As people continue to recover from holiday gatherings and others return to the workplace in the new year, many wonder what the timeline looks like if they develop a COVID-19 infection or are exposed to someone who has it.
When are people with the coronavirus most contagious and how long can they spread it for? When should you get tested after exposure and how long should you quarantine, if at all?
This is what we know.
When are people with COVID most contagious?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines last month, shifting the timing for isolation and quarantine, as some experts say the time frame when people are most contagious is earlier.
“It takes less time from when someone is exposed to COVID to potentially develop an infection. It takes less time to develop symptoms, it takes less time for someone to be contagious, and it takes less time for many people to recover. of that is because a lot more people are getting vaccinated,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
For people without symptoms, the CDC guideline states that they are considered contagious at least two days before they test positive.
“This has to do with data from the CDC that after seven days has really shown that there is virtually no risk of transmission at this point,” Arwady said. “And in that five to seven day period, you know, there’s some depending on whether people are vaccinated, underlying conditions, etc., but the risk goes down a lot and the feeling is that in the general population, combined with masking, etc. the risk is really very low.”
When is the best time to get tested after exposure?
The CDC states that anyone who may have been exposed to someone with COVID should test five days after their exposure or as soon as symptoms appear.
“If symptoms appear, individuals should be quarantined immediately until a negative test confirms that the symptoms are not due to COVID-19,” the guidance states.
dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said incubation times may change, but those who test early should continue testing even if they get negative results.
“Maybe we’ll find out that the incubation period might be a little shorter, so maybe you’re testing at two days,” Ezike said. “Obviously, if you’re symptomatic, you test right away. But you know, if you want to test on two days, but that negative test… the two days shouldn’t make you think, ‘oh well, I’m clear .’ You know, you might want to test again and of course you can’t ignore symptoms — itchy throat, headache, all kinds of symptoms — anything new could be a symptom of this new disease.”
How quickly can symptoms appear?
According to previous CDC guidelines, COVID symptoms can appear from two to 14 days after someone is exposed to the virus.
Anyone showing symptoms should be tested for COVID-19.
How long do you have to be in quarantine or isolation?
First of all, those who believe they have been in contact with someone who has COVID and have not been vaccinated should be quarantined. Those who test positive, regardless of vaccination status, should isolate themselves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s the breakdown:
Those who have been within 6 feet of someone with COVID for a cumulative total of at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period will be required to quarantine for five days if not vaccinated or more than six months after their second dose, according to updated CDC guidelines issued Monday.
Once that period is over, they have to use strict mask for another five days.
Previously, the CDC said that people who have not been fully vaccinated and who have come into close contact with an infected person should stay at home for at least 10 days.
Before last month, people who were fully vaccinated — what the CDC has defined as two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — could be exempt from quarantine.
Those who are both fully vaccinated and boosted do not need to be quarantined if they are in close contact with someone with COVID, but must wear a mask for at least 10 days after exposure. The same goes for those who have been fully vaccinated and are not yet eligible for their booster injection.
However, local health authorities can also make the final decision on how long a quarantine should last. And testing can play a role.
The Illinois health department said it will adopt the revised CDC guidelines on isolation and quarantine for COVID.
In Chicago, those traveling to or from certain parts of the country who have not been vaccinated must be quarantined upon arrival in the city, but how long they must do so depends on whether they are being tested for COVID.
People who are positive for COVID must stay home for five days, the CDC said last month, changing the guidelines from the previously recommended 10 days.
At the end of the period, if you have no symptoms, you can return to normal activities, but must wear a mask everywhere — even at home around others — for at least five days.
If you still have symptoms after five days of isolation, stay home until you feel better and then start your five days of always wearing a mask.
So how do you calculate your isolation period?
According to the CDC, “Day 0 is your first day of symptoms.” That means Day 1 is the first full day after your symptoms develop.
For those who test positive for COVID but have no symptoms, day 0 is the day of the positive test. Those who develop symptoms after testing positive have to start their calculations again, with day 0 then becoming the first day of symptoms.
When should you call a doctor?
The CDC urges those who have or may have COVID-19 to watch for emergency warning signs and seek immediate medical attention if they experience symptoms, including:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent chest pain or pressure
- New confusion
- Inability to wake up or stay awake
- Pale, gray or blue skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone
“This list does not include all possible symptoms,” the CDC states. “Please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are serious or worrisome for you.”
You can also let the operator know that you think you or someone you care for has COVID.
What if you test positive with a home test?
Those who test positive using a home test are asked to follow the latest CDC guidelines and report the results to their health care provider, who is responsible for reporting test results to the state health department.
According to Chicago’s health departments, people should assume the test results are accurate and isolate themselves from others to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
“If you test positive for COVID-19, you need to isolate,” Arwady said. “There is no need to repeat a positive home test in a medical setting. We don’t want people going to the emergency department to get tested. Treat a positive test as a positive, stay home and isolate for five days. “
When can you be around other people after you’ve had COVID?
If you had symptoms, the CDC says you can be around others after five days of isolation and stop showing symptoms. However, you should continue to wear masks for five days to minimize the risk to others.