How Long Are People Contagious When They Are Sick with COVID-19?

Dr. Hank Bernstein explains the difference between quarantine and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transcript

How Long Are People Contagious When They Are Sick with COVID-19?

Hank Bernstein, MD: I'm Hank Bernstein and I'm speaking on behalf of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The question, “How long are people contagious when they're sick with COVID-19?” This question is asked so many times, and I think we need to take a step back and talk a little bit about what's the difference between quarantine and isolation. And what I mean is that oftentimes we're exposed to somebody who has had a positive COVID test or is sick with COVID-19. If in fact we are exposed, we need to quarantine. We need to keep ourselves away from others while we determine whether or not we're going to develop COVID-19 disease. And that quarantine period is generally up to 14 days. Many of the symptoms will manifest themselves on day four or five after you've been exposed. But there is still a chance with the incubation period being as long as 14 days. So, you may develop symptoms further out in that second week after the exposure. But, that's different than isolation.

Isolation is a specific term when you have the symptoms of COVID-19. Because when you have the symptoms, you wanna keep them to yourself. You do not want to spread them to other individuals that are living in your home, that are in your neighborhood, or that you come in contact with. So, you should isolate yourself for at least 10 days. Plus, you need to be without fever for at least 24 hours.

So when somebody is sick with COVID, isolation, staying away from others, should be without fever for 24 hours, and at least 10 days after the onset of the symptoms. Of course, if the symptoms continue and you're not improving, then you really should be seen by your provider so that a decision can be made on how you should be managed.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Mar 16, 2021