As people continue to recover from holiday gatherings and others return to the workplace in the new year, many are wondering what the timeline would be like if they contracted COVID-19 or were exposed to an infected person.
When are people with coronavirus most contagious and for how long can they spread it? When should you be tested after exposure and how long, if any, should you be subject to quarantine?
Here’s what we know.
When are people with COVID most contagious?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines last month, changing the timing of isolation and quarantine as some experts say the time frame in which people are most contagious is earlier.
“It takes less time than when someone is exposed to COVID to infection. It takes less time for symptoms to appear, it takes less time for someone to become contagious, and for many people, it takes less time to recover,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Alison Arwady said. Much of that is due to more people being vaccinated.
For those without symptoms, CDC guidelines state that they are considered contagious at least two days before they test positive.
“This relates to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which really showed after seven days that there is no actual risk of transmission at this point,” Arwady said. “And in that five- to seven-day window, you know, there are some that depend on whether people have been vaccinated, the underlying conditions, etc., but the risk goes down a lot and the feeling is that in the general population, along with With concealment, etc., the risk is really very low.”
What is the best time to test after exposure?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID should get tested five days after exposure, or as soon as symptoms appear.
The guidance states that “if symptoms develop, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms that the symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.”
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezeki said incubation times can change, but those who test early should continue testing even if they get negative results.
“Maybe we learn that the incubation time could be a little shorter,” Izeki said. “So maybe you’ll get tested in a couple of days.” “Obviously if you have symptoms, you get tested right away. But you know, if you want to test in a couple of days, but that negative test… the two days shouldn’t make you think, ‘Okay, I’m clear.'” You know, You might want to get tested again and of course you can’t ignore the symptoms – itchy throat, headaches, all kinds of symptoms – anything new could be a symptom of this new disease.”
How quickly do symptoms appear?
According to previous CDC guidelines, symptoms of COVID can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after someone has been exposed to the virus.
Anyone showing symptoms should be tested for COVID-19.
How long should you isolate or isolate?
First things first, those who believe they have been in contact with someone who has COVID and are not immune should self-quarantine. Those who test positive should be isolated, regardless of vaccination status, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here is the breakdown:
Those who have been within 6 feet of a person with COVID for a cumulative total of at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period must self-quarantine for five days if they have not been vaccinated or more than six months after their second dose, according to CDC guidelines. Updated released Monday.
Once this period is over, they must engage in strict mask use for an additional five days.
Previously, the CDC said that people who have not been fully vaccinated and who have been in close contact with an infected person should stay at home for at least 10 days.
Before last month, fully vaccinated people — defined by the CDC as having had two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — could be exempted from quarantine.
Those who have received the full vaccination and boosters do not need to be quarantined if they have been in close contact with someone with COVID, but they must wear a mask for at least 10 days after exposure. The same goes for those who have been fully vaccinated and who are not yet eligible for the booster vaccine.
Local health authorities can also make the final decision on how long the quarantine should last. And testing can play a role.
The Illinois Department of Health said it will adopt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s revised guidelines for isolation and quarantine of the coronavirus.
In Chicago, those traveling to or from certain parts of the country who have not been vaccinated must self-quarantine upon arrival in the city, but the length of time they must do so depends on whether or not they will be tested for COVID.
The CDC said last month that people who test positive for COVID should stay at home for five days, changing guidance from the previously recommended 10 days.
At the end of the period, if you have no symptoms, you can return to normal activities but you must wear a mask everywhere – even at home around others – for at least five more days.
If symptoms persist after five days of isolation, stay at home until you feel better and then start wearing a mask for five days at all times.
How do you calculate the isolation period?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Day 0 is the first day you have symptoms.” This means that day one is the first full day after symptoms appear.
For those who have tested positive for COVID but do not have symptoms, Day 0 is the day of a positive test. Those who develop symptoms after a positive result should start their calculations over, however, it becomes day 0 and then the first day of symptom onset.
When should you call the doctor?
The CDC urges those who have or may have COVID to watch for emergency warning signs and seek medical care immediately if they experience symptoms including:
- breathing difficulties
- Constant pain or pressure in the chest
- new confusion
- Inability to wake up or stay awake
- Pale, gray, or blue skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
“This list is not all possible symptoms,” the CDC says. “Please contact your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or worry you.”
You can also notify the operator that you think you or someone you care about has the COVID virus.
What if I test positive using an at-home test?
Those who test positive using a home test are required to follow the latest CDC guidelines and report results to their health care provider, who is responsible for reporting test results to the state health department.
According to Chicago-area health departments, people should assume test results are accurate and should be isolated from others to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
“If he tests positive for COVID-19, he should be quarantined,” Arwady said. “There is no need to repeat a positive test at home in a medical setting. We don’t want people to go to the emergency department just to get tested. Treat the positive as positive, stay home and isolate for five days.”
When can you be around other people after you have COVID?
If you have symptoms, the CDC says you can be around others after you’ve been isolated for five days and stop showing symptoms. However, you must continue to wear masks for five days to reduce risks to others.