Norton Healthcare

If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, isolate and wait a few days before getting tested

By: Henry Winkelhake • Posted: December 17, 2020

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It can take almost a week after exposure to COVID-19 to register a positive test result.

Evidence suggests that testing tends to be less accurate within three days of exposure, and the best time to get tested is five to seven days after you were exposed. Tests are even more accurate when patients are exhibiting symptoms.

COVID-19’s incubation period lasts up to 14 days. If you have the virus, it takes time to build up in your system. Testing too close to an exposure could result in samples that don’t contain enough of the virus’ genetic material to register as a positive. A COVID-19 test is limited in that it represents only a snapshot in time. A negative PCR test does not mean that an individual is free of infection, but rather only that, at that particular moment, the sample did not contain viral levels at a high enough concentration to be measured as a positive.

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“Whether you get tested or not, it’s important to quarantine to limit the spread of the virus if you were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more,” said Steven Patton, D.O., family medicine physician at Norton Community Medical Associates – Preston. “The length of time spent with the person is irrelevant if you hugged or kissed, shared utensils or a drink, or were on the receiving end of a sneeze or cough.”

Isolate yourself at home while awaiting test results even if you don’t have symptoms. If you have the virus, you can spread it even if you aren’t sick. Don’t go to work for 14 days if at all possible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that if staying out of work for the full two weeks presents too much of a financial burden, you can stop quarantine after 10 days if you didn’t get tested and don’t have symptom. If you got tested on the fifth day after exposure or later and the result was negative, you can stop isolation after seven days.

While in quarantine, watch for a fever, shortness of breath or other COVID-19 symptoms. Those who are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms should seek emergency care immediately.