Exposure and Illness

Last updated: Sept. 27, 2021 at 1:17 p.m.

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What to Do if You Are Sick or Have Been Exposed

I think I might have been exposed, what should I do?

You generally need to be in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 to get infected. Close contact is defined as being within six feet of a person with COVID-19 for a total of about 15 minutes within a 24-hour period.

If you’re unvaccinated and you’ve been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19, you should:

  • Get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms.
  • Quarantine (stay at home) for 14 days even if your test result is negative.
  • If your test is negative, monitor for symptoms for 14 days after you were exposed. 
  • If your test is positive, isolate for 10 days.

If you’re fully vaccinated:

  • Get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
  • If your test is negative, monitor for symptoms for 14 days after you were exposed. You do not need to quarantine unless you develop symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If your test is positive, isolate for 10 days.

What should I do if I'm sick?

  • If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, even mild ones, get tested as soon as possible. Get tested even if you're fully vaccinated. For more information on how to get tested, visit our COVID-19 testing page
  • Isolate (stay home and away from others) and take care of yourself as you would for a cold or flu. Stay in isolation until 24 hours after your fever is gone and symptoms are better and it has been 10 days since your symptoms started.

If you develop any of these emergency warning signs* for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest.
  • Confusion.
  • Bluish lips or face.

*This list is not all-inclusive. Talk to your medical provider about any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

Call 911 if you have a medical emergency: Notify the operator that you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before medical help arrives. 

Isolation and Quarantine

What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Quarantine is for someone who:

  • Had direct exposure to the virus by being a close contact of someone with confirmed COVID-19.
  • Doesn't have symptoms. 
  • Has not tested positive for COVID-19. 

People who quarantine stay home and avoid contact with anyone who is not a household member. This is important because a person can be contagious before symptoms begin. 

Isolation is for someone who:

  • Has either received a positive COVID-19 test, or
  • Has symptoms of COVID-19.

People in isolation need to avoid contact with all others, including household members. If possible, people in isolation should stay in a separate room, use a separate bathroom, and have meals prepared for and brought to them. 

People who cannot isolate or quarantine safely in their home can stay at the county’s isolation/quarantine facility at no cost to them. We will help arrange for a stay at the facility.

If I come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 after I’ve been fully vaccinated, do I still have to quarantine?

You don’t have to quarantine following a known exposure if all of the following are true:

  • You received the final dose in your vaccine series at least 2 weeks ago.
  • You don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19.

If it’s been less than two weeks since the final dose in your vaccine series, you will need to quarantine if you’ve been exposed to someone known to have COVID-19. If you develop symptoms - whether or not you’re fully vaccinated - you will need to isolate yourself and seek testing immediately. 

For more information about isolation and quarantine, see the CDC’s Duration of Isolation and Precautions for Adults with COVID-19.

For more information about quarantine and isolation considerations for fully vaccinated individuals, check out the CDC’s Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.

When is it OK to stop home isolation after having COVID-19?

If you have been isolating at home, you can end your isolation when both of these things are true:

  • It has been at least 24 hours since you recovered. This means you no longer have a fever, you aren't taking medicine for a fever, and your cough or shortness of breath have gotten better.
  • It has been at least 10 days since your symptoms first appeared.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 but did not have any symptoms, you can end home isolation when:

  • At least 10 days have passed since the date of your first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test. 
  • You have not developed any symptoms of illness.

Additional information on preventing the spread of COVID-19 for your household members, intimate partners, and caregivers is available from the CDC.  

Guidelines for Returning to Work after Illness or Exposure

I was exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19. When can I go back to work?

  • You should quarantine as soon as you know you have been exposed. We will likely recommend you get tested between 3 and 7 days after exposure. If you do not test positive, you will remain in quarantine until you are released from your quarantine by the health department. Quarantine generally lasts 14 days from the date of exposure, but can be as short as 7 days depending on your circumstances  
  • If you are fully vaccinated, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms. You should isolate for10 days if your test result is positive or you develop symptoms.

I was sick with COVID-19. When can I go back to work?

All non-healthcare workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are considered "probable" cases must be excluded from work and may not return until they are released from isolation by the Health Department.

  • Symptomatic workers must remain in isolation until:
    • It’s been at least 24 hours with no fever, without using fever-reducing medication.
    • Their symptoms have improved.
    • It's been at least 10 days since their symptoms started.
  • Asymptomatic workers must remain in isolation until: 
    • It's been at least 10 days from the date of their first positive COVID-19 test.
    • They have had no further symptoms.

You do not need a negative test to return to work.

I tested positive for COVID-19, and I’m a healthcare worker. When can I go back to work?

For healthcare workers with mild to moderate illness, you may return to work when:

  • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared and, 
  • At least 1 day (24 hours) has passed since the resolution of fever without the use of fever- reducing medications and 
  • Symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) have improved.

For asymptomatic healthcare workers:

  • At least 10 days have passed since the date of your first positive viral diagnostic test.

For healthcare workers with severe to critical illness, or who are severely immunocompromised: 

  • At least 20 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
  • At least 1 day (24 hours) has passed since the resolution of fever without the use of fever- reducing medications and 
  • Symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) have improved.

You should also:

  • Be restricted from contact with severely immunocompromised patients (e.g., transplant, hematology-oncology) until all symptoms are completely resolved or until 14 days after illness onset, whichever is longer

I was exposed to someone with COVID-19, and I am a healthcare worker. What should I do?

As of March 10, 2021, fully vaccinated healthcare workers do not need to be restricted from work, with some exceptions. For a list of exceptions and additional information, refer to the CDC’s Updated Healthcare Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations in Response to COVID-19 Vaccination page

If you’ve been exposed and you’re not yet fully vaccinated, you should actively monitor for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection, but can return to work provided you:

  • Adhere to cough etiquette and hand hygiene
  • Wear a face mask at all times while in the healthcare facility until 14 days after the date of exposure.

If you start to experience symptoms, you should go home immediately and contact your healthcare provider.

Do I need a negative test to return to work?

No. Unless you have a severely weakened immune system or you have experienced a serious case of COVID-19, you do not need a negative test result to return to work. 

Guidelines for Returning to School after Illness or Exposure

My student was exposed to someone with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 but doesn’t have symptoms. When can they go back to school?

Data shared by the CDC about school districts that successfully implemented a modified approach to quarantine was used by the DOH to develop an alternative to quarantining at home for students identified as close contacts in a classroom setting. This alternative option consists of schools using frequent testing of students that were close contacts but remain asymptomatic in order to allow them to stay in school during their quarantine period. Schools may vary somewhat in the specific guidance they provide around quarantine. Parents are encouraged to check with your child’s school for specific quarantine guidelines before returning to school.

If your student is a close contact of a known or suspected COVID-19 case, they can follow the modified quarantine protocol if they do not have symptoms and: 

  • Are fully vaccinated. Your student should be tested 3-5 days after being exposed to someone with COVID-19. They must also wear a mask in all public indoor spaces for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.
  • Had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 3 months and are fully recovered. 
  • Are neither fully vaccinated nor recovered from confirmed COVID-19 in the past three months but attend a school following a “test to stay” protocol. Those following a test to stay protocol must still quarantine at home away from others except for attending school. The student should not participate in extracurricular or after school activities and should avoid social gatherings. 

If your student does not meet these criteria and is required to quarantine, your child’s school, in consultation with the Health Department, will recommend a quarantine period, the length of which may vary depending on the school’s assessment of risk and capacity. Under the modified quarantine guidelines, monitor for symptoms for the full 14 days and follow the testing guidelines required by your child’s school.

If your student develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or receives a positive test result, isolate from others and follow appropriate guidance

My student tested positive for COVID-19. When can they return to school?

Follow isolation guidance and limit contacts with others as much as possible.

Your student can return to school when it has been:

  • 10 days since symptoms started or, if your child had no symptoms, since there was a positive test result AND
  • 24 hours after fever resolves without use of fever-reducing medications AND 
  • Symptoms have improved

COVID-19 Symptoms and Severity

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of coronavirus may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or 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 list is not all-inclusive. The CDC continues to update their list of symptoms as more becomes known about COVID-19.

How severe is COVID-19?

Many who get COVID-19 do not require medical care or hospitalization, but some people get severely ill with respiratory problems like pneumonia.  According to the CDC, people most at risk for severe illness are:

  • People older than 65 years
  • People with chronic medical conditions
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Pregnant people

The virus has grown less predictable as new variants evolve. Younger people are being hospitalized at much higher rates than they were with previous strains of the virus. While most people with COVID-19 recover and return to normal health, some patients can have symptoms that can last for weeks or even months after recovery from acute illness. Even people who are not hospitalized and who have mild illness can experience persistent or late symptoms. Learn more about long term symptoms on the CDC’s website.

COVID-19 vaccines protect against the worst disease outcomes from the virus. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and find a vaccine provider near you on our vaccine page

Can people spread the virus before they develop symptoms?

Yes. COVID-19 can be spread by individuals who are not exhibiting typical symptoms. In some cases, the individual may not have developed symptoms yet, and in other cases, people may carry and spread the virus without ever experiencing symptoms.

Preventing COVID-19 Infection

The best way to prevent you or others from being infected with COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. All COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are effective at preventing both infection and spread of the virus. 

Added layers of protection will help keep you safe and prevent others from getting sick. 

  • Wear a mask in all public indoor settings, and in any private indoor setting where you can't be certain everyone in attendance is fully vaccinated. Make sure you choose the right mask.
  • Regardless of vaccination status, you should wear a mask in public outdoor settings where physical distancing is not possible or realistic and the vaccination status of others can't be guaranteed. This is required at outdoor events with 500 or more attendees, but recommended for any crowded situation outdoors. 
  • Physical distancing is still recommended for unvaccinated people when they’re in crowded areas.
  • Practice healthy habits by washing your hands and covering your coughs and sneezes.
  • Watch for symptoms and get tested if you think you have been exposed.