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What to do if you’re exposed to COVID-19

What to do if you’re exposed to COVID-19

Health
Woman looking at thermometer

Even though the COVID-19 vaccine is now available to certain groups of people, it’s far too soon to let our guard down against virus.
COVID-19 continues to spread in South Carolina and across the country, and new, highly transmissible variants of the virus have been detected. Taking precautions such as social distancing, wearing a mask and avoiding close contact with others is vital to limiting spread of the disease.
If you do come into close contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19, it’s important to quarantine yourself. By doing so, you can help prevent yourself from inadvertently spreading the disease to others until you’re sure you haven’t been infected. 
Close contact is defined as being within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting two days before the infected person began showing symptoms or, in the case of close contact with an asymptomatic person, two days before the person tested positive for COVID-19.
If you were in the same building or room but not in close contact with someone with COVID-19, your risk of catching the virus from that person is low, and you do not need to quarantine. However, you should continue to follow precautions such as social distancing, washing your hands regularly and wearing a mask. 

If you come into close contact

If you come into close contact with an infected person, it’s important to stay home and away from others.

  • Do not go to work or school.
  • Avoid taxis, buses and ride-shares.
  • Maintain at least six feet from others. In situations where being around others can’t be avoided, be sure to wear a mask.
  • Get tested, even if you don’t feel sick or have symptoms. South Carolina DHEC offers free community testing throughout the region. For dates, times and locations, click here.
  • If test results are negative, you still must quarantine. That’s because the incubation period of COVID-19 can extend for as long as 14 days. A negative test during the incubation period only means that, at the time of your test, your viral levels weren’t high enough to result in a positive test.

How long you should stay in quarantine

To help limit spread of the illness, it’s best to quarantine for 14 days after your last exposure to the person with COVID-19.
However, if you remain symptom-free after exposure, your quarantine can end after 10 days, according to South Carolina DHEC.
In the alternative, your quarantine can end seven days after your last exposure if a test completed no sooner than day five of your quarantine comes back negative, and you’re still without symptoms after seven days.
If you live with someone who has COVID-19, your quarantine period begins when the sick person is able to separate from you (i.e., stay in a separate room with a separate bathroom) or when the sick person is no longer able to spread the virus to others (generally after the individual completes a 10-day isolation period). You should quarantine for 14 days after the person in your household is told they no longer need to practice isolation. 

While you are in quarantine

While you’re in quarantine, watch for symptoms such as fever, cough or trouble breathing, and continue to monitor your symptoms. If you end your quarantine on day seven or day 10, continue to monitor your symptoms until it’s been 14 days after your last exposure to the person with COVID-19.
Be sure to:

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve rather than your hand.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Wear a mask in public
  • Practice social distancing 

If symptoms develop in quarantine

If you develop symptoms such as a dry cough, fever or shortness of breath while you’re in quarantine, immediately isolate yourself from others.

  • Seek medical care if needed, being sure to call ahead to the location where you will be seeking care. In case of emergency, call 911.
  • Seek testing for COVID-19.

When it’s safe to be around others

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you are safe to be around others when:

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

People who are severely immunocompromised may require testing to determine when they can be around others. Some people have continued to test positive for COVID-19 beyond the 14-day period. If you have any questions about when it’s safe to be around others, contact your physician or another qualified health care provider.

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