Close Contacts & Contact Tracing

Close Contacts & Contact Tracing

two people to indicate close contact

Find out what to do if you are a close contact of someone with COVID-19!

Close contact means being within six feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, of someone who is diagnosed with COVID-19 during their infectious period. The infectious period starts two days before any symptoms began, or for people who haven't had symptoms, two days before they got tested, and continues until they are recovered.

Close contact does not mean: being more than six feet away in the same indoor environment for a short period of time, walking by, or briefly being in the same room.

Here are some examples:

Examples of close contacts     Examples of not close contacts
You live in the same home     You were their cashier at the grocery store
You are intimate partners You are a pharmacist who gave the person medication
You rode in the same car while the person was infectious You were in front of the person in line at the store
You had dinner together while the person was infectious  You’re a coworker who briefly walked by to ask a question

If someone tests positive for COVID-19, the Health Department works with them to identify their close contacts. Time frame, nature of contact and other factors can influence who is determined to be a close contact. This is called contact tracing. The contact tracers call each close contact to offer health guidance and recommendations for quarantine.

What to do if you are a close contact of someone who is diagnosed with COVID-19
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Contact Tracing

Contact tracing is used to provide education, support and guidance to people who are diagnosed with an infectious disease. It’s also used to identify people who have been in close contact with them, so they can take steps to stop the disease from spreading to others. Here's how contact tracing for COVID-19 works in Vermont.
If you test positive for COVID-19, a contact tracer will call you. They will give you guidance to stay home and away from other people until you recover. This stops the virus from spreading to other people. They will answer any questions you may have and see if you need help getting resources to stay home.

They will ask you questions about your symptoms, activities, and who you may have come into contact with during a specific period of time. This information is only used to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Based on your answers, the contact tracer will help you identify any close contacts. Those people may have been exposed to the virus, which means they have a greater chance of getting it themselves, and then of spreading it to others.

If you are identified as a close contact, you will be contacted. The notification will come from the Health Department or a place you went to recently (for example, your employer, your child’s school, or your health care provider might contact you). They will contact you and tell you the date when you may have been exposed. They will give you guidance to stay home and away from others for a certain amount of time. They will ask you to watch for symptoms and ask if you need any help while staying home.

It can be stressful and overwhelming to learn you may have been exposed to COVID-19, but you can make sure your questions are answered and follow the health guidance to help prevent the virus from spreading. Here are more details on what to do if you’re a close contact.

If you think that you might be a close contact but were not notified, you may take precautions by quarantining for 14 days since the last day you were in contact with that person, and get tested on day 7 or after if you have not had any symptoms.

A contact tracer calling a person exposed to COVID-19It’s important to answer the call and to answer questions as completely as possible to make sure everyone knows what steps to take to prevent further spread of the virus. When the Health Department calls, if they don't reach you they will attempt to leave a message asking you to return a call from the Vermont Department of Health.

If you have tested positive or are a close contact, contact tracers will ask if you want to enroll in our Sara Alert program during the phone call. Sara Alert is a free and secure system that sends daily reminders to check for common symptoms of COVID-19 by email, text or automated or live person phone call. Depending on the symptoms you report, the Health Department may reach out to you to give guidance and next steps. Sara Alert is a symptom monitoring tool. It is not GPS-based, so it does not monitor your movements.

Learn what happens at the Health Department when someone tests positive for COVID-19

When to start and stop quarantine and isolation

Contact tracers use key dates to determine the amount of time you need to stay home. It can sound complicated and everyone’s situation is different. Your contact tracer will walk you through it.

For people who test positive:

  • Symptom onset date – the first day you noticed symptoms. This is the date contact tracers will use to determine your timeline. (If you haven't had symptoms, contact tracers will use the date you got tested.)
  • Date of exposure – the date you were exposed to COVID-19. Contact tracers may not be able to know the exact date you were exposed, but they will narrow down the time period.
  • Incubation period – the amount of time it takes after being exposed, to when you first notice symptoms. If you didn’t get symptoms, the incubation is the period of time between exposure and when you test positive for COVID-19. The incubation period can range from 2-14 days after being exposed. Contact tracers will ask about your activities in the last 14 days to get an idea of where and when you may have been exposed.
  • Infectious period – the period of time when you have a high chance of spreading the virus to others. The infectious period starts two days before you get symptoms (or if you don’t have symptoms, the two days before you got tested) and continues until you have recovered. People you had close interactions with during this time are at risk and may be considered ‘close contacts.’
  • Isolation – the period of time where you will stay home and away from other people until you recover. Isolation starts as soon as you notice symptoms (or if you haven't had symptoms, it starts as soon as you get a positive test result).
  • End isolation – you can end home isolation when you have recovered. Generally, this means at least 10 days have passed since first noticed symptoms, symptoms have improved, and you are fever-free for 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medication. If you haven't had symptoms, generally, you can end isolation 10 days after you were tested.

For close contacts:

  • Date of exposure – the date you were exposed to COVID-19. This is when you were last in contact with someone who tested positive while they were infectious.
  • Quarantine – this means staying home and away from others for 14 days to stop the virus from spreading to other people. Day 0 is the last day you were in close contact with the person who tested positive.
  • End quarantine – close contacts can end quarantine after 14 days if they didn’t get sick. See scenarios from the CDC to determine when you can end quarantine (link is external) and be around others. In Vermont, you may get tested during your quarantine period if you never had any symptoms. Call your provider to arrange for testing on or after day 7. Stay in quarantine until you get your results. If the results are negative, and you still don’t have any symptoms, you can end your quarantine.

Want to learn more about contact tracing?

Contact tracing is a proven public health tool that has been used for decades to slow or stop the spread of infectious diseases.