What do I do if I’m exposed to COVID-19?
COVID information continues to change rapidly. The information below is current as of January 13, 2022. Refer to our What to Do if You Are Sick or Possibly Exposed webpage for the most up to date information.
With rates of cases and hospitalizations continuing to climb, there is a high probability that you will be impacted by COVID during this surge, whether it’s a personal connection, through work or in the community – all sectors are feeling the impact. This also means an increased chance of being exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID.
On January 4, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated its guidance on quarantine and isolation recommendations. The CDC now recommends that anyone who comes into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should get tested five days after exposure, or sooner if they develop symptoms. The CDC also recommends different courses of action after exposure, depending on vaccination status and timeline. Let’s take a closer look.
What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?
You quarantine and stay away from others when you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. You isolate when you are sick or when you have been infected with the virus, even if you don’t have symptoms. Read more about what to do if you test positive in our recent blog post.
Who should quarantine?
- You completed your primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine more than five months ago and have not yet received your booster dose
- You completed your primary series of Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two months ago and have not yet received your booster dose
- You are unvaccinated (and have never had COVID-19 or had COVID-19 more than 90 days ago)
Children who have completed their primary series, who are not yet eligible for boosters, do not need to quarantine if they are not yet boosted. If you fall under any of these categories, stay home and quarantine for 5 full days since your last contact (the date of your exposure is day 0. Day 1 is the first full day after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19). After that continue to wear a mask around others for 5 additional days, at home and in public. Don’t go to places where you might not wear a mask, such as restaurants and gyms.
- If you can’t wear a mask, you should stay home for 10 days
- If you can’t quarantine, you should wear a mask around others for 10 days
- We strongly recommend quarantine as the safest option to prevent the spread of COVID.
Test on day 5, if possible. Find testing options on our website.
Who doesn’t need to quarantine?
If you came into close contact with someone with COVID-19 you do not need to quarantine if:
- You completed your primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last five months
- You completed your primary series of Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the last two months
- You completed your primary vaccine series and have received your booster dose
- You are 5-17 years old and have completed your primary series
- You had confirmed COVID-19 within the past 90 days (not an antibody or home test)
Instead, wear a mask around others for 10 days since your last contact. Don’t go to places where you might not wear a mask, such as restaurants. If you can’t wear a mask, you should stay home for 10 days. It is strongly recommended that you get a COVID test on day 5, if possible. If at any point you develop symptoms, isolate immediately and get tested.
NOTE: The CDC recommends that for 10 days after close contact everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should monitor themselves for symptoms, avoid places where they are unable to wear a mask, avoid travel, and avoid being around people who are at high risk.
There are several reasons you may have been identified as a “close contact”. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services defines “close contact” if:
- You were within 6 feet of a person who had COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
- You had direct exposure to respiratory secretions (for example, being coughed or sneezed on, sharing a drinking glass, utensils, towels or other personal items).
- You had direct physical contact with the person (for example, a hug, kiss, or handshake).
- You cared or care for a person who has COVID-19.
- You lived or live with a person who has COVID-19.
- You stayed overnight with them for at least one night in the same household.
The date of your exposure is considered day 0. Day 1 is the first full day after your last contact with a person who has had COVID-19. Stay home and away from other people for at least 5 days.
Stay home (or other location where you can be separated from others). This means do not go to work, school, daycare, or public areas. You may go out for necessities such as food or medication if someone else can’t bring them over or you can’t have them delivered. If you do go out, wear a well-fitted mask and go during a time when there will be fewer people.
Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home. As much as possible, you should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Wear a well-fitted mask if you need to be around other people. If possible, you should use a separate bathroom.
Avoid sharing personal household items. You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people in your home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
Wash your hands often and practice good hygiene.
Postpone all non-essential medical appointments until you are out of quarantine. If you have an essential appointment during the quarantine, talk to your doctor about how to arrange this.
If you are unable to quarantine, you should wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days when around others at home and in public. Learn more about how to improve the ventilation in your home as another tool to prevent spread within the household.
What kinds of symptoms should I be watching for?
There is a wide range of symptoms to be on the lookout for:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
If you have a thermometer, measure your temperature twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. Otherwise, watch for symptoms of fever like feeling hot, chills or sweats. If you develop symptoms, contact your doctor to report your symptoms and see if you need medical care.
If you do require emergency medical attention, call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility and let them know that you are being monitored for COVID-19.
Why did the quarantine and isolation guidance change?
On January 4, 2022, the CDC shared some background on the science behind their updated guidance. The agency cited data reviews showing that the majority of transmission happens in the first 1-2 days before showing symptoms and the 2-3 days after showing symptoms. The agency also said that it has continued to review its recommendations for various populations throughout the course of the pandemic. They went on to say:
“...the recommendations reflect the societal impact (e.g., critical infrastructure and staffing shortages) and the latest science on disease severity and when and for how long a person is maximally infectious.”