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


If you have just learned of a 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. Being exposed does not mean that you have COVID-19 or will get COVID-19. It DOES mean you should take steps to protect yourself and those around you in case you have been infected. You should watch your health closely for 10 days after your last contact with someone who has tested positive, to see if you develop any signs or 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, whether you have been vaccinated, boosted, or not:

  • Test 3–5* days following your exposure.         
    • Consider testing as soon as possible to see if you are already infected; but if you test negative before Day 3, test again 1–2 days later, during the 3–5 days after exposure.
    • If you had COVID-19 in the last 30 days, you do not need to test. If it has been more than 30 days since your last infection, follow the testing recommendations above.
    • If your test result is positive, seek treatment and follow isolation recommendations.
  • Wear a well-fitting mask around others (even at home), especially indoors and around those at higher risk for severe COVID-19 disease, for 10 days following exposure even if your test is negative.
  • Monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days following your exposure. If symptoms develop, get tested immediately and stay home (see below).
  • Consider getting vaccinated or boosted if you have not done so yet. The best way to protect yourself from getting very sick from a future COVID-19 exposure and infection is to get vaccinated and boosted now.

Please note that guidelines may be different for those living or working in certain high-risk settings. These include:

  • Healthcare settings
  • Long-Term Care Settings & Adult and Senior Care Facilities

See below for additional exemptions.

*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.

What to do if you are exposed to COVID-19 and have symptoms or test positive

  • If you have symptoms, get tested right away. Isolate (stay home and separate yourself from others) while waiting for test results.
  • If you test positive, speak to a health care provider about treatment right away, especially if you develop symptoms. COVID-19 treatments are free, safe and highly effective but need to be taken within 5-7 days from the start of symptoms. Continue to isolate for at least 5 days, except to get medical care. Start counting isolation days with Day 1 being the first full day after your symptoms began (or the day after your positive test if you have had no symptoms). 
    • Visit What to Do if You Test Positive for COVID-19 for more information on what to do when isolating, including when to end isolation. 
    • Visit covid19.ca.gov/treatment/ for more information on COVID-19 treatments.
    • Contact a healthcare provider with any questions concerning your care, especially if you are at higher risk for getting more sick with COVID-19.
    • If you need help obtaining food or other essential items during your isolation, call 2-1-1, your county's information line, or visit the 2-1-1 website. COVID19.ca.gov offers additional resources, including financial help, food assistance, housing and homelessness, emotional support, childcare, and support for immigrant communities.
  • If your test result is positive, you should wear a well-fitting mask indoors and around others, especially those at higher risk for getting infected (like those living in your home) or at higher risk for getting very sick with COVID-19, for 10 days after the date you developed symptoms (or from the date you tested positive if no symptoms).
  • If you test negative using an antigen test (such as an at-home test kit), you should consider continuing to isolate and retesting in 1-2 days, especially if you tested during the 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 symptoms improve.
COVID-19 may cause some of the same signs and 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. 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. 

Call 911 if you start to have emergency warning signs. If someone if showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • 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 medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

Testing Information

You can find testing sites in your area or can check your local pharmacy or retail store for test kits that you can buy and use at home (also called "over-the-counter" or "at-home" tests).
Learn more about types of tests and recommendations on the CDPH testing guidance 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 digital alert or text message from one of California's notification tools, including CA Notify and the Virtual Assistant.

When you may need to follow different guidelines

Your employer (PDF), place of residence, or local health department may have different requirements, especially if you live or work in a high-risk setting (such as a healthcare setting or Skilled Nursing Facility). Local health jurisdictions 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 isolation and quarantine requirements (for example, during active outbreaks in high-risk settings).

In the workplace, employers are subject to the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) or in some workplaces the Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) Standard (PDF), and should consult those regulations for additional applicable requirements. Additional information about how CDPH isolation and quarantine guidance affects ETS-covered workplaces may be found in Cal/OSHA FAQs.

These instructions are available in a one-page, printable version in English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF). 

Originally published on February 10, 2022