We now know that you can spread COVID-19 to others beginning two days before symptoms start until several days after symptoms start and about one day after you recover. This is known as the "infectious period." You can spread COVID-19 to others, even if you never develop symptoms. After being diagnosed with COVID-19, even if you don't have symptoms, you will need to separate yourself from other people in your home and self-monitor until you are no longer able to spread COVID-19 to others.
How are you diagnosed with COVID-19?
You can be diagnosed with COVID-19 in a few ways:
- A doctor tells you that you have it based on your symptoms and exposures. OR
- You have a positive lab test that detected the virus. (Note: A positive antibody test means that you likely had COVID-19 in the past.)
Isolate and self-monitor
Even if you don't have symptoms, separate yourself from other people in your home. This is called "isolation." While isolating, watch to see if you develop new symptoms or if your symptoms get worse. Self-monitor until you are no longer able to spread COVID-19 to others.
How do I isolate?
- Stay home. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. It is important that you avoid contact with others. You can spread COVID-19 to others, even if you never develop symptoms.
- Take steps to prevent others in your household from getting sick.
- Separate yourself from other people in your home.
- Wear a face mask or covering if you have to be around other people.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid sharing personal household items.
- Clean high-touch surfaces everyday. See our Cleaning and Disinfecting flyer. More can be found at: CDC COVID-19: Disinfecting your home.
- Postpone all nonessential medical appointments until your isolation is over.
- Keep a list of people you had contact with while you were sick. Notify your close contacts that you have COVID-19. Public health staff may contact you to determine the people you had contact with during your infectious period. This would include people you were in contact with the two days before you developed symptoms through the day your symptoms resolved. If you never developed symptoms but tested positive, this would include the two days before your test collection date through 10 days after your test collection date. This is called “contact tracing” and is one way public health staff identify people who could have been infected. People in your family, and others you had close contact with, will be asked to stay home and monitor their symptoms to make sure they don’t get sick and infect others. More can be found at: CDC COVID-19: If you are sick or caring for someone.
How long do I need to isolate?
The length of your home isolation period depends on whether or not you have symptoms.
If you have symptoms, you should remain in isolation for:
- At least 24 hours after you are free of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and other symptoms have improved AND;
- At least 10 days after the date you first had symptoms.
- See our isolation flyer for those who are diagnosed with COVID-19.
Note: For some people who develop serious illness from COVID-19, a longer period may be required before it is safe to be around others or go back to work. Your health care provider will make this determination in consultation with your local public health department. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Discontinuation of Isolation in Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings for additional information.
If you do not have symptoms, but tested positive, you should remain in isolation for:
- At least 10 days after your test date.
- See our isolation release flyer for those who are diagnosed with COVID-19 but never felt sick.
Note: For most people, testing to see when they can be released from isolation is not recommended. This may actually extend your isolation period unnecessarily. Testing to see when isolation should be completed may be useful in some people who are severely immunocompromised due to medical conditions or certain medications. Your health care provider will make this determination in consultation with your local public health department. See the CDC Discontinuation of Isolation in Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings for additional information.
CDC's website has more detailed information about ending isolation specific to certain groups (health care personnel, immunocompromised people). In some circumstances, a test-based strategy for release from isolation may be implemented:
How do I self-monitor during isolation?
- Watch for worsening symptoms. Seek medical care if your illness worsens or if you develop emergency warning signs. Call 911 immediately if you need emergency medical care and tell them that you have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- If you were diagnosed, but never felt sick, monitor for any symptoms of COVID-19 that may develop during your isolation period. Report any new symptoms to your local health department, as this may affect your instructions for home isolation. If you previously tested positive for COVID-19 while you were well, you do not need to be tested again if you develop symptoms during your isolation period.
Notify close contacts
Notifying your own close contacts of their exposure can help limit the spread of COVID-19 in your community.
- See the Next Steps: notifying close contacts of a positive exposure flyer to learn who you should notify and what you should tell them.
- You can also use your phone to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Protect yourself and your community by sending and receiving updates about possible exposure. Learn more about the WI Exposure Notification app.