What if you’re exposed to COVID-19 over the holidays?

By Regence
December 02, 2020
COVID exposure decision tree

Regence medical expert Dr. Amy Khan gives an overview of next steps and recommendations.

Download the COVID-19 exposure decision guide (pictured above as a screenshot):

As the traditional season of traveling to see loved ones and gathering with family and friends arrives, COVID-19 cases nationwide are spiking at an alarming rate. Could there be a more emotionally challenging time to cope with a pandemic?

This reality led many Americans to rethink their Thanksgiving travel plans. They followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 and the flu. They stayed home and celebrated with immediate family members or their social pod.

Others, however, made a different decision; 50.6 million Americans donned masks and traveled in cars and airplanes to attend holiday celebrations this past week. As a result, medical experts are now concerned that COVID-19 cases could surge in the upcoming weeks and significantly overwhelm U.S. hospitals.  

Whether you’re among the Thanksgiving travelers, going to holiday gatherings, or out in the community shopping, there is a higher risk of coming down with COVID-19 before we ring in the New Year. As a result, you may soon be wondering what to do after an exposure.  

In preparation for that possibility, you can consider information from Regence Executive Medical Director Dr. Amy Khan. She clarifies next steps after a potential exposure to keep the virus from spreading throughout the family and your community.

If you think you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19

The CDC defines exposure to COVID-19 as having been within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. That person might be asymptomatic but just tested positive for COVID-19. Exposure goes beyond physical closeness, Dr. Khan explains. “Think about whether you recently shared eating or drinking utensils with an infected person or were exposed to respiratory droplets from their uncovered cough or sneeze, as well as have taken care of someone with COVID-19.”

If it’s likely or possible that you have been exposed, Dr. Khan recommends quarantining for 14 days – especially after traveling. The length of time can be shortened to 10 or even seven days if certain criteria are met. That means staying physically distant from others, following guidelines to reduce the spread, and monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms.

“Watch for a fever of over 100.4° F, a dry cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue, which are common signs of COVID-19,” she says. “Above all, continue to wear a mask if you are around others, practice physical distancing, and wash your hands frequently.”

If any of these symptoms occur, contact your doctor, who will recommend the best course of action, including getting a COVID-19 test. Self-isolate until you get results – staying completely separate from others, even in your own home. Wear a mask unless eating or drinking, wash hands often, stay in your own room and use a separate bathroom, if possible. Seek medical attention if you are having difficulty breathing, chest pressure or confusion. If the test is positive, continue isolation for at least 10 days after symptoms started.

If you’ve been exposed but test negative

Experts agree that a negative COVID-19 test does not guarantee safe socializing throughout the holiday season. The CDC currently recommends a 14-day quarantine after a likely or confirmed exposure even after a negative test, as it may take up to two weeks for symptoms to appear.

However, the CDC indicates that quarantine may end sooner, based on local circumstances and sufficient diagnostic testing resources; options include after 10 days if no symptoms occur during daily monitoring or after seven days if a person tests negative for COVID-19 and has not developed symptoms.

“Remember, the COVID-19 test is only a snapshot of your health at one point in time,” says Dr. Khan. “Even if you test negative after an exposure, the amount of virus in your body could be slowly increasing and your symptoms could still show up within a few days. So, make sure to quarantine after a known exposure regardless of the test results.”

As you finalize plans for the December holidays, consider precautions you can take and still keep holiday traditions alive. Find new ways to stay connected while protecting each other, especially the most vulnerable in our families. We can work together to get through holiday celebrations COVID-19 style.

Regence’s Exposure Decision Guide can help you determine your next steps

To help you make informed decisions about your health, we’ve developed a resource that can help you navigate a potential or confirmed exposure to COVID-19. 

You can download and save our new exposure decision guide to your desktop for future reference. Just click on the link below. Regence members can review their health plan benefits by signing in to regence.com, or by calling Regence Customer Service using the phone number on the back of their member ID card.  You can also visit our COVID-19 page for more information online. 

Download the COVID-19 exposure decision guide: