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Arm yourself with knowledge about COVID-19

I was with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. What do I do?

Over the past several months, we’ve all learned more about COVID-19 than we ever thought possible — like how to properly wear a mask, what social distancing means and symptoms to watch for. Yet, many aspects of the disease lead to more questions.

Do you know what counts as a “potential exposure” or “close contact” with an infected person? Or the difference between “isolation” and “quarantine”? How about when to be tested?

Here’s some help with these topics, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Q: What is a potential exposure?

A: A potential exposure means living in a household with or having close contact with someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. The timeframe for having contact includes 48 hours before the individual began showing symptoms.

Q: What counts as close contact with an infected person?

A: In general:

  • You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more.
  • You provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19.
  • You had direct physical contact with the person, such as hugging or kissing.
  • You shared eating or drinking utensils.
  • The person sneezed, coughed or somehow got respiratory droplets on you.

Q: If I’ve had close contact with an infected person, what should I do?

A: You should stay home — also called quarantine — and monitor your health.


Q: What does “quarantine” mean?

A: Quarantine is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others. Quarantine helps prevent the spread of disease that can occur before people know they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms.


Q: If I need to quarantine, what steps should I take?

A: People in quarantine should stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from their state or local health department.

More specifically, if you are in quarantine, you should:

  • Stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19. This includes staying home from work, avoiding any public areas (including stores, restaurants, etc.) and not using public transportation. You should not leave home except to get medical care.
  • Have only people in the home who live there or are essential for providing care.
  • Stay in a different room from other members of your family as much as possible if you are the only one who was exposed.
  • Maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others at all times.
  • Avoid contact with people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
  • Avoid sharing household items with people in your home.
  • Clean your hands well with soap and water or hand sanitizer often, especially after you sneeze or blow your nose and before touching your face or eating.
  • Watch for fever (100 degrees F), cough, shortness of breath or other symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop.



Q: Who needs to quarantine?

A: People who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should quarantine. (See “close contact,” above.)


Q: What determines when I can end quarantine?

A: You should stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19.

For all of the following scenarios, even if you test negative for COVID-19 or feel healthy, you should quarantine for the length of time indicated below, since symptoms may appear as many as 14 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus.

  • Scenario 1: I had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and will not have further contact or interactions with the person while they are sick.
    Your last day of quarantine is 14 days from the date you had close contact.
  • Scenario 2: I live with someone who has COVID-19, and that person has isolated by staying in a separate bedroom. I have had no close contact with the person since they isolated.
    Your last day of quarantine is 14 days from when the person with COVID-19 began home isolation.
  • Scenario 3: I live with someone who has COVID-19 and started my 14-day quarantine period because we had close contact. What if I end up having close contact with the person who is sick during my quarantine? What if another household member gets sick with COVID-19? Do I need to restart my quarantine?
    You will have to restart your quarantine from the last day you had close contact with anyone in your house who has COVID-19. Any time a new household member gets sick with COVID-19 and you had close contact, you will need to restart your quarantine.
  • Scenario 4: I live in a household where I cannot avoid close contact with the person who has COVID-19. I am providing direct care to the person who is sick, don’t have a separate bedroom to isolate the person who is sick, or live in close quarters where I am unable to keep a physical distance of 6 feet.
    You should avoid contact with others outside the home while the person is sick, and quarantine for 14 days after the person who has COVID-19 meets the criteria to end home isolation.

Q: What does “isolation” mean?

A: Isolation is used to separate people infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 from people who are not infected. People who are in isolation should stay home — and separate themselves from others in the home — until it’s safe for them to be around others.


Q: If I have COVID-19 and need to isolate, what steps should I take?

A: Stay home except for medical care or emergencies and follow these guidelines:

  • Monitor your symptoms. If you have an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing), seek emergency medical care immediately. Notify your emergency responders and providers that you have COVID-19.
  • Stay in a separate room from other household members, if possible.
  • Use a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Avoid contact with other members of the household and pets.
  • Don’t share personal household items, like cups, towels and utensils.
  • Keep at least 6 feet away and wear a mask (if you are able) when around other people.
  • Wash hands with soap and water often and disinfect surfaces regularly, including doorknobs, cell phones and counters.

Q: Who needs to isolate?

A: People who have COVID-19, including:

  • People who have symptoms of COVID-19 and are able to recover at home
  • People who have no symptoms (are asymptomatic) but have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19

Q: What determines when home isolation can end?

A: Ending isolation and precautions for persons with COVID-19 is primarily based on symptoms. Specifically, researchers have reported that people with mild to moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after their symptoms began, and those with more severe illness or those who are severely immunocompromised remain infectious no longer than 20 days after their symptoms began.

According to the CDC, persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation under the following conditions:

  • At least 10 days* have passed since symptoms began and
  • At least 24 hours have passed since they showed a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
  • Other symptoms have improved

* A limited number of persons with severe illness may be contagious beyond 10 days, and that may warrant extending isolation for up to 20 days after symptom onset.

Persons infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 who never develop symptoms may discontinue isolation and other precautions 10 days after the date of their first positive test for the virus.


Q: What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?

A:Quarantine keeps someone who might have been exposed to the virus away from others. Isolation keeps someone who is infected with the virus away from others, even in their home.


Q: Who should be tested for COVID-19?

A: Not everyone needs to be tested, but these groups should receive testing:

  • People who have symptoms of COVID-19
  • People who have had close contact (within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes) with someone with confirmed COVID-19
  • People who have been asked or referred to get testing by their health care provider or local or state health department

If you do get tested, you should self-quarantine or self-isolate (depending on your situation) at home while awaiting test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional.

If you believe you may have symptoms of COVID-19 or may have had close contact with an infected person, take a free risk screening here.


How to protect yourself and others

While some of the information associated with COVID-19 might seem confusing, here is some guidance from the CDC that’s simple: The best way to avoid getting sick from COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus in the first place. And that means doing everything you can to keep yourself and others safe — like washing your hands regularly, minimizing your contact with other people, staying at least 6 feet away from others whenever possible and wearing a mask.

See more information from the CDC about reducing COVID-19 transmission through social distancing and other personal prevention strategies.

At BJC, safety has always been a priority. Additional safety protocols are in place for in-office visits, and virtual care options are available. To see more about how BJC is working to keep patients, their families and our communities safe and healthy, visit

The CDC notes that these recommendations are based on evolving scientific evidence, and individuals should always follow the guidance of state and local authorities.