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Health - Public Health News

Posted on: May 14, 2020

Returning to Work After COVID-19 Illness or Exposure (Guide for Essential and Healthcare Workers)

If you’re an essential worker or healthcare worker that tested positive for COVID-19, or has been exposed to someone who has, you may be wondering what to do and when it’s ok to return to work. Here’s what you need to know. 

Essential workers:

You may return to work after an illness when:

  • At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since your fever has stopped without using fever-reducing medications, AND
  • Your respiratory symptoms (like cough and shortness of breath) have improved AND,
  • At least 10 days have passed since your symptoms first started.

If you tested positive, but never felt sick:

  • If you had laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 but no symptoms, you can end home isolation and return to regular activities 10 days after your first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test. If you do become sick though, wait at least ten days from when those symptoms began and at least three days after they’re gone.

If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, what should you do?

You may continue to work as long as you remain well and don’t have symptoms, if you also do the following things for 14 days after the most recent exposure:

  • Pre-screen: monitor your temperature and symptoms daily before leaving for work.
  • Wear a mask at all times at work.
  • Social distance: remain at least 6 feet from coworkers as much as possible.
  • Disinfect and clean work spaces daily.
  • Don’t share headsets, phones, food or drinks.

If you start to experience symptoms, you should go home immediately and contact your healthcare provider to arrange for a test.

How do I know if I was exposed?

In general, you need to be in close contact with a sick person to get infected. Close contact means:  

  • Living in the same household, or
  • Caring for a sick person with COVID-19, or 
  • Being within 6 feet of a sick person for about 10 minutes, or
  • Being in direct contact with secretions from a sick person with COVID-19 (e.g., being coughed on, kissing, sharing utensils, etc.)

Close contact with someone includes the period of time 48 hours before they started showing symptoms. In general, you will be contacted by the health department if you were a close contact of someone with a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19.

Healthcare workers:

You may return to work after an illness or positive test result when:

  • At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since your fever has stopped without using fever-reducing medications and your respiratory symptoms (like cough and shortness of breath) have improved AND,
  • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first started.
  • If you had laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 but no symptoms, you can end home isolation and return to regular activities 10 days after your first positive COVID-19 diagnostic.

You should also:

  • Wear a facemask (not a cloth face covering) at all times while in the healthcare facility until all symptoms (respiratory and non-respiratory) are completely gone. 
  • Continue to monitor for all symptoms and get re-evaluated if symptoms return.

Some healthcare workers may experience prolonged cough as a result of respiratory viral infection, which may continue after isolation has ended. Those workers should wear a face mask until their cough resolves or their health returns to normal.

If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, what should you do? 

You should actively monitor for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection, but can return to work provided you:

  • Practice cough etiquette and hand hygiene.
  • Wear a facemask at all times while in the healthcare facility until all symptoms are gone or until 14 days after illness onset, whichever is longer.
  • Go home immediately and contact your healthcare provider if you start to experience symptoms.


Check with your employer to see if they have additional requirements to return to work safely. Visit the FAQ section of our website for updates to this guidance.

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