vaccinated against COVID-19 to help protect your immunocompromised loved one.

What should I do while in quarantine?

1. Stay home

  • Notify your employer or your child's school that you (or your child) have been exposed to COVID and need to quarantine and get tested

  • You will need to stay home for at least 3-5 days (for testing and results) AND until you receive a negative test result

If you must leave your home for essential tasks, such as getting food, you should:

  • Wear a mask

  • Wash or sanitizie your hands before touching any surfaces or consider wearing disposable gloves while you are out

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others while you are out

2. Keep your distance

  • Avoid close contact with family or other household members as much as possible, especially if they were not also exposed to COVID (were not in direct contact with the person you were in contact with)

  • Stay in a "sick room" or a "sick floor" of your home and use your own bathroom (if possible)

  • Have someone bring food or other items to you and leave them at a door

3. Monitor for symptoms

  • Some people don't develop any symptoms, even if they test positive for COVID

  • If you develop mild symptoms (for example, fever, runny nose, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, etc), you likely can treat your symptoms as needed at home

  • If your symptoms are more bothersome (bad cough, extreme fatigue, inability to eat), call your doctor for guidance or go to urgent care or the emergency room for evaluation

  • If you are experiencing significant trouble breathing or any other life-threatening symptoms, call 911

4. Get tested

  • You should get tested 5 days after your initial exposure, even if you have not developed any symptoms (you should NOT get tested earlier just because you have developed symptoms, as you may get a false negative early on in illness)

  • Most pharmacies and some grocery stores are providing drive-thru testing to minimize contact with others. You can schedule testing online at most of these locations

  • You can also find test kits online #ad (make sure these are FDA-approved and are ideally, PCR tests, rather than rapid tests)

  • You may also be able to get tested through your doctor, at an urgent care facility, or in the emergency room, if you should need to go for evaluation.

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All content on this website, including medical opinion and any other health-related information is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this website and the information contained does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor before starting any specific treatment plan.

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