How long before symptoms of COVID-19 develop?


How long before symptoms of COVID-19 develop?

If you become infected with COVID-19, how long until you can expect to begin experiencing symptoms? 
Once the virus enters the body, its incubation period — the time between exposure and onset of symptoms — varies from person to person, ranging from two to 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, symptoms begin the fourth or fifth day after exposure, although some people don’t experience any symptoms at all.
The CDC’s guidelines for non-health-care workers call for individuals who have been in close contact with an infected person to quarantine at home for 14 days after their last exposure. Individuals who have had the illness and recovered within the past three months do not need to stay home, though they should wear a face mask, social distance and follow other prevention guidelines when in public.


The agency stresses the importance of the quarantine period even if you don’t feel ill. That’s because people can transit COVID-19 before symptoms become apparent or if they don’t appear at all.  
So what counts as close contact with an infected person?

  • Being within six feet of the infected person for a total of 15 minutes or longer
  • Caring for someone at home who is ill with the virus
  • Sharing eating or drinking utensils with an infected person
  • Being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person
  • Direct physical contact (hugging or kissing) with an infected person.

The virus is thought to spread primarily through respiratory drops when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The droplets can land in the mouths of nearby people or be inhaled into the lungs. If you begin to experience symptoms, there are several options for how to proceed, says Angela Harris, infection prevention manager at Tidelands Health.

Be screened

The first option is to call the Tidelands Health COVID-19 Nurse Line at 843-652-8800 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for COVID-19 screening and referral.
Another option is to contact your primary care provider for instructions on what to do next. If you do not have a primary care provider, call 1-866-TIDELANDS for assistance locating one.

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“If you are experiencing emergency symptoms such as significant trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest area, delirium or confusion, bluish lips or face or the inability to wake or stay awake, call 911 immediately,” Harris says. “These symptoms could be life threatening.”
Most people who are infected with COVID-19 will recover safely at home, Harris says. However, there is a risk of severe complications especially among older people and individuals with certain underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic kidney disease, sickle cell disease and more.

According to the CDC, most people who are infected with COVID-19 must meet three key milestones before they can safely be around others:

  • 10 days since symptoms first appeared, and
  • 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, and
  • COVID-19 symptoms have improved (for example, cough, shortness of breath)

However, people who are severely immunocompromised may require testing to determine when they can be around others. If you have any questions, contact your physician or another qualified health care provider to learn more.


The best defense to limit the spread of COVID-19 is to follow the CDC’s prevention guidance:

  • Clean hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Maintain at least six feet between you and others.
  • Wear a face covering in public settings or when around people outside of your household.
  • Avoid touching objects or surfaces that may be contaminated.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily.

“These steps, when taken by all of us, can make a major difference in the spread of COVID-19,” Harris says. “To beat this illness, we need everyone working together.”

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