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How Long After Exposure Do You Get Coronavirus?

written by Leah McCabe Written by Leah McCabe
Leah McCabe

Leah McCabe

Leah likes writing about health and science subjects. Through her writing she hopes to help people of all backgrounds have equal access to information and quality healthcare.

Read more posts by this author.
reviewBy Reviewed by: Linda Anegawa MD, FACP

Linda Anegawa MD, FACP

Dr. Anegawa graduated from the Univ. of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and completed residency at Stanford. She has over 20 years of practice experience and specializes in Internal Medicine and Obesity Medicine.

August 30, 2021 Read Time - 8 minutes

*NOTE:  Due to a lack of scientific data at this time, PlushCare physicians do not prescribe ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, or azithromycin/other antibiotics to treat COVID-19.

How Long After Exposure Do You Get Coronavirus?

Are you worried that you may have been exposed to the coronavirus recently? How long after exposure do you get coronavirus? How contagious is it? What are the symptoms?

The Delta variant of Covid-19 has spread throughout the U.S. and across the globe. As the prevalence of infection is increasing from the highly infectious Delta variant, it is time to revisit these important questions. 

Here’s the latest information about the novel coronavirus and how an online doctor may be able to help.

How Long Does it Take for COVID-19 Symptoms to Appear?

The incubation period is the length of time between when you become infected with COVID-19 and when you start to have symptoms. 

According to a study conducted in mainland China, people infected with the Delta variant are getting sick faster than those exposed to COVID-19 variants that were widespread in 2020. 

In 2020, the incubation period for COVID-19 variants ranged from five to eight days, with a peak at 5.61 days. 

With the Delta variant, the incubation period ranges from three to five days with a peak of 3.71 days. 

The incubation period for COVID-19 seems to be anywhere from three to fourteen days. However, most people will start to experience symptoms within three or four days of exposure. 

In most viral illnesses, people are most likely to spread an infection up to 48 hours before symptoms develop. Viruses can quickly spread through a population because people are capable of transmitting the virus to others before they even know they are sick. 

People carrying the Delta variant have viral loads that are up to 1,260 times higher than those infected with variants in 2020. The Delta variant appears to be able to reproduce more efficiently than previous variants of COVID-19. Higher viral loads make it easier for the virus to spread, and increase the likelihood that you may get sick. 

If you think you may have been exposed to the coronavirus, you should take precautions not to infect others, even if you aren’t showing symptoms yet. This may include isolation and staying home from work or school, per CDC guidelines.

If you need to get a doctor’s excuse note for isolation, PlushCare may be able to help. Learn more about getting a doctor’s note for work or school.

This is the main reason why staying 6 feet away from others and wearing a mask is so important – these steps will help prevent transmission of the virus from people who are already contagious but aren’t showing symptoms yet. 

How Contagious Is the Coronavirus Disease?

It’s important to note that emerging research shows that the Delta variant is nearly twice as contagious as previous COVID-19 variants.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “The virus appears to spread easily” through close contact with other people via respiratory droplets that are released anytime a person sneezes, coughs, or talks.

Those droplets may land on you or a surface that you touch before touching your eyes, mouth, nose, or face.

A number called  Ro (pronounced R naught) indicates how many people the virus typically spreads to from one infected individual.

Ro will vary depending on your location and potential number of exposed individuals. For example, in dense cities, Ro is likely to be higher than in rural areas because people are more likely to come into contact with more individuals. 

Studies have put the COVID-19 Ro as high as 7 and as low as 2. The estimate for the Alpha variant was 1.4-3.9 and the Delta variant is estimated to be 6. 

For context, the seasonal flu Ro tends to be around 1.3 and the measles (before vaccines) could have an Ro as high as 18, making measles the highest known to humankind. 

This graphic demonstrates how a COVID-19 Ro of two works. Showing the spread of the coronavirus from person to two people, and so on. This graphic demonstrates how an Ro of 2 spreads from one person to two people and so on. Graphic source: University of Michigan

Related: Coronavirus Risk Quiz

Can Someone Who Has Had COVID-19 Spread the Illness to Others?

Once the virus has left your system, you are no longer contagious.

Harvard Health studies have found that you are most contagious in the early stages of the disease, but you probably remain contagious for at least 10 days after you start to experience symptoms.

According to the CDC, if you develop symptoms of COVID-19, you should isolate yourself for at least 10 days after symptoms begin and until you have had no fever for at least 24 hours. 

The only way to be sure you’re no longer spreading COVID-19 is to have two negative tests 24 hours apart.

Once you are negative for COVID-19, you are no longer contagious. It is also generally assumed that after 10 days, if you have not developed symptoms, you can be cleared to return to work or school.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


Which Are the First Symptoms of Coronavirus Disease?

Anyone can experience mild, moderate, or severe symptoms of the coronavirus disease, and the symptoms may hit all at once rather than gradually.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • New loss of smell or taste
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Watery eyes or eye discharge (conjunctivitis)
  • Headache

Read: Caring For Someone With Coronavirus

How Is the Coronavirus Transmitted?

The coronavirus is thought to spread primarily through respiratory droplets released when somebody talks, coughs, or sneezes.

These droplets may spread the disease directly from person to person, or the droplets may land on a surface and then are picked up from there. 

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can spread the virus to others. They carry the same amount of virus as those who are infected and not vaccinated, but seem to be infectious for a shorter period. 

Since the coronavirus seems to be primarily transmitted by people who aren’t experiencing symptoms yet, wearing a mask and maintaining social distance are the best steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What To Do if You Think You Have COVID-19

If you’re experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people until you’ve gone at least 10 days without symptoms.

For treatment options, medications can be prescribed by a doctor that may help symptoms of COVID-19, but there is no official “cure.” Symptomatic medications given by doctors include inhalers for shortness of breath and prescription cough/congestion medicines.

If you have a high-risk medical condition, you may be a candidate for COVID-19 antibody treatment as well, which is showing promise in outpatient treatment of mild COVID-19 symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend particular vitamins and other anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce the impact of the virus in your body.*

If you think you may have COVID-19 or have been exposed, our doctor can help with  instructions on symptoms to watch for and how to protect others from the virus.

Read: What is Remdesivir?

Seek emergency medical care if you experience severe symptoms of the coronavirus, such as:

  • Persistent pressure or pain in the chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bluish face or lips
  • Inability to stay awake
  • New confusion
  • Seizures

Before going to the hospital, call ahead and alert them that you may have COVID-19 so that they can be prepared with proper protection and procedures.

You may need to enter through a separate entrance, for example, to limit the exposure risk to others. 

How Long Does it Take to Develop Antibodies After a Coronavirus Infection?

Antibodies are produced as a result of your body’s immune response to an infection. While we do not know yet if antibodies provide long-term immunity for COVID-19, we do know that many people have antibodies in their system after recovering from a COVID-19 infection.

Studies show antibodies take 1-3 weeks to appear following an infection.

This is why it’s important to wait long enough after your infection before receiving antibody testing to avoid a false result.

If you believe that you are experiencing symptoms, or have questions about COVID-19, book an appointment to speak with our board-certified doctors today.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


How an Online Doctor Can Help

An online doctor can help you determine whether you should get tested for the coronavirus. Testing is still limited in some areas, so you may need to meet strict guidelines in order to qualify for a test. 

A PlushCare doctor can give you a test order if they deem testing beneficial to you and you meet the local guidelines for testing.

They can also give you advice on how to manage the physical symptoms of COVID-19, and provide work or school notes for you to isolate.  Prescription medications may help you better manage your symptoms.* In addition, becoming sick with COVID-19 can be extremely stressful and emotionally overwhelming. Our doctors are also here to help address any mental health concerns you may have during or after a COVID-19 infection. 

Read: Managing Coronavirus Anxiety

Getting started with PlushCare is simple. Just click here to schedule an appointment for a phone or video consultation with a licensed doctor.

You will discuss your symptoms and concerns with the doctor, and they can order a COVID-19 test.

Read More About The Coronavirus


PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Harvard Health Publishing. If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus. Accessed on May 20, 2020 at

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Symptoms of Coronavirus. Accessed on May 20, 2020 at

Mayo Clinic. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Accessed on May 20, 2020 at

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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