What counts as being “exposed?” Update!

Infection and Spread Testing and Contact Tracing

With all the recent talk of changing quarantine guidelines, we’ve been getting questions about what counts as being ‘exposed’ in the first place! Below is a reprise of an answer we gave last fall.

Q: If my mom went to the salon on Thursday and her stylist developed symptoms on Saturday, then I saw my mom on Sunday, am I exposed?

A: You won’t know if you were ‘exposed’ until you see whether your mom develops symptoms or tests positive in the two days after your visit.

TL:DR; If your mom was ‘exposed’ to her stylist, you should watch to see if she develops symptoms or tests positive in the two days after your visit with her. If she does, and you had close contact during your visit, then you would also be considered ‘exposed’.

Let’s walk through how to figure this out.

✅ First, you need to understand what qualifies as being ‘exposed’. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers people that were <6ft away from someone for >15 cumulative minutes over a 24-hour period, to have been in close contact. If you are in close contact with a case of COVID-19 starting from 48 hours before the person developed symptoms (or tested positive if no symptoms) and through day 5 of their isolation period, you are considered to have been ‘exposed’. NOTE: This is a *change* as the period of interest for close contact used to go through day 10 of isolation for the case.

✅ Second, you need to determine if your mom had close contact with her stylist and whether it occurred in the right window of time for her to be considered ‘exposed’. It is likely that your mom was <6ft away from her stylist for >15 cumulative minutes, given the nature and average duration of a haircut. In that case, she meets the criteria for having had close contact with her stylist. If the timespan from her appointment to when the stylist developed COVD-19 symptoms or tested positive was < 48 hours, this would mean your mom also had close contact in the *right time window* to be considered ‘exposed’.

✅ Third, you need to figure out at what point you would be considered ‘exposed’ to your mom, if she becomes a case of COVID-19. If you and your mom were in close contact during your visit, and she develops symptoms or tests positive within 48 hours after your visit, you would then meet the criteria for being ‘exposed’. At that point you should begin following quarantine and testing guidelines based on your vaccination status. See our recent post with more info on these guidelines here.

All that said, the definition of close contact is only a *general guideline* used by public health officials to figure out who else *might* become a case of COVID-19. It doesn’t mean you can’t get infected after spending hours in a room > 6ft from a case of COVID-19 or after spending < 15 minutes in very close contact with a case. This guideline also does not take into account that adding on layers of protection such as being vaccinated and boosted, wearing a high-quality mask, and testing before gathering with others can also make a difference as to whether close contact results in you getting infected or infecting others.

Nonetheless, taking quick action to protect others once you know you were exposed (i.e., masking up, getting tested, and/or staying home if not up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccine), helps break the chain of transmission between you and others in case you did happen to get infected! Breaking these chains is key to steepening the downslope of the omicron surge curve and achieving a faster decline of cases in our communities.

For more information on CDC’s definition of close contact, exposure, and guidelines for quarantine after exposure and isolation after developing symptoms or testing positive (across the range of vaccination statuses), see here.

For guidance on how to let people know they are a close contact to you after you get COVID-19, see here.

For more on steepening the curve, see our recent post here.

Link to Original FB Post