COVID-19 Exposure and Illness: When to Stay Home

If you test positive or you have been exposed to COVID-19, a case investigator at the Alexandria Health Department (AHD) may call to assist you. If you do not get a call due to the current surge, do not wait to take the following steps!

Page updated on Jan 12, 2022 at 1:30 PM

Next StepsIf you test positive or you have been exposed to COVID-19, Alexandria Health Department (AHD) staff may call to assist you. If you do not get a call due to the current surge, do not wait to take the following steps!

While waiting on test results, stay home and away from others. Whether you have a positive test or were exposed to COVID-19, avoid the following for 10 days:

  • Do not travel. 
  • Avoid people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease, and do not go to nursing homes and other high-risk settings. 
  • Do not go places where you are unable to wear a mask, such as restaurants and some gyms, and avoid eating around others at home and at work.

If you live or work at a long term care facility, congregate setting (such as a detention center, shelter, group home), or healthcare facility, isolation and quarantine guidance may differ and you should check your organization’s policy.


What to Do When You Test Positive for COVID-19

 Regardless of your vaccination status, begin isolation:

  • Days 0 to 5: Stay home and away from others.
    • If possible, use a separate bedroom, bathroom, and household items and wear a mask when around household members. Continue doing this until day 10.  
    • If you have symptoms, day 0 is the day your symptoms started.

    • If you never had symptoms, day 0 is the day you were tested.

    • Check with your doctor before being around others if you were severely ill with COVID-19 (including being hospitalized) or have a compromised immune system.
  • Days 6 to 10:
    • If you have no  symptoms or your symptoms are resolving, you can leave your house. Continue to wear a well-fitting mask to reduce any risk of infecting others. If you have a fever, continue to stay home until 24 hours after your fever resolves.
  • Notify your close contacts. Close contacts are people who were within 6 feet of you for more than 15 minutes in the two days prior to your symptoms or test date. Tell them “I recently tested positive for COVID-19, so you should get tested and wear a mask.” 
    • If you attended an event or gathering, notify the organizer.
    • If you work, notify your supervisor.
    • If you attend school or other activities, notify the principal or designated COVID-19 contact person.
  • Ask for help if you need it to stay at home during your isolation. You can get food, rent assistance, or other support by calling the Alexandria COVID-19 Hotline on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 703.746.4988

  • You can not “test out” of isolation early. You cannot stop your isolation early, even if you test again and receive a negative result before five days have passed.

  • Monitor your symptoms after a positive test: while most people may have mild symptoms, COVID-19 can become severe regardless of age or underlying conditions. Seek medical attention immediately or call 911 if you develop trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest; new confusion; bluish lips or face; or inability to wake or stay awake. If you seek medical care, call ahead and tell them that you have COVID-19. If you are at risk for more serious complications and have a COVID-19 infection, contact your doctor or healthcare provider about treatment options for COVID-19.

What to Do When You Are Exposed to COVID-19

Follow the guidelines below if you were exposed to COVID-19 and you have:

  • Received a COVID-19 booster shot. 
    • Received your second dose (and an additional dose if you’re immunocompromised) of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last 6 months.
    • Received your first dose of the J&J vaccine within the last two months.
  • Tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days.

Days 1 to 10:

  • Wear a well-fitting mask around others.
  • Test on day 5, if possible.
  • If you develop symptoms, get tested and stay home.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19 during this 10-day period, follow the isolation guidance above.



Follow the quarantine guidelines below if you were exposed to COVID-19 and you:

  • Are eligible for a booster but have not received one yet.
    • It’s been more than two months since your dose of J & J. 
    • It’s been more than five months since you finished the primary series* of Pfizer or Moderna (*primary series is 2 doses, except for immunocompromised people, who need 3 doses).
  • Are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Days 1 to 5:

  • Stay home and away from others.
  • Wear a well fitting mask if you need to be around household members.
  • Test on day 5 if possible. If you test positive for COVID-19, follow the isolation guidance above.

Day 6 to 10:

  • Continue to wear a mask around others.
  • If you develop symptoms, get a test and stay home. If you test positive for COVID-19, follow the isolation guidance above.

What To Do When You Can’t Find a Test 

Alexandria Health Department and the City of Alexandria are working to expand access to testing. In certain situations you should take action even if you cannot find a test.

Q. I have no known exposure but I have symptoms that may be COVID-19, what should I do if I can’t find a test?
Stay home if you can for at least 5 days after your symptoms have started:

  • Ask you can work from home or ask for duties at work where you don’t need to interact closely with others and can maintain physical distance
  • Avoid gathering with others (sports leagues, dinners or get togethers with friends or family)
  • Wear a well fitted mask (surgical mask under a cloth mask or KN95) around others both at home and at work or in the community

Q. What if I have symptoms and I know that I was exposed to someone with COVID-19? 
If you live with or were exposed to someone with COVID-19, and you have symptoms:

  • Assume you are positive.
  • Stay home for at least 5 days after your symptoms start.
  • If your symptoms resolve after 5 days, wear a mask for an additional 5 days when you are around others.
  • If you are still not feeling well after 5 days, please stay home until your symptoms resolve.

Case Investigation and Contact Tracing in Alexandria

AHD conducts case investigations for a variety of conditions, ranging from meningitis to rabies exposure. When an Alexandria resident receives a positive COVID-19 test result or has been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, AHD will start the case investigation and contact tracing processes. During surges, AHD may not have the capacity to follow up with every case or close contact. You can help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community by following the guidance on this page–even if you don’t get a call–and by answering calls and returning voicemails from AHD.

How it Works: Case Investigations

1. Your COVID-19 Test Results Arrive

Labs and healthcare providers report positive COVID-19 “cases” to AHD. Then, AHD starts a “case investigation” by calling you to gather more information.

2. You Answer a Call from AHD

You’re not in trouble. We need your help to stop the spread. Staff will also link you to food, supplies and other resources to help you isolate and stay home safely.

AHD will ask about:

  • Symptoms and when they started
  • People who have been within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more, starting from 48 hours before symptoms started.
  • Health conditions that may make you more likely to get very sick
  • Places where you might have been in close contact with others

AHD will NOT ask about your immigration status, bank account, or other sensitive information like your social security number.

3. You Learn How to Protect Others
  • Avoid close contact with others and stay home until not contagious
  • Follow guidelines for cleaning and hand washing
  • Treat minor symptoms with over the counter medicines
  • Seek help from a healthcare provider if symptoms get worse (and call ahead first!)

You will not have to isolate forever! You can generally be around others 10 days after symptoms start and once you have been fever free for 24 hours.

4. Your Close Contacts Answer a Call from AHD

AHD reaches out to your contacts who have been within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more. This could be someone you spent time with at a party, a coworker, or a relative. This person is told that they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. AHD will not share your name with that person.

AHD is bound by health confidentiality laws and will not share your health status with your employer.
5. Get Back to Your Life

Thanks for being part of the solution to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Alexandria!

How it Works: Contact Tracing

1. You Answer a Call from AHD

You’re not in trouble. We need your help to stop the spread. Staff will link you to food, supplies and other resources to help you isolate and stay home safely.

AHD will ask about:

  • Any symptoms or if you’re not feeling well
  • Health conditions that may make you more likely to get very sick
  • Places where you might have been in close contact with others.
 AHD will NOT ask about your immigration status, bank account, or other sensitive information like your social security number.
2. You Learn How to Protect Others
  • Avoid close contact with others and stay home for 14 days after your contact with the person who has COVID-19
  • Follow guidelines for cleaning and hand washing
  • Get tested for COVID-19 (call your primary care provider or find testing locations)

You will not have to quarantine forever! You can typically end your quarantine 14 days after your last date of exposure.

3. You Receive a Daily Check-in
AHD staff will use a daily text or email depending on your preferences to help you monitor for symptoms until you pass the point when you could get sick.
4. Get Back to Your Life
Thanks for being part of the solution to end COVID-19 in Alexandria!
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