What to Expect If You have been Exposed to COVID-19
From Exposure to Feeling Better
Let’s go over what happens if you were to get exposed to COVID-19, from beginning to end. Let’s say you find out you were exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 when… You get contacted by your health department!
You may not know these folks, they’re awesome. But they have bad news for you. Someone you know has been diagnosed with COVID-19. And that person believes they spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of you. That makes you a close contact, and it makes you potentially exposed to COVID-19. So what happens next?
If you have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you will be asked to quarantine. This means staying in your home for 14 days. If you have kids or other family members in your household, they can still leave the house, but if you get sick, they will have to stay home too! During this time, you are feeling just fine. Maybe worried. Maybe jealous because your family members can leave the house. You’ll be monitoring your health—taking your temperature every day. You’re probably getting a call every day or so from one of our friends at the health department to make sure you have everything you need. They will help you out if you need to get food, medication, or other supplies picked up without leaving your house.
Count down the days! After 14 days, if you have been healthy this whole time—no fever, no cough, no other symptoms associated with COVID-19—you can leave your house again!
But, if you do get sick, the health department will ask you to isolate yourself from other people as completely as possible. We get a lot of questions from people about COVID-19, like what should I do if I get exposed? How long should I stay home? This video answers those questions.
Isolation is very important so you do not spread COVID-19 to anyone else. When you are in isolation, you are feeling sick. Your family members who live in your house with you are quarantined. They need to stay in the house but away from you! You will need to stay isolated for at least 10 days and until your fever has been gone for three days, and the rest of your symptoms are much better. You’ll continue to hear frequently from someone at the health department, who will help make sure you have everything you need so you do not need to leave the house.
Once you get symptoms, the health department will also ask you to get tested for COVID-19. They will help you figure out the safest way to do that without putting others at risk. Anyone and everyone who has symptoms associated with COVID-19 needs to get tested. There should be no cost to you as a patient for testing, whether you have insurance or not. The state Insurance Commissioner is requiring insurers to waive co-pays and deductibles for COVID-19 testing.
Once you test positive for COVID-19, someone from the health department will ask you who you have been in close contact with during the time period when you could have been contagious (when you feel sick plus about 2-3 days before you started to feel sick). If you have been quarantined, this is most likely no one outside of your immediate household. If you have been in public, you will let the health department knows who has been within six feet of you for more than 15 minutes.
Then the process starts all over again as the health department calls your close contacts and asks them to quarantine so they don’t spread COVID-19 to anyone else.
This strategy is a trusted public health approach that has been used here in Washington and all over the world for decades to stop the spread of contagious diseases like tuberculosis, measles, Ebola, SARS, and, now, COVID-19. Our experience with other contagious diseases tells us that, with your help, we can control COVID-19, and safely reopen our economy.
Practice compassion. Has someone you know had to quarantine or isolate themselves because of an exposure to COVID-19? How can you help? Can you drop off a meal or send a text to check in on them?