One of our most popular blog posts from the past year is “Understanding Close Contact.” A lot has changed since we posted it back in November 2020—mainly that we have widely available vaccines! We’ve updated this popular blog with the latest info and have updated common scenarios to walk you through what is and isn’t close contact.


Defining Close Contact

Just because you were near someone who later tested positive for COVID-19 doesn’t mean you were necessarily a close contact. When we say close contact, we mean one of these things happened:

  • Living with or caring for a person with confirmed COVID-19, OR
  • Being within six feet of a person with confirmed COVID-19 for about 15 minutes (with or without a mask), OR
  • Someone with COVID-19 coughing on you, kissing you, sharing utensils with you or you had direct contact with their body secretions.

If you are a close contact, you might need to get testing and quarantine. See below for more information on what to do:


I'm a close contact, and I'm fully vaccinated

What this means: You meet at least one of the close contact criteria above, and it’s been at least 14 days since your first dose of a 1-dose vaccine like Johnson & Johnson or at least 14 days since your second dose of a 2-dose vaccine like Pfizer or Moderna

What to do: Monitor yourself for symptoms for 14 days from the exposure. Get tested 3-5 days after exposure. Wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days following the exposure or until you receive a negative test result. If symptoms appear, isolate and get tested. See our fact sheet for vaccinated people for more information.


I'm a close contact, and I'm not fully vaccinated

What this means: You meet at least one of the close contact criteria above, and you either have not been vaccinated at all or it hasn’t been at least 14 days since your first dose of a 1-dose vaccine like Johnson & Johnson or at least 14 days since your second dose of a 2-dose vaccine like Pfizer or Moderna.

What to do: You will need to quarantine. Monitor your symptoms for 14 days after your last exposure to COVID-19. Stay home from school, work, and other activities and get tested as soon as possible if you develop symptoms. If positive, follow isolation guidance for people who test positive; if negative, continue quarantining.

  • It is safest if you quarantine for 14 days after your last exposure. No test is required to end quarantine.
  • You do have other options for quarantine. These options are to:
    • Quarantine for 10 days after your last exposure. No test is required to end quarantine. Monitor yourself for symptoms until 14 days after your last exposure.

Quarantine and get tested for COVID-19 6 or 7 days after last exposure. If your test is negative, you could end quarantine after 7 days of quarantine. You must have your negative test result before ending quarantine and the test cannot be before day 6. Monitor yourself for symptoms until 14 days after your last exposure.


Was that close contact?

Let’s look at a few examples to see what is and isn’t close contact:


Scenario 1: The masked, outdoor hayride

You take your 8-year-old daughter and her friend from school to a fall hayride. You are all within six feet of each other for most of the day, but you’re all wearing masks. Two days later, the friend’s parent calls to tell you their child tested positive for COVID-19. You are fully vaccinated, but your daughter is not.

Was this close contact: Yes. Even if you’re wearing a mask or outside, because you were within six feet for 15 or more minutes, you and your daughter are both considered close contacts. Since your daughter is too young to get vaccinated, she will need to quarantine. Since you are fully vaccinated and don’t have symptoms, you do not need to quarantine yet, but should follow the guidance above. 


Scenario 2: The friend of a friend

Your teenager went over to a friend’s house for dinner. They were unmasked the entire time. Earlier that morning, the friend had volleyball practice. Later in the week, the friend finds out that someone on the team tested positive and texts your teenager the news.

Was this close contact: No. Your child did not have close contact with someone who tested positive. Whether your child or the friend is fully vaccinated does not change the fact that this is not close contact.


Scenario 3: The close talker

You have a co-worker who pops into your cubicle a few times a day to chit chat. On Monday, you have a few conversations, none longer than a few minutes. You are both wearing masks the whole time. Later that week, he gets a positive COVID test result.

Was this close contact: Maybe. It depends how long you were together. The 15-minute limit is cumulative but does not have to be consecutive. This means if you’re within six feet of each other and have 3, 5-minute conversations within a 24-hour period, you had 15 minutes of close contact.


Scenario 4: The happy hour

You and your pals meet for an outside happy hour. Everyone is maskless and within six feet of each other for a couple hours. A few days later, a friend who attended tells the group they tested positive.

Was this close contact: Yes. Even though being outside is less risky, it doesn’t change the fact that this is close contact. Whether you need to quarantine or not will depend on your vaccination status


Scenario 5: The hugger

A friend stops by for a quick chat. You both are outside but without masks and are about ten feet apart. Before she leaves, she gives you a quick hug. A few days later, she texts you that she tested positive.

Was this close contact:  Yes. While you didn’t come within six feet, you did have physical contact. Physical contact of any kind means you’re a close contact. Whether you need to quarantine will depend on your vaccination status


Scenario 6: My best friend’s wedding

You attend your friend’s outdoor wedding. It’s a small event of about 20 people, and everyone is fully vaccinated. No one wears a mask. A few days afterwards, you have cold-like symptoms and get a COVID-19 test, just in case. It comes back positive.

Was this close contact:  This is a situation where you don’t really know where your exposure happened. It might have been at the wedding, or it might have been before the wedding. As the person who tested positive, you’ll need to let your close contacts know they might have been exposed. With all the mingling, dancing, and activities at the intimate wedding, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution and assume everyone could have been a close contact to you. Let the married couple know so they can connect you with the rest of the guests, and you can tell them to monitor for symptoms and get tested


Scenario 7: (Masked) school is in session

Your 7-year-old attends school where everyone is fully masked. Students are not distanced while in the classroom, but they do eat six feet apart from other students at lunch, when their masks are off. A boy in your child’s class tests positive for COVID-19. Your child happens to sit next to him in the classroom.

Was this close contact: It depends on how close they sit together in the classroom. Schools have a different definition of close contact when all students are masked in a classroom setting. If two students are wearing masks, they would be close contacts in a classroom setting only if they are less than 3 feet apart. This different definition only applies in school classrooms and only to students (not staff).


Scenario 8: The close crop

You are unvaccinated and were a close contact to a co-worker. Your supervisor has instructed you to quarantine for 14 days. On day three you get tested. On day five, you hear back that your test was negative. You had an appointment to get a haircut on your calendar for weeks and decide not to skip it. On day seven, you go to get your haircut. You and your stylist wear a mask. On day eight, you’re feeling a little under the weather and go get another test. On day 10, you learn it was positive.

Was this close contact: Yes. Your stylist is now a close contact to you because you were within six feet for more than 15 minutes. This is an important reminder that since you are unvaccinated, you must complete your entire quarantine. Even if you initially test negative, even if you have no symptoms, you can still be spreading the virus. If you had been vaccinated, you would not have to quarantine


Scenario 9: The kitchen co-workers

Your unvaccinated partner works in a hospital cafeteria. She wears a mask but is within six feet of others nearly the entire day. One of her co-workers—whom she has been within six feet of for at least 15 minutes—tests positive.

Was this close contact: Yes, for your partner. You are not a close contact unless your partner eventually tests positive. As a reminder, it is safest if you quarantine for 14 days after your last exposure, but but you have other options

Because your partner is anxious to get back to work, she opts to do a 7-day quarantine, which is one of the quarantine options.

This means that she can end her quarantine after 7 days if she has a negative COVID test on day 6 or later. On day six after her last contact with the co-worker who tested positive, she gets tested at a community test site.  She must wait for her test result before ending quarantine. Two days later (day 8), she gets a negative test result and can end her quarantine. She still must monitor herself for symptoms until it’s been 14 days after her last contact with the co-worker who tested positive. If she develops symptoms during this time, she needs to quarantine again and get tested.


The Bottom Line: Get Vaccinated

While getting vaccinated won’t stop you from becoming a close contact, it does mean you won’t have to quarantine if you do become a close contact. You will need to monitor yourself for symptoms and get tested, but you don’t have to take time off work, school, or your activities unless you get sick. Still need to get vaccinated? Find a vaccinator near you on our website.Read more about what to do if you’re sick or exposed and find more ways to reduce your risk on our website.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.