COVID-19 spreads mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets and aerosols. If you find out that you’ve been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, you may be at risk of infection. Learn more about what it means to be a close contact and what you should do once it’s been determined that you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.
What is a "close contact"?
You are considered a close contact if any of the following situations happened while you spent time with a person with COVID-19, even if they didn’t have symptoms:
- You were within 6 feet of a person who had COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
- You had direct exposure to respiratory secretions (for example, being coughed or sneezed on, sharing a drinking glass, utensils, towels or other personal items).
- You had direct physical contact with the person (for example, a hug, kiss, or handshake).
- You cared or care for a person who has COVID-19.
- You lived or live with a person who has COVID-19.
- You stayed overnight with them for at least one night in the same household.
Steps to take after close contact
The incubation period for SAR-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can extend up to 14 days. That means you can develop symptoms of COVID-19 sometime in the 14 days after close contact with a person with COVID-19. This is why a 14 day quarantine continues to be the safest and recommended quarantine strategy.
Stay home and away from others for 14 days after close contact with a person with COVID-19.
If you are fully vaccinated (it has been at least two weeks since you have finished your vaccine series) and you do not have any COVID-19 symptoms, you do not have to get tested or quarantine after close contact with a person with COVID-19. Continue to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days after close contact. If you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, isolate from others, contact your health care provider, and get tested.
- Stay home as much as possible. Do not go to work or school.
- Avoid travel. Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares.
- If you live with someone with COVID-19, stay separate from sick members in the household as much as possible. Avoid sharing the same space within the home, including being in the same room. Use a different bedroom or bathroom if you can.
- Wear a mask if you have to be around others.
Note: Quarantine exemptions for people who are fully vaccinated only apply in non-health care settings. Guidance for residents and staff in health care settings can be found on the CDC website. Fully vaccinated residents and employees of correctional and detention facilities and homeless shelters should still get tested for COVID-19 but do not have to quarantine following close contact with someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
Options to shorten quarantine
Shortened quarantine options may be acceptable in some situations, but are not preferred, because they carry increased risk of transmission compared to the 14-day quarantine. However, in some situations, the potential benefits of a shortened quarantine requirement that places less burden on individuals, families, and communities may outweigh the increased risk.
Consideration for these shortened quarantine periods is only for people who do not have symptoms at any time during their quarantine period.
For close contacts who do not develop symptoms, quarantine can end:
- 10 days after their last close contact without testing, or
- 7 days after their last close contact, with a negative test result (PCR or antigen) collected on day 6 or 7.
Continue to monitor for symptoms daily through day 14 of quarantine, and continue to follow public health guidelines such as wearing a mask, physical distancing, and avoiding gatherings. If you are unable to monitor for symptoms and follow public health guidelines, you should quarantine for the full 14 days.
Note: Shortened quarantine options may not apply in some settings or situations. Follow local and institutional quarantine guidance, which may be more conservative. High-risk, congregate settings such as long-term care facilities, shelters, jails, and prisons must determine quarantine length on a case-by-case basis.
Monitor your health for 14 days after your last contact.
- Check your temperature twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. If you don't have a thermometer, watch for symptoms of fever like chills or sweats.
- Watch for cough, difficulty breathing, or other symptoms of COVID-19. Write down any symptoms you have and when they begin. The Next Steps: Close Contacts of someone with COVID-19 flyer includes a chart you can use to log your daily symptoms.
- If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 during quarantine, isolate from other members of your household, contact your doctor or health care provider, and get tested. Tell your doctor or health care provider your symptoms to determine if you need medical care. Do not go to a medical office or clinic without contacting them first.
If you don't have a doctor, or have difficulty reaching your doctor, complete an online health screening assessment, and a licensed health practitioner will contact you.
Get tested for COVID-19
It’s important that you get tested so you can prevent spreading COVID-19 to others. Get tested 3 to 5 days after your exposure. You may test again on day 6 or 7 if you are eligible for an early release from quarantine. Get tested right away if you develop symptoms of COVID-19. There are several ways to get tested for COVID-19 in Wisconsin. See available testing options.
Answer the call from your health department
Your local health department might reach out to you with more recommendations if you are identified as a close contact during contact tracing.
Frequently asked questions
Below please find some frequently asked questions about quarantine and watching for symptoms. Select each one to reveal the recommended guidelines.
What if someone in my household is diagnosed with COVID-19?
If someone who lives in your household gets sick or is diagnosed with COVID-19 and is unable to isolate from others, all well members of your household need to extend their quarantine and self-monitoring for 14 days after the date the last person with COVID-19 has completed their isolation period. Learn how to avoid exposure when living with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
I was wearing a mask when I had close contact with someone with COVID-19. Do I need to quarantine?
Yes, you still need to quarantine. Wearing a mask while you spend time with someone with COVID-19, even if they were also wearing a mask, reduces your risk of getting COVID-19, but may not prevent it entirely. You are still considered a close contact and will need to quarantine.
If you were fully vaccinated when you had close contact with someone with COVID-19, you do not need to quarantine.
I had close contact with someone with COVID-19 sometime before I was fully vaccinated. Do I need to quarantine?
Yes. If you have close contact with someone with COVID-19 sometime before you are fully vaccinated, you need to quarantine. This is because your body may have not yet had the time to build up a strong immune response when you were exposed to COVID-19. Although you may have already received one or more doses of your vaccine series, it must also be two or more weeks since you got your last dose in order for you to be considered fully protected, or fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
I was previously diagnosed with COVID-19. Do I need to quarantine if I had close contact with someone with COVID-19?
If you are not yet fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you may still need to quarantine. The answer depends on:
- How long it’s been since you were previously diagnosed,
- If you previously tested positive, and what type of test was used when you were previously diagnosed,
- If you currently have symptoms,
- If you had symptoms when you were previously diagnosed.
See the DHS I’ve Already Had COVID-19 fact sheet for more detailed guidance.
I have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, but I previously had a positive COVID-19 antibody test. Do I still need to quarantine if I have close contact with someone with COVID-19?
Yes, if you are not fully vaccinated, you should quarantine. Currently, a positive antibody test can only tell you that you’ve had COVID-19 sometime in the past. It cannot tell you whether your immune response generated enough of the specific types of antibodies needed to prevent you from getting COVID-19 again.
According to the CDC, people who are not fully vaccinated and had a positive antibody test result within 3 months of their close contact do not need to quarantine if:
- they do not develop symptoms and
- they have limited or no contact with people at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness.
However, in nearly all settings where close contact with others is possible or likely, the exposed person cannot be certain of every person’s risk of severe COVID-19 illness. For this reason, DHS continues to recommend quarantine for people who are not fully vaccinated and who have tested antibody positive at any time.
Immunity provided by a COVID-19 vaccine offers more consistent protection against COVID-19, which is why people who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine after close contact. COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, free, and widely available. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.
Resources on exposure to COVID-19
Browse our educational resources that help the community navigate what to do if exposed to COVID-19 as a close contact.
If you have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 or have symptoms, it is time to get tested. Not sure if you need to get tested or how to get tested? We can help.