I've been exposed to COVID-19, now what?

November 16, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

If you recently spent time with someone who has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, there are some steps you should take to check whether you’re infected, and if so, how to avoid spreading the virus to others.

Someone I was with last weekend told me they are positive. What do I do?

First, determine how close you were to the person who tested positive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people who were in “close contact” with a COVID-19 positive person to stay home and self-quarantine for 14 days from the date of last contact.

The CDC considers “close contact” as:

  • You were within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more.
  • You provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19.
  • You had direct physical contact with the person (hugged or kissed them).
  • You shared eating or drinking utensils.
  • They sneezed, coughed or somehow got respiratory droplets on you.

Stay away from other people if possible, especially high-risk individuals, such as older adults and people with other medical conditions.

Should I get a COVID-19 test?

If a close contact or family member has tested positive, you should get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms. Research shows asymptomatic people can still spread SARS-CoV-2.

But don’t get a test immediately — testing too soon could result in a false negative. Because symptoms generally don’t appear until five days after infection, begin your self-quarantine and get tested five days after the last date of contact with the COVID-19-positive person.

What do I do while I’m waiting for a COVID-19 test result?

If you are waiting for a COVID-19 test result, stay home and away from others while you wait, as you can spread COVID-19 starting from two days before you experience any symptoms.

Think about the people you have recently been around. Let them know that you were in close contact with an infected person and are waiting for your test results, and they should monitor their health.

If I test positive, how long will it be before I develop symptoms?

It could take 2 to 14 days for someone infected with SARS-CoV-2 to develop symptoms. Some people never develop symptoms or only experience mild symptoms. Watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath, new loss of taste or smell or other symptoms of COVID-19.

If my COVID-19 test is negative, can I go back to normal activities?

If your test is negative, even if you feel healthy and do not have symptoms, you should stay home and away from others (self-quarantine) for 14 days after your last exposure to COVID-19. A negative result before the end of your quarantine period does not rule out possible infection. If you start to develop symptoms, a second test may be needed.

What symptoms would I have if I have COVID-19?

COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild to severe and may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. The following symptoms are associated with COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

This blog was reviewed by Alvaro Candel, MD, pathologist with Elmhurst Hospital, and Annemarie Schmocker, RN, BSN, CIC, Manager of Infection Control & Prevention at Elmhurst Hospital.

If you feel ill, the first step is to call your primary care doctor for next steps. Edward-Elmhurst Health also offers screening options for COVID-19, including a symptom checker to advise you on what to do next and a COVID-19 Nurse Triage Line (331-221-5199) to see if you meet testing requirements. We also offer Video Visits and E-Visits for COVID-19 symptoms.

For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

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