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Q: I was exposed to someone with COVID-19, but I tested negative. Why do I still have to quarantine?

If you have an unprotected exposure to someone with COVID-19, completing a 14-day quarantine is recommended regardless of whether you have a negative COVID-19 test result because the test is just one snapshot in time.

In the first few days after being exposed to COVID, your immune system is fighting the virus. This can keep the virus levels low and undetectable. It can take several days, even if you do become symptomatic, for the virus to win the fight and start building up in your body until there’s enough of it to trigger a positive COVID test. COVID-19 tests are also not created equal. Some are more sensitive than others which is why testing is only one part of preventing the spread. Therefore, it is recommended that you quarantine for the full 14-day incubation period before you can be sure you’re not infected.

If you have been exposed to COVID-19, monitor your health while you’re quarantining and be sure to contact your healthcare provider right away if you start to experience any symptoms. People with COVID-19 can experience mild symptoms to severe illness which typically appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, chills, dry cough, headache or body aches, and fatigue. Other common symptoms include shortness of breath, sore throat, stuffy nose, loss of taste or smell, vomiting, and diarrhea and some individuals experience no symptoms at all.

As the holiday season begins, please remember this is not the time to let your guard down, but a time to stay even more vigilant. We know it is hard to distance yourself from your loved ones at a time that you would normally be together. It is tiresome and believe it or not, there is a name for this feeling! It is called “pandemic fatigue” and many people don’t even realize they’re suffering from it. Don’t fall victim to the fatigue – wear your mask, maintain physical distancing, wash your hands, and avoid crowds. If you have been exposed to COVID-19, follow quarantine recommendations. If you are sure that you have not been exposed, and you intend to gather with your family for Thanksgiving, do it outdoors in the open air with plenty of room to celebrate safely. The holidays are a special time, let’s do what we can to keep our families and friends healthy through the entire holiday season and into the new year!

Kelly Catiel
Infection Control Manager, Maui Health