What To Do If You Have It, Might Have It, Or Were Possibly Exposed To The Coronavirus

Published Aug 7, 2020

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If you've been exposed to a pandemic-level virus, the last thing you're going to want to do is tangle with a government website to figure out your next steps.

For this guide, we've streamlined the Los Angeles Public Health Department guidance about what you have to do. We've also included a quarantine-related glossary, because we all have a new language now.

Below are the county's requirements for exposure (and possible exposure). What's known about the coronavirus and COVID-19 is still evolving, and we'll update the protocols, restrictions, and recommendations as new information becomes available.

But for now, if you only remember one thing, let it be this:

If you test positive for COVID-19 --
Immediately begin isolating at home for 10 days.

If you have symptoms that could be COVID-19 --
Immediately begin isolating at home for 10 days.

If you've been exposed --
Immediately begin quarantining at home for two full weeks.

For questions regarding your own health, always consult a medical professional. If you don't have one, call 211 in L.A. County for help getting connected.


Jump to a section: ORDERS IF YOU'VE BEEN EXPOSEDIF YOU'RE NOT SURE IF YOU WERE EXPOSEDIF YOU'RE SICK WITH POSSIBLE SYMPTOMSIF YOU TESTED POSITIVE BUT FEEL FINEIF YOU TESTED POSITIVE AND FEEL SICKTHE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN QUARANTINE AND ISOLATIONPANDEMIC GLOSSARY

- L.A. COUNTY OFFICIAL ORDERS -


Emergency Isolation Order (with instructions)

Emergency Quarantine Order (with instructions)

- IF YOU'VE BEEN EXPOSED -

1. Immediately begin quarantining at home for two full weeks.

2. Follow these rules and this order.

3. Wait at least three days from exposure, then get tested.

4. If the results come back positive, begin isolating for 10 days, read this section instead, and follow these rules and this order.

5. If the results come back negative, still finish your two week quarantine.

6. Get tested again if you start to feel sick.

7. If you're still not sure when to end quarantine, check the calculator.

- IF YOU'RE NOT SURE IF YOU WERE EXPOSED -

Ask yourself the questions below. You're trying to figure out if you've been in "close contact" with an "infectious person."

If you answer no to both questions in the first set, you are not considered a close contact/exposed and can stop there.

If you answer yes, keep going.


First set
(determining contact):

• Did a person I don't live with stand closer than 6 feet from me for more than 15 minutes?
Did body fluids from a person I don't live with get on me?

Second set (was the person infectious):

Did this person test positive for the virus?
Did this person have a suspected case of COVID-19?
Did this person have a known exposure to the coronavirus?
Did this person seem OK but then get sick within two days of hanging out?
Did this person have a fever with cough/shortness of breath in the 24 hours before I saw them?

If you answer yes to at least one question in both sets, you were likely exposed to an infectious person. Your next move is to follow the sequence below.

1. Immediately begin quarantining at home for two full weeks.

2. Follow these rules and this order.

3. Wait at least three days from exposure, then get tested.

4. If the results come back positive, begin isolating for 10 days, read this section instead, and follow these rules and this order.

5. If the results come back negative, still finish your two week quarantine.

6. Get tested again if you start to feel sick.

7. If you're still not sure when to end quarantine, check the calculator.

- IF YOU'RE SICK WITH POSSIBLE SYMPTOMS -

If you have fever with a cough or shortness of breath, you are presumed to have COVID-19. If your doctor thinks you have it, or you test positive, do the following.

1. Immediately begin isolating at home for 10 days.

2. Follow these rules and this order.

3. Write down when your symptoms began.

4. Monitor yourself for changes.

5. Keep your doctor informed.

6. There is no specific treatment, but:

• Rest, hydrate, and adults should take acetaminophen for fever and pain, according to health officials.

7. Notify your close contacts.

• This is anyone who's been within 6 feet of you for more than 15 minutes, and/or anyone who's made contact with your "body fluids and/or secretions" while you were infectious.

• Expect to hear from a contact tracer. This is standard procedure. They will ask about the places you've been and the people you've seen. Your participation is kept confidential, so be helpful. They're trying to slow the spread, avoid outbreaks, and understand how the virus is moving.

8. You are considered infectious 48 hours before symptoms started.

9. You are considered infectious until you qualify for the end of isolation.

10. Isolation ends when you are all of these things:

• Finished with at least 10 days of isolation
• Fever-free without fever-reducing medication for 24 hours
• Showing improved symptoms (if you had them)

- IF YOU TESTED POSITIVE BUT FEEL FINE -

1. Immediately begin isolating at home for 10 days.

2. You're either "asymptomatic" and will not feel sick at all, or you're "presymptomatic" and will feel sick soon.

3. Either way, you're considered to be
infectious.

4. Follow these rules and this order.

5. Notify your close contacts.

• This is anyone who's been within 6 feet of you for more than 15 minutes, and/or anyone who's made contact with your "body fluids and/or secretions" while you were infectious.

• Expect to hear from a contact tracer. This is standard procedure. They will ask about the places you've been and the people you've seen. Your participation is kept confidential, so be helpful. They're trying to slow the spread, avoid outbreaks, and understand how the virus is moving.

6. You are considered infectious starting 48 hours before your test.

7. You are considered contagious for the 10 days following your test.

8. If you do develop symptoms during your isolation period, the clock resets on the 10 days.

- IF YOU TESTED POSITIVE AND FEEL SICK -

1. Immediately begin isolating at home for 10 days.

2. Follow these rules and this order.

3. Write down when your symptoms began.

4. Monitor yourself for changes.

5. Keep your doctor informed.

6. There is no specific treatment, but:

• Rest, hydrate, and adults should take acetaminophen for fever and pain, according to health officials.

7. Notify your close contacts.

• This is anyone who's been within 6 feet of you for more than 15 minutes, and/or anyone who's made contact with your "body fluids and/or secretions" while you were infectious.

• Expect to hear from a contact tracer. This is standard procedure. They will ask about the places you've been and the people you've seen. Your participation is kept confidential, so be helpful. They're trying to slow the spread, avoid outbreaks, and understand how the virus is moving.

8. You are considered infectious 48 hours before symptoms started.

9. You are considered infectious until you qualify for the end of isolation.

10. Isolation ends when you are all of these things:

• Finished with at least 10 days of isolation
• Fever-free without fever-reducing medication for 24 hours
• Showing improved symptoms (if you had them)

- PANDEMIC GLOSSARY -

Time has lost all meaning, but words still matter. The terms below have broad definitions. For the purposes of this pandemic, here's what they mean right now in Los Angeles:

QUARANTINE is a separation designed to stop people from unintentionally spreading a contagious disease. You are required to self-quarantine at home if you have no symptoms but were exposed to COVID-19. Your movements will be restricted as you wait it out to see if you get sick. While quarantining, you will have to distance yourself from other people in your home (unless they're also quarantining). Quarantine ends 14 days from when you last had close contact with an infectious person. There's also a calculator to help figure it out. Restrictions while quarantining include:

ISOLATION is a separation designed to keep sick people away from people who are not sick. You are required to self-isolate at home if you have a confirmed case of COVID-19 or symptoms believed to be COVID-19. While isolating, your movements are restricted and you will have to distance yourself from other people in your home. To end isolation you must meet a specific set of conditions. Restrictions while isolating include:

SOCIAL/PHYSICAL DISTANCING is putting space between you and other people to reduce the chances of transmitting pathogens. Social distancing includes staying home, avoiding crowds, and keeping 6 feet away from people you don't live with. It also means keeping 6 feet away from people you do live with if they're quarantining or isolating. The term "physical distancing" is sometimes used to mean the same thing.

BODY FLUIDS/SECRETIONS include sweat, saliva, sputum, mucus, vomit, urine, and diarrhea. It's possible to come in contact with fluids/secretions by being coughed on, sneezed on, providing care without protective equipment, sharing utensils and cups, and other ways too. Coughs and sneezes should be covered. Used tissues should immediately be thrown away. Clean hands often, and immediately after coughing, sneezing, or using a tissue.

CLOSE CONTACT is a term for someone who's been exposed to the coronavirus based on their proximity to, or interaction with, an infected person who was infectious at the time. Specifically, according to the L.A. County Department of Health, a close contact is an individual who was within 6 feet of the infected person for more than 15 minutes, and/or an individual who had unprotected contact with the infected person's body fluids and/or secretions.

CONTACT TRACING is a standard process used by public health departments to slow the spread of an infectious disease, to understand how a disease is spreading, and to (hopefully) avoid outbreaks.

The technique includes interviews with people who have COVID-19, notifying people who were exposed, testing referrals, and connecting people with resources like food, shelter, medical care, and other services that might be needed during isolation or quarantine.

If you get a call from an L.A. County contact tracer they will ask about the places you've been and the people you've seen. Your participation is kept confidential, so be helpful.

We know people are worried about falling for a scam. A legitimate tracer will absolutely NOT ask for something like your Social Security number. Our Q&A with the county's chief medical officer has more about what they can ask you.

Also, if you don't get a call, call them: 833-540-0473.

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Image Credit (top): Illustration by Chava Sanchez | Photo by Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images