If you have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, you can spread the virus even if you don't show any symptoms. It is important to take precautions to protect others from the virus. You should take these steps whether you are vaccinated or not and even if you have had COVID-19 in the past.
Take Precautions Right Away
If you have been exposed to COVID-19 or have been told by a health care provider or public health authority that you were exposed, you should take the following steps.
- Start wearing a high-quality mask or respirator (such as N95) as soon as you find out you were exposed to someone with COVID-19.
- You should wear a mask any time you are around others either inside your home or around other people in public.
- Start counting from day 1 of exposure. Day 1 is the first FULL day after your last exposure to the virus. You can develop COVID-19 for up to 10 days after exposure.
- If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, start isolation immediately and get tested as soon as you can.
- If you have no symptoms of COVID-19, get tested on day 6 after your last exposure. You should test even if you do not have symptoms.
- If you test negative for COVID-19, you should continue to wear a mask around others at all times through day 10.
- On day 11, you can remove your mask.
If you test positive, you should go into home isolation immediately, and follow guidance from your provider or local health department for how long to isolate at home.
When to Call the Doctor
You should contact your health care provider:
- If you have symptoms and think you may have been exposed to COVID-19
- If you have COVID-19 and your symptoms are getting worse
Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain or pressure
- Confusion or inability to wake up
- Gray, blue, or pale lips or face
- Any other symptoms that are severe or concern you
COVID-19 exposure; COVID-19 exposure - what to do
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: Isolation and precautions for people with COVID-19. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/isolation.html. Updated August 11, 2022. Accessed January 31, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: What to do if you were exposed to COVID-19. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/if-you-were-exposed.html. Updated August 24, 2022. Accessed January 31, 2023.
Review Date 2/22/2023
Updated by: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.