You've been exposed to covid-19… Now what?

Dec 19, 2020

Each day, more and more Wareham residents find themselves on the receiving end of an unfortunate phone call from a family member, employer, friend or public health official. The caller says a variation of: “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ve been identified as someone who has had recent contact with an individual who has tested positive for covid-19.”

What comes next? Wareham Week compiled guidance from public health officials to help answer that question.

Proper quarantine at home

As a baseline, if you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for covid-19, your quarantine should begin immediately, according to Board of Health chairman Dr. Amy Wiegandt.

When quarantining at home, you should: 

• Use a separate bedroom and bathroom from the other members of your household if you have that ability. 

• Only have contact with someone in your household if it is absolutely necessary, and limit the time you’re close to that individual to 5 minutes or less.

• Wear a mask whenever you must be in the same room as another person or when you are in common spaces.

• Maintain six feet of distance from the other people in your home. 

• Wipe down the surfaces you touch with disinfectant after each use.

• Do not leave your home to go to work, school or to run errands.

Wiegandt said you shouldn’t be doing things all around the house. You should “keep yourself in one area,” she said, noting that the goal is to avoid getting someone in your family sick should your exposure result in you contracting covid-19.

It is crucial people understand that quarantine doesn’t just mean going home and acting like everything is normal, Wiegandt said. 

When you’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive for covid-19, failing to wear a mask or sleep in a separate bedroom at home could result in you inadvertently infecting other household members.

How long should you quarantine? Wiegandt identified three main paths based on the newest guidelines for people who have been exposed:

• 14 days — this is the incubation period for the virus and reduces the risk of spread the most.

• 10 days — If you still have no symptoms 10 days after your exposure and you can commit to monitoring yourself carefully for symptoms (including a daily temperature check) for the full 14 days, you can end quarantine on day 11. If even mild symptoms appear, you should self isolate and get tested. 

• Seven days — If you have no symptoms after seven days and a test taken on day five or later comes back negative, you can be released from quarantine on day eight. You must still monitor yourself carefully for symptoms (including a daily temperature check) for the full 14 days. If even mild symptoms appear, you should self isolate and get tested.

Wiegandt recommended people talk to their doctor after an exposure to get personalized guidance regarding which quarantine option is best for them.

Getting tested

Massachusetts health officials also recommend getting tested if you are “a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19” or if you have symptoms. Even if a post-exposure test comes back negative, however, you should continue your quarantine for the duration.

This is because the virus has an incubation period of two to 14 days, meaning if you initially test negative for covid-19 you could still develop the disease at any time for up to 14 days after your exposure.

In Wareham, patients with a Southcoast Health provider can get tested at Tobey Hospital, said Southcoast Health public information officer Shawn Badgley. Appointments are required and can be made online or by calling 508-973-1919. 

For others looking to get tested, the state’s Covid-19 Test Site Locator Map shows testing sites all around the state. Massachusetts’ Stop the Spread free testing sites are also a great resource available to all residents of the state, even individuals who are asymptomatic.

Wiegandt also emphasized that tests are imperfect. She said 10 to 20 percent of negative test results are false negatives.

“People have to understand that,” Wiegandt said.

If you have symptoms that sound like covid-19 and your test comes back negative, Wiegandt said the test could be wrong. At that point, you should get tested again, she said.