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COVID-19 Exposure, But No Symptoms


  • Exposure (Close Contact) to a person with diagnosed or suspected COVID-19.
  • CDC definition of close contact is being within 6 feet (2 meters) for a total of 15 minutes or more, over a 24-hour period (October 2020).
  • Diagnosed (confirmed) patients have a positive COVID-19 lab test.
  • Suspected patients are those whom a doctor suspects of having COVID-19, based on symptoms and exposure (CDC definition).
  • You or your child have no symptoms of COVID-19.
  • People exposed to COVID-19 need quarantine and monitoring at home to see if they develop any symptoms.
  • Care Guide Update: 5/11/2021

COVID-19 Disease: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Trusted Sources for Accurate Information: CDC and AAP
    • To meet the high demand for COVID-19 information, when possible, find your answers online. Here are the most reliable websites:
    • Always follow the most current CDC recommendations if they are different than those in this care guide.
  2. COVID-19 Symptoms:
    • This COVID-19 coronavirus causes a respiratory illness. The most common symptoms are cough and fever. Some patients progress to shortness of breath (trouble breathing).
    • Other common symptoms are chills, shivering (shaking), runny nose, sore throat, muscle pain, headache, fatigue (tiredness) and loss of smell or taste.
    • The CDC also includes the following less-common symptoms: nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  3. Exposure to COVID-19: Levels of Risk
    • Household Close Contact. Lives with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. This carries the highest risk of transmitting the infection.
    • Other Close Contact. The CDC defines 6 feet (2 meters) as how far coughing can spread the virus. How long the close contact lasts can also be important. The CDC defines close contact as a total of 15 minutes or more, over a 24-hour period. Close contact includes kissing, hugging or sharing eating and drinking utensils. It also includes close conversations. Direct contact with secretions with a person with COVID-19 is also close contact. Includes being in the same childcare room, classroom or carpool. These exposures are usually lower risk than living with an infected person.
    • In Same Building - Low Risk Exposure. Being in the same school, place or worship, workplace or building carries a small risk for exposure. The risk increases if several people have the infection.
    • In Same City - Low Risk Exposure. Living in or traveling from a city or country where there is major community spread of COVID-19, also carries a small risk. These "hot spots" are identified by the CDC at Coronavirus. Outdoor contacts are much safer than indoor contacts.
  4. COVID-19 - How it is Spread:
    • COVID-19 is spread from person to person.
    • The virus spreads when respiratory droplets are produced when a person coughs, sneezes, shouts or sings. The infected droplets can then be inhaled by a nearby person or land on the surface of their eyes.
    • Most infected people also have respiratory secretions on their hands. These secretions get transferred to healthy people on doorknobs, faucet handles, etc. The virus then gets transferred to healthy people when they touch their face or rub their eyes.
    • These are how most respiratory viruses spread.
  5. COVID-19 - Travel:
    • Avoid all non-essential travel.
    • If you must travel, go to the CDC website for updates on travel advisories: Travelers.
  6. Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C):
    • MIS-C is a very rare and severe complication associated with COVID-19.
    • Symptoms: The most common symptoms are fever with a red rash, red eyes, red lips and red palms and soles. Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea also occur. Half of the patients develop trouble breathing. MIS-C always has multiple symptoms.
    • All patients with this syndrome should be seen by a doctor. Most need to be admitted to the hospital. Some cases are similar to Kawasaki’s Disease (KD).
    • Incidence: a very rare complication of COVID-19. In general, COVID-19 continues to be a mild disease in most children.
    • Onset of symptoms: usually about 4 weeks after COVID-19 infection and apparent recovery.
    • Age: 6 months to 21 years. Peak age 8 years.
    • Treatment: MIS-C is treatable with medications, including IV immune serum globulin (ISG).
    • Reassurance: if a child gets this rare complication, a parent will know that their child needs to see a doctor.
    • Prevention: when approved for this age group, the vaccine will prevent MIS-C. Until then, it cannot be prevented nor predicted.
  7. Other COVID-19 Facts:
    • Incubation period: average 5 days (range 2 to 14 days) after coming in contact with the secretions of a person who has COVID-19.
    • No Symptoms, but Infected: more than 30% of infected patients have no symptoms.
    • Mild Infections: 80% of those with symptoms have a mild illness, much like normal flu or a bad cold. The symptoms usually last 2 weeks.
    • Severe Infections: 20% of those with symptoms develop trouble breathing from viral pneumonia. Many of these need to be admitted to the hospital. People with complications generally recover in 3 to 6 weeks.
    • Deaths: children generally have a mild illness and recover quickly. Pediatric deaths are very rare. Older adults, especially those with chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes or weak immune systems, have the highest death rates. The overall death rate is 2 per 1,000 in the US.
    • Vaccine: safe and effective vaccines are available. Some vaccines are 2 doses, given 3-4 weeks apart. Others are a single dose. Similar to flu shots, they will probably provide protection for 6-9 months. At this time, vaccines have been tested and are FDA approved for 12 years and older. Trials on children younger than 12 years have started (May 2021).
    • Treatment: new treatments for severe COVID-19 are becoming available. They are mainly used on hospitalized patients. Most are given by vein (IV).

When To Call

Home-Quarantine; Self-Monitor

  • Close contact with COVID-19 patient within last 14 days, BUT No symptoms

Self Care at Home

  • Close contact with COVID-19 patient more than 14 days ago AND NO cough, fever or trouble breathing. You can stop quarantine.
  • COVID-19 exposure, BUT no symptoms: home care instructions
  • COVID-19 testing, questions about
  • COVID-19 prevention, questions about

Care Advice

COVID-19 Exposure, but NO Symptoms

  1. Exposure and No Symptoms
    • Although you may have been exposed to COVID-19, you do not currently have any symptoms. COVID-19 symptoms start, on the average, 5 days after the last exposure. The onset can range from 2 to 14 days.
    • Since it's been less than 14 days, you are still at risk for coming down with COVID-19.
    • You need to watch for symptoms until 14 days have passed.
    • Stay at home and follow this medical advice.
  2. You Do Not Need to See Your Doctor
    • Your child does not have any symptoms. Exposed people don’t need to see a doctor.
    • You do not need to call your doctor unless you become sick.
    • If your child becomes sick and develops more than mild symptoms, you may need to see your doctor.
    • You can find the answers to most of your questions here or online.
  3. Measure Temperature
    • Measure your temperature 2 times each day.
    • Do this for 10 days after your exposure to COVID-19.
    • Report any fevers to your doctor.
    • Early detection of symptoms and quarantine is the only way to reduce spread of the disease.
  4. Self-Monitor for COVID-19 Symptoms
    • The most common symptoms are cough and fever. Some patients progress to shortness of breath (trouble breathing).
    • Other common symptoms are chills, shivering (shaking), runny nose, sore throat, muscle pain, headache, fatigue (tiredness) and loss of smell or taste.
    • Less common symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
    • Rare symptoms are red or purple toes ("COVID toes").
    • If any of these symptoms occur, report them to your doctor.
    • Early detection of symptoms and home isolation are the only ways to reduce spread of the disease.
  5. Home Quarantine: How to Do
    • Quarantine means restricting people who were exposed to a contagious disease from contact with others who are well. They are monitored closely to see if they stay well or become sick (CDC).
    • The quarantine period is usually 10 days if no testing is done. If you have a negative test, you may be able to end quarantine after 7 days. Call your doctor for specific instructions regarding the timeframe for quarantine.
    • For now, the exposed person will need to stay at home.
      • Do Not allow any visitors (such as friends).
      • Do Not go to school or work.
      • Do Not go to stores, restaurants, places of worship or other public places.
      • Avoid public transportation or ride sharing.
      • Other family members are not on quarantine unless the exposed person becomes sick.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Fever occurs
    • Cough or trouble breathing occurs
    • Other symptoms occur

Testing for COVID-19

  1. COVID-19 Testing: Who Needs It
    • The availability of testing and where to get it can be different for every community.
    • Your doctor is the best resource for up-to-date information on testing. Call them during office hours.
    • Here are some facts that may answer some of your questions:
      • Diagnostic tests: these are performed on nasal or mouth secretions. The tests can tell us if you have a COVID-19 infection now. Timing is important on when to do this test:
        • With Symptoms. Get a test within 3 days of onset of symptoms.
        • Without Symptoms with a COVID-19 close contact. Get a test on day 5-7 after exposure. Reason: testing done during the first 5 days after exposure will usually be negative.
        • Tests for COVID-19 are mainly done on people who are sick (have symptoms of COVID-19).
        • Serious symptoms. Testing is routinely performed on patients who have serious symptoms or are admitted to the hospital.
        • Mild symptoms. Testing is not always done on patients with mild symptoms who don't need to be seen.
        • No symptoms. Tests are usually not done on people who have no symptoms, unless they have a close contact with COVID-19.
      • Repeat diagnostic tests: after a positive test, repeat tests are not recommended. Even after it is safe to stop isolation (usually 10 days), tests may stay positive for up to 90 days. A positive test does not mean the patient can spread the infection once the required isolation period is completed.
      • Antibody Tests: these are performed on blood. They can sometimes tell us if you have antibodies from a previous infection. They are not done until at least 2 to 3 weeks have passed from the start of the infection. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about this test.

COVID-19 Prevention

  1. COVID-19 Vaccine - Get Your COVID-19 Shot:
    • Vaccines have saved more lives than any other public health action. They are the most powerful weapon we have against deadly infectious diseases. Follow the science.
    • Safe and effective vaccines are now available for people age 12 and older.
    • Priorities: healthcare and other essential workers received them first.
    • If you have the chance to get a COVID-19 vaccine, get one. It could save your life and protect your family.
  2. COVID-19 - How to Protect Yourself and Family from Catching It - The Basics:
    • Get the COVID-19 vaccine. It is your best protection against this serious infection.
    • Avoid close contact with people outside your family unit. Avoid closed spaces (indoors) when possible and all crowds (even outdoors).
    • Always wear a face mask when you leave your home. Also, observe social (safe) distancing.
    • Wash hands often with soap and water (very important). Always do this before you eat.
    • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if water is not available. Remember: soap and water work better.
    • Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth unless your hands are clean. Germs on the hands can get into your body this way.
    • Don't share glasses, plates or eating utensils.
    • No longer shake hands. Greet others with a smile and a nod.
    • If you need to be seen for an urgent medical problem, do not hesitate to go in. ERs and urgent care sites are safe places. They are well-equipped to protect you against the virus. For non-urgent symptoms, talk to your doctor's office first. Medical offices are also safe places.
  3. Social (Safe) Distancing and COVID-19 Prevention:
    • Avoid any contact with people known to have COVID-19 infection. Avoid talking to or sitting close to them.
    • Social Distancing: try to stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from anyone who is sick, especially if they are coughing. Also called physical distancing. Avoid crowds, because you can’t tell who might be sick.
    • If COVID-19 becomes widespread in your community, try to stay 6 feet (2 meters) away from everyone outside your family unit.
    • Stay at Home Orders: follow any stay at home (stay in place) orders in your community. Leave your home only for essential needs such as buying food or seeking medical care.
    • After Stay at Home Orders are Lifted: continue social distancing. Also wear a mask when entering any public building or crowded outdoor area. These precautions will be needed for many months. Your state public health department will decide when they are no longer needed.
  4. Face Masks and COVID-19 Prevention:
    • Overview: face masks are essential for reducing the spread of COVID-19. They will also reduce the spread of flu. Wearing a mask means you care about other people.
    • Recommended Masks: made of 2 or more layers of washable, breathable fabric. Completely cover the nose and mouth. Fits snugly under your chin and against the sides of your face. Neck gaiter masks may not work as well (CDC).
    • Sick patients: must always wear a face mask, if they need to leave the home. Example: for medical visits. Exception: patients with trouble breathing in a mask (CDC). Consider a loose face covering, such as a bandana.
    • Well people: the CDC also recommends face masks or coverings for everyone going outside the home. Masks are critical if entering a public building, such as a grocery store. Reason: many people with COVID-19 have no symptoms but can spread the virus.
    • After the Vaccine: continue to wear a mask in public spaces. Reason: reduce the spread of the infection to others.
    • Well People Exceptions: face mask or covering is optional if outdoors in nature and you can avoid being within 6 feet (2 meters) of other people. Examples: on an outdoor walk or run.
    • Age Limits: face coverings are not recommended for children less than 2 years (CDC).
  5. Keep Your Body Strong:
    • Get your body ready to fight the COVID-19 virus.
    • Get enough sleep (very important).
    • Keep your heart strong. Walk or exercise every day. Take the stairs. Caution: avoid physical exhaustion.
    • Stay well-hydrated.
    • Eat healthy meals. Avoid overeating to deal with your fears.
    • Avoid the over-use of anti-fever medicines. Fever fights infections and ramps up your immune system.
  6. Keep Your Mind Positive
    • Live in the present, not the future. The future is where your needless worries live.
    • Stay positive. Use a mantra to reduce your fears, such as "I am strong."
    • Get outdoors. Take daily walks. Go to a park if you live near one. Being in nature is good for your immune system.
    • Show love. As long as they are well, hug your children and partner frequently. Speak to them in a kind and loving voice. Love strengthens your immune system.
    • Stay in touch. Use regular phone calls and video chats to stay in touch with those you love.
    • "2-Household Bubble." To reduce social isolation, especially for young children, some families have joined up with one other family for visits. Rules: both families must agree that they will not have social contacts with any other families. No one in either family can work outside the home. Not approved by CDC, but a reasonable family decision.
  7. How to Protect Others - When You or Your Child are Sick:
    • Stay home from school or work if you are sick. Your doctor or local health department will tell you when it is safe to return.
    • Cough and sneeze into your shirt sleeve or inner elbow. Don't cough into your hand or the air.
    • If available, sneeze into a tissue and throw it into a trash can.
    • Wash hands often with soap and water. After coughing or sneezing are important times.
    • Do not share glasses, plates or eating utensils.
    • Wear a face mask when around others.
    • Always wear a face mask if you have to leave your home (such as going to a medical facility). Always call first to get approval and careful directions.
    • Carefully avoid any contact with the elderly and people with weak immune systems or other chronic health problems.
  8. Breastfeeding and COVID-19:
    • Breastfeeding experts recommend you continue to breastfeed even if you are sick with COVID-19.
    • Wash your hands before feeding your baby.
    • The CDC recommends to wear a face mask. Be careful to avoid coughing on your baby.
    • Breastmilk gives beneficial antibodies your body is making against this illness to your baby. This should provide some protection against this illness for your baby, like it does for influenza and most other viral illnesses.
    • The virus is probably not passed through breastmilk, but this is not yet known for sure.
    • Call your doctor if breastfeeding isn't going well OR your baby becomes sick.
  9. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have other questions

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Barton D. Schmitt, MD, FAAP
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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