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 or in an unventilated space with 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 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. These circumstances are still considered close contact to an infectious person. Omicron, a variant of the virus now spreading through our region, is much more infectious than the viral strain (Delta) our community experienced earlier in the pandemic.

Infectious period: A person is generally most infectious 2 days before they develop COVID-19 symptoms and for 5 days after their first symptoms appear. Some people who develop more serious or severe symptoms or are immunocompromised may be infectious for a longer period so additional testing can be helpful.

For more information, visit NH DHHS' Isolation and Quarantine Recommendations for the General Public (PDF).

Exposure can mean being in close contact with:

  • Someone who has possible symptoms of COVID-19, unless they receive a test negative test result while sick.
  • Someone who developed symptoms 1 to 2 days after you were in close contact. People with COVID-19 may be contagious 2 days 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?

Depending on your vaccination and booster status, you may need to quarantine if you had close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Read the latest guidance about quarantine, isolation, and masking around others: NH DHHS' Isolation and Quarantine Recommendations for the General Public (PDF).

  • Testing is recommended 3 to 5 days after exposure. You can trust a positive result from an at-home rapid antigen test, but these tests can give false negatives. Either repeat an antigen test 2-3 days after the initial negative test or schedule a more sensitive PCR Test.
  • 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.

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 1 to 10 days. However, symptoms typically appear within 3 to 5 days after exposure. 

A person with COVID-19 may be contagious 2 days before starting to experience symptoms and up to 3-5 days after developing symptoms. People are most likely to spread the virus to others during the time they do not have symptoms because you may be unaware you have COVID-19.

The CDC's offers guidance for when you are safe to be around others.

What are the possible symptoms of COVID-19?

At the current time, people with "flulike" symptoms should assume they have COVID. If possible, arrange to get tested or do a home test.  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 for COVID-19 reported experiencing symptoms often mistaken for allergies: sore throat, cough, headache, congestion. Please get tested if you experience allergy-like symptoms.

Some people with COVID-19 may 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. Perform a rapid home antigen test or schedule a PCR test via myD-H. 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 2 days before your first symptom began that you feel unwell and they need to visit What To Do If You Were Exposed to COVID-19 from NH DHHS  for the latest guidance.
  5. Follow up with close contacts when you receive your test results; if you receive a negative test, then they no longer need to quarantine.
  6. Do not delay any medical care you need. Call your primary care provider to schedule a telemedicine Virtual Visit at 603-354-5400.
  7. 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 vaccinated and boosted 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.
Patient being treated at an Urgent Visit

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Life can throw us some painful curveballs. Make sure you know who to call before you find yourself needing same-day or immediate care.

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