What to do if you’re exposed to someone with COVID-19

It’s an all-too-common event: The friend or family member you just met tells you they tested positive for COVID-19. Or maybe one of your children’s classmates just tested positive. Here’s what Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Lucy McBride advises if you’re exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, particularly if it's to parents or guardians with school-age children.

Video Transcript

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LUCY MCBRIDE: For anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, if you remain asymptomatic, without any symptoms, it's important to get a PCR test three to five days after the last exposure. The PCR test will turn positive before a rapid antigen test. But you can also use rapid antigen tests as sort of a day pass to tell you in the days three to 14 during the incubation period whether or not you're carrying infectious levels of virus in your nose. They're pretty good at ruling that out.

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The Omicron variant is more contagious. So we can expect to see more, for example, household transmission because people are living in close quarters. But Omicron doesn't change the testing landscape. It just means we need more readily accessible rapid antigen tests for people who have been exposed but who are not symptomatic.

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If a child is exposed to a person with diagnosed COVID-19, it really depends on whether the child is vaccinated or not as to what you should do. If the child is unvaccinated, the child needs to stay home from school and isolate for a total of 14 days unless the school has in place the test-to-stay program, which allows them to go to school if they, on that day, test negative with a rapid antigen test.

If your child is exposed to someone who has COVID-19 and your child has been vaccinated, the CDC says that there is no need to quarantine that child. But that child should probably get tested three to five days after the last exposure with a PCR test to make sure they aren't carrying the virus asymptomatically in their nose. So a close contact is defined by the CDC as someone who has been in the same room, closer than six feet, for more than a total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. So just because your child has been exposed to a COVID-19 case in the school doesn't mean that they necessarily had an exposure as defined by the CDC.

It's really important to allow us to keep healthy, nonsymptomatic kids in school, kids who've been exposed to COVID-19, that we roll out a test-to-stay program in all schools in the country whereby kids who've been exposed can take a rapid antigen test, and if it's negative, that tells us that they are safe to go to school. They are not carrying infectious levels of virus in their nose such that they pose a danger to other people in the school.

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If your child tests positive for COVID-19, first of all, it's important to know that that child is very likely to do extremely well, especially if they're vaccinated, because most kids, even if they're unvaccinated, tend to do well with COVID-19. The second thing is to alert close contacts. So anyone who has been in close contact with that child, starting 48 hours before symptoms began or before the positive test, whichever came first, needs to be alerted that they are at potential risk for COVID-19.

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