COVID-19 Exposure and Symptoms

What’s on this page?

What counts as “close contact” and “exposure” to COVID-19?

Close contact:

  • Being within 6 feet of someone for a cumulative total of 10 minutes or longer during the person’s infectious period. This exposure can occur over multiple separate contacts or even days. 
  • Providing care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19.
  • Having direct physical contact with the person (e.g., hugging, kissing)
  • Sharing eating or drinking utensils.
  • Being sneezed on or coughed on.

While wearing masks, being outdoors, and being fully vaccinated significantly reduce virus transmission, these do not eliminate the risk of infection altogether. These circumstances are still considered close contact to an infectious person, especially for prolonged periods of time.

Infectious period: A person is generally infectious 48 to 72 hours before they develop COVID-19 symptoms and for 10 days after their first symptoms appear. Some people who develop more serious or severe symptoms may be infectious for a longer period; please contact your primary care provider for recommendations.

Exposure can mean being in close contact with:

  • Someone who has possible symptoms of COVID-19, unless they test negative while they are sick.
  • Someone who developed symptoms one to two days after you were in close contact. People with COVID-19 may be contagious 48 to 72 hours before they develop symptoms.
  • Someone who has not become ill with symptoms but tested positive for COVID-19 within 7 days of your close contact.

What if I've been exposed to someone with COVID-19?

Except in certain circumstances, people who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should quarantine. 

Read the latest guidance about quarantine and when to end it: What To Do If You Were Exposed to COVID-19 from NH DHHS

  • If you do not develop symptoms, have not received your full vaccination and have not had a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 90 days,  NH DHHS recommends you quarantine and schedule a test 3-5 days after exposure.
  • Some people with COVID-19 experience mild or no symptoms but are still contagious. Note, if you test positive without symptoms, you still need to inform anyone exposed to you while contagious. Learn more on our COVID-19 Testing page.

What if I've been exposed but I'm fully vaccinated?

Even fully vaccinated people who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should quarantine until they receive a negative test taken 3-5 days after exposure and have no symptoms.

Even if you receive a negative test during days 3-5 from exposure, please wear a mask at all times while indoors for a full 14 days. This is because fully vaccinated people can get develop COVID up to 14 days after exposure without having symptoms. If this happens, you are contagious and can spread the virus to other people.

These guidelines changed in June, 2021 because of the new COVID strain, Delta. Vaccinated people can spread the new Delta COVID variant to others even if they have no symptoms and do not feel ill. Please follow the guidance in the question above.

If I test positive for COVID-19, when am I contagious?

The time from exposure to symptom onset (known as the incubation period) is thought to be one (1) to fourteen (14) days. However, symptoms typically appear within three to five days after exposure. 

A person with COVID-19 may be contagious 48 to 72 hours before starting to experience symptoms. People may be most likely to spread the virus to others during the two days before they start to experience symptoms.

The CDC's offers guidance for when you are safe to be around others because you are no longer contagious. After:

  • 10 days since symptoms first appeared and
  • 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
  • Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving*

*Loss of taste and smell may persist for weeks or months after recovery and need not delay the end of isolation​

What are the possible symptoms of COVID-19?

Please see the CDC's Symptoms of Coronavirus page for the most up-to-date information.

Any one of the following symptoms may indicate COVID-19, if new and not explained by another health condition:

  • Fever (over 100ºF) 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

Recently, patients testing positive with the Delta variant of COVID reported experiencing symptoms often mistaken for allergies: sore throat, cough, headache, congestion. Lately, fewer patients are  reporting loss of taste and smell than those infected with the virus variants circulating in our community last year. Please get tested for COVID-19 if you experience allergy-like symptoms.

Some people with COVID-19 also experience neurological symptoms, gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. These may occur with or without respiratory symptoms. See Harvard Health's If you've been exposed to the coronavirus

Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of other viruses and medical conditions, so it is important to protect those around you until you receive test results that indicate if you have COVID-19. 

What if I develop symptoms that could be COVID-19?

  1. Stay home except to get medical care, and isolate yourself from those in your household. Learn more about isolation & caring for yourself: NH DHHS Isolation Requirements (PDF). 
  2. Stop the spread of the virus you have. See the CDC's What to Do If You are Sick page and read D-HH's Important tips for both self-quarantine and self-isolation.
  3. Schedule a test via myD-H or learn more on our COVID-19 Testing FAQ page
  4. Tell close contacts to quarantine. Tell anyone you have been in close contact with since 72 hours before your first symptom began that you feel unwell and they should quarantine for 10 days. Follow up with them when you receive your test results; if you receive a negative test, then they no longer need to quarantine.
  5. Do not delay any medical care you need. Call your primary care provider to schedule a telemedicine Virtual Visit at 603-354-5400.
  6. For urgent virtual or in-person primary care, call our Urgent Visits team at 603-354-5484. They may care for you via phone, virtual visit, or at our KARES unit.

Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, get medical attention immediately by calling 911. Emergency warning signs include*:

  • Difficulty breathing or gasping for breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face
  • *This list is not all-inclusive. Please consult your primary care team or our urgent primary care visit team for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

Self-quarantine vs self-isolation

What's the difference between the terms self-quarantine and self-isolation? Dartmouth-Hitchcock has prepared a guide to help you understand the differences and how you can help yourself and those you love.

Note: quarantine and isolation guidelines are set by your state; New Hampshire and Vermont requirements may differ.

You can review the complete guide or jump directly to topics that might interest you:

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