How Long After Exposure Do You Get Coronavirus?

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How Long After Exposure Do You Get Coronavirus?

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.

Linda Anegawa, MD, FACP

Reviewed by Linda Anegawa, MD, FACP

January 20, 2023 / Read Time 7 minutes

*NOTE:  Patients who test positive for COVID may qualify for prescription COVID treatment, such as Paxlovid or molnupiravir. Learn more about COVID medications.

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?

As the prevalence of infection remains due to the highly infectious Delta and Omicron variants, including the new XBB.1.5 variant, it is time to revisit these important questions.

Here’s the latest information about the COVID-19 virus and how an online doctor may be able to help.

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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. 

The latest information from the CDC illustrates that incubation periods can vary depending on the strain. According to data from studies published in 2020, the average incubation period was 6.5 days.

Newer data suggests that the average incubation period for the Delta variant is 4.3 days, while for the Omicron variant it is between 3 to 4 days. For the recently emerging XBB.1.5 Omicron variant, the average incubation period is 5 days.

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

With 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.

The Omicron variant is thought to be up to three times more contagious than the Delta variant, but with a lower viral load.

The newly emerging XBB.1.5 variant could be the most contagious of all Omicron variants. It is currently thought to cause 75% or COVID cases in the Northeast United States.

If you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, 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, we 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 COVID-19?

It's important to note that research shows that the Delta variant is nearly twice as contagious as previous COVID-19 variants, and that the Omicron variant is up to three times as contagious as the Delta variant. The newly emerging Omicron variant, XBB.1.5, could be even more contagious than previous Omicron variants, although data about this variant is still being collected.

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. The Omicron variant is estimated to be 18.6.

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. Before the Omicron variant, measles had the highest Ro known.



This graphic demonstrates how an Ro of 2 spreads from one person to two people and so on. Graphic source: University of Michigan

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 5 days without symptoms. After these 5 days, continue to wear a mask around others for 5 more days.

For treatment options, medications can be prescribed by a doctor that may reduce 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. Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are COVID-19 antiviral pills that can reduce symptom duration.

Learn more about the COVID-19 pills.

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

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. 

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 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 5 days after symptoms begin and until you have had no fever for at least 24 hours. However, it is still important to wear a mask for 10 days after symptoms begin.

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 5 days, if you have not developed symptoms, you can be cleared to return to work or school. It is still important to wear a well fitting mask for 5 more days to avoid spread to others.

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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

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.

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.

  1. 1

    Book on our free mobile app or website.

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

  2. 2

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

  3. 3

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

How an Online Doctor Can Help

Our online doctors can help you determine whether you should get tested for COVID-19 and prescribe antiviral medications if you qualify. Learn more about COVID medications.

Our doctor can help you get COVID testing shipped to your home.

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

Read More About The Coronavirus

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