How Long Does It Take to Get COVID-19 After Exposure?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a multitude of questions and uncertainties, with one of the most common being, “How long does it take to get COVID-19 after exposure?” Understanding the incubation period, which is the time from exposure to the virus to the onset of symptoms, is crucial for identifying and managing potential infections. In this article, we will delve into the incubation period of COVID-19, its variability, and the importance of testing and quarantine in the context of exposure.

The Incubation Period of COVID-19

The incubation period of COVID-19 is the time between being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) and the development of symptoms. It’s important to note that not everyone who is exposed to the virus will develop symptoms, as some individuals remain asymptomatic carriers. The incubation period can vary from person to person, but it generally ranges from 2 to 14 days. Most people who develop symptoms do so within 4-5 days after exposure.

Factors Affecting the Incubation Period

Several factors can influence the incubation period, making it variable among different individuals. These factors include:

Viral Load: The amount of virus a person is exposed to can affect the incubation period. Higher viral loads may lead to a shorter incubation period.

Immune System: Individual variations in immune response can impact how quickly the virus replicates and spreads within the body.

Age: Older individuals may have a longer incubation period, as their immune responses can be slower and less robust.

Vaccination Status: If a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, it can potentially impact the incubation period by reducing the likelihood and severity of symptoms.

Previous Exposure: If someone has been previously exposed to the virus or has had COVID-19, their immune system may respond differently to a subsequent exposure.

Common Incubation Period

While the incubation period varies, the majority of individuals who develop symptoms do so within 4 to 5 days after exposure. This is why a common quarantine period for individuals potentially exposed to COVID-19 is set at 14 days. This extended duration allows for the inclusion of the full range of possible incubation periods.

Testing and Quarantine

Given the variability in incubation periods, testing and quarantine are vital components of managing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 after exposure.

  1. Testing: If you suspect you have been exposed to COVID-19, getting tested is an essential step. COVID-19 tests, such as PCR and rapid antigen tests, can help detect the presence of the virus. However, it’s crucial to time your test appropriately. Testing immediately after exposure may yield a false negative result because the virus may not have reached detectable levels. It’s generally recommended to wait at least 5-7 days after exposure before getting tested for the most accurate results.
  2. Quarantine: If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or have reason to believe you’ve been in a high-risk situation, it’s important to self-isolate to prevent potential spread. The recommended quarantine period is typically 14 days, as this allows for the full range of possible incubation periods. During quarantine, monitor for symptoms and seek testing if you develop any. If you remain asymptomatic, you can end your quarantine after 14 days.
  3. Self-Monitoring: Even after quarantine, it’s essential to self-monitor for symptoms for a few more days. Some individuals may develop symptoms after the initial 14-day period, and remaining vigilant can help prevent further transmission.
  4. Close Contacts: If you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, it’s advisable to self-quarantine, get tested, and follow local health guidelines. The specific requirements may vary by location and are typically provided by health authorities.

Asymptomatic and Pre-Symptomatic Spread

It’s important to recognize that individuals infected with COVID-19 can spread the virus to others even before they develop symptoms. Asymptomatic individuals never develop symptoms, while pre-symptomatic individuals are infected and contagious but have not yet developed symptoms.

This means that even if you’re feeling well, you could still be carrying and spreading the virus. Wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, and following local health guidelines are essential to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, especially in situations where you may have been exposed.


Understanding the incubation period of COVID-19 and the variability in symptom onset after exposure is crucial for managing and mitigating the spread of the virus. Testing and quarantine play significant roles in identifying and isolating cases, reducing transmission, and protecting public health. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, staying informed about the latest guidance from health authorities is essential in effectively managing potential exposure and minimizing the impact of the virus on communities.