What-to-Do-If-You-Are-Exposed-to-COVID-19 What to Do If You Are Exposed to COVID-19

What to Do If You Are Exposed to COVID-19

​​​​​​​​​​​Background

If you have just learned of a recent possible exposure to COVID-19, then someone you have been in close contact with has tested positive. They may have been able to spread the disease to you and others even before knowing they were sick themselves. Being exposed does not necessarily mean that you already have COVID-19 or will get COVID-19. It DOES mean you should take steps to help protect yourself and those around you in case you have been infected. You should watch your health closely for ten days after your last contact with someone who has tested positive to see if you develop any symptoms of COVID-19. Common COVID-19 symptoms 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 does not include all possible symptoms, and anyone can have mild to severe COVID-19 illness. 

What to do if you are exposed to COVID-19 and do not have symptoms

If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and you do not have any symptoms, you should take the following steps. These steps should be taken whether or not you have been vaccinated and boosted:

1. Test: Get tested 3–5 days​ following your last exposure date.         

 You may also consider testing as soon as possible to see if you are already infected. However, if you test negative before Day 3, test again at least one day later, during the 3–5 days after your last exposure.

You can use the Personalized Testing and Isolation Calculato​​​r to help figure out when you should isolate (stay home and away from others) and how long you should wear a mask.

  • If you had COVID-19 in the last 30 days, you do not need to test unless you develop symptoms.
  • If it has been more than 30 days since your last infection, follow the testing recommendations above. 
  • ​​​If you had COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you should use an antigen (at-home) test since PCR test results might show as positive due to your earlier infection.​

2. Mask:  Wear a well-fitting mask indoors around others (even at home), especially around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19, for ten days after you were last exposed—even if your test is negative.

​​Choose a higher quality mask with a good fit (no gaps). See how to Get the Most Out of Masking​.

​3. Monitor​​​ for symptoms:  Watch for COVID-19 symptoms for ten days after you were exposed. If you start to feel sick, test immediately and stay home (see below for what to do if you have symptoms).

 4. Vaccinate and boost:  You should also consider getting vaccinated or boosted​ if you have not done so yet. Although it will not prevent infection from your recent exposure, gett​​ing vaccinated or boosted is the best way to protect yourself from getting very sick from a future COVID-19 exposure.

Your employer, school, place of residence, or local health department may have different recommendations or requirements, especially if you live or work in a healthcare setting. See below for more information on when you may need to follow different guidelines​.

*​Day 0 is the day you were last around the person with COVID-19. Count from Day 1 (the day after your last exposure) and test during Days 3–5. You can use the Personalized Testing and Isolation Calculator to help figure out when to test.

What to do if you are e​xposed to COVID-19 and have symptoms

1. Test:  If you have symptoms, test right away. Use an antigen (at-home) test if you have tested positive in the past 90 days.  Isolate (stay home and separate yourself from others) while waiting to find out if you are positive.

  • ​​​If you test positive, speak to a healthcare provider about treatment right away. COVID-19 treatments are safe, currently free, and effective at stopping COVID-19 illness from getting serious.  COVID-19 medications work best when started as soon as possible, within the first 5-7 days after you begin to feel sick. Continue to isolate for at least five days, except to get medical care.

  • ​If you test negative using an antigen test, you should consider continuing to isolate and testing again in 1-2 days, especially if you tested during the first 1-2 days of your symptoms starting (see below for additional testing information). Consider retesting every 1-2 days for several days, until testing positive or you feel better.
  • ​COVID-19 may cause some of the same symptoms as other contagious respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold and influenza (flu). Specific testing is needed to tell what is causing the illness. During flu season, talk to a healthcare provider about getting tested for both flu and COVID-19 if you have symptoms. Getting treated early for COVID-19 and flu can reduce your risk of getting very sick.

 2. Mask:  Even if you test negative, wear a well-fitting mask indoors around others (including at home), especially around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19,  for ten days from the time you were last exposed.

​3. ​​Monitor your symptoms:  watch for worsening COVID-19 symptoms, especially if you are at risk for getting very sick from COVID-19 or other respiratory diseases.

  • If you test positive for COVID-19, seek treatment right away. Do not wait for symptoms to get worse. COVID-19 medications work best when started as soon as possible, within the first 5-7 days after you begin to feel sick.
  • ​Contact a healthcare provider to discuss treatment or with any questions about your care, especially if you are at higher risk for getting more sick with COVID-19. Getting treated early for COVID-19 (and flu) can reduce your risk of getting very sick.

Call 911 and seek emergency medical care immediately if you have (or someone else has) any emergency warning signs for COVID-19:

  • Trouble breathing 
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest 
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone.

Call your healthcare provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

Testing Information

There are a number of ways you can test to see if you have COVID-19. Contact your health care provider, find a testing site in your community, or visit your local pharmacy to get an at-home antigen test. You can test yourself at home and get results in less than 30 minutes. Testing kits are available at most pharmacies, and you do not need a prescription.

Learn more about types of tests and recommendations on the CDPH testing webpage.

For more information on testing:

Ways you might be notified that you have been exposed

There are a few ways that you might be informed about a possible exposure to COVID-19. You may:

  • Be notified directly by a personal contact who recently tested positive.
  • Be notified by your work or school setting.
  • Receive an anonymous notification from TellYourContacts.org.
  • Receive a call from a public health contact tracer.
  • ​Receive a ​​text message from one of California's notification tools,​​​ the Virtual Assistant.

When you may need to follow different guidelines​

Your employer, school, place of residence, or local health department may have different recommendations or requirements.

Local health departments may continue to implement additional requirements that go beyond this statewide guidance based on local circumstances, including in certain higher-risk settings or during certain situations that may require additional measures (for example, during active outbreaks in high-risk settings).

In workplaces, employers and employees are subject to either the Cal/OSHA COVID Non-Emergency Regulations or the Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmis​sible Diseases (ATD) Standard (PDF)​ and should consult those regulat​ions for additional applicable requirements. In certain healthcare situations or settings and other covered facilities, services and operations, surgical masks (or higher filtration masks) are required.​




Originally published on February 10, 2022​​