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What Should You Do If You Come in Contact With Someone Who’s Infected With COVID-19?

The short answer from an infectious disease specialist

woman looking out of window during self quarentine

This article was originally published on May 11, 2020. It was updated on December 15, 2020, to reflect new information about this rapidly evolving situation.


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What should I do if I think I have been around someone who has coronavirus?

A: The answer depends on the degree of contact you have with that person.

The coronavirus mainly spreads from person to person through droplets when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. This means that the biggest risk for catching it is to be in close contact for a significant amount of time with someone who has COVID-19.

Close contact means that you were within 6 feet of someone for at least 15 minutes.

If you were just grocery shopping in the same store as someone who might have COVID-19 and everyone was wearing masks, that would not be considered a high risk — unless that person coughs or sneezes directly on you, which is a clear exposure.

People who do come in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should self-quarantine for up to 14 days, or as instructed by your local public health department. This involves staying home and limiting your interactions with others — even if you don’t get sick. We now understand that people can have the virus and pass it on to others even if they aren’t showing any symptoms, so self-quarantining is critical to helping prevent the spread.

If you develop symptoms such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, contact your healthcare provider for guidance on what to do.

— Infectious disease specialist Kristin Englund, MD

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