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Sharp Health News

COVID-19 timeline, from exposure to recovery

Jan. 20, 2022

Positive COVID-19 test

With the latest COVID-19 surge due to the new omicron variant, it’s hard to keep the facts straight, especially as they relate to timelines. From how long it takes to develop symptoms once exposed, to when an infected person is no longer contagious, information can be overwhelming and confusing.

Dr. Jyotu Sandhu, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy, provides answers to your top 4 COVID-19 questions:

  1. When do symptoms start after being exposed to COVID-19?
    Symptoms usually appear 2 to 6 days after exposure to the virus. However, it sometimes takes longer — up to 14 days — so it is recommended you wear a mask and minimize close contact with others for at least 10 days after the last day of exposure.
  2. Once exposed, how long does it take to be contagious?
    A person with COVID-19 may be contagious 48 hours before starting to experience symptoms. This is why it’s so important to quarantine if you think you were exposed to COVID-19 and get tested 5 days after exposure or 1 to 2 days after symptom onset. Sometimes a person may not experience symptoms at all. Yet, if they have been exposed, they could still be contagious and should follow the same protocol.
  3. When is a person most contagious?
    People are most contagious early in their infection, especially from 1 to 2 days before symptom onset and 3 to 4 days afterward.
  4. How long is someone contagious?
    The current data we have available show patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 are much less likely to be infectious by 5 days after infection and very unlikely to be infectious by 10 days after infection.

The best protection against infection
According to Dr. Sandhu, the omicron variant is highly transmissible, and the best protection continues to be vaccination. He encourages everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine and obtain the COVID-19 booster when eligible.

Additionally, wearing masks in indoor public places is key, even among people who are fully vaccinated. And it is important to follow testing recommendations, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and stay 6 feet away from others who are sick or may be sick.

Get the latest COVID-19 information on vaccines, testing, getting care and more.

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