Management of contacts


  • The World Health Organization defines a contact as a person who has experienced any one of the following exposures during the 2 days before and the 14 days after the onset of symptoms of a probable or confirmed case:[785]

    • Face-to-face contact with a probable or confirmed case within 1 metre (3 feet) and for more than 15 minutes

    • Direct physical contact with a probable or confirmed case

    • Direct care for a patient with probable or confirmed COVID-19 without using recommended personal protective equipment

    • Other situations as indicated by local risk assessments.

  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a close contact as someone who has been within 2 metres (6 feet) of an infected person for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period, beginning 2 days before symptom onset (or 2 days before testing in asymptomatic patients).[154]

  • Consult local guidance as definitions of a contact may vary depending on local public health advice.

Quarantine periods

  • The World Health Organization recommends that asymptomatic contacts of confirmed or probable cases, including healthcare workers, be quarantined in a designated facility or in a separate room in the household for 14 days from the last contact with the case. Any person in quarantine who develops symptoms should be treated and managed as a suspected case and tested according to national testing strategies and guidelines. Laboratory testing is not a requirement for leaving quarantine after 14 days for contacts who do not develop symptoms.[785]

  • In the UK, Public Health England recommends a 10-day quarantine (or self-isolation) period after a potential exposure (it was reduced from 14 days to 10 days on 14 December 2020).[786] From 16 August 2021, fully vaccinated people will no longer need to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact. Instead of self-isolating, fully vaccinated people (or those who are exempt from vaccination for medical reasons) and people under 18 years of age who are identified as close contacts of positive cases are advised to get tested as soon as possible, and only self-isolate if the test is positive.[787]

  • The CDC has shortened the minimum quarantine time after a potential exposure from 14 days to 7-10 days. Quarantine can end after day 7 if the patient tests negative and no symptoms have been reported during the quarantine period. Quarantine can end after day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during the quarantine period. Additional criteria (e.g., symptom monitoring, mask wearing) should continue until day 14 in both cases.[788]

  • Consult local guidance for recommended quarantine locations and timeframes as recommendations vary depending on local public health advice.

Screening of asymptomatic populations

The World Health Organization does not currently recommend widespread screening of asymptomatic individuals due to the significant costs associated with it and the lack of data on its operational effectiveness. Testing of asymptomatic individuals is currently recommended only for specific groups including contacts of confirmed or probable cases and frequently exposed groups such as healthcare workers and long-term care facility workers.[615]

Screening of travellers

Exit and entry screening may be recommended in countries where borders are still open, particularly when repatriating nationals from affected areas. Travellers returning from affected areas should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days and follow local protocols of the receiving country. Some countries may require travellers to enter mandatory quarantine in a designated location (e.g., a hotel). Travellers who develop symptoms are advised to contact their local healthcare provider, preferably by phone.[789] One study of 566 repatriated Japanese nationals from Wuhan City found that symptom-based screening performed poorly and missed presymptomatic and asymptomatic cases. This highlights the need for testing and follow-up.[790]

Drive-through screening centres

Drive-through screening centres have been set up in some countries for safer and more efficient screening. The testee does not leave their car throughout the entire process, which includes registration and questionnaire, examination, specimen collection, and instructions on what to do after. This method has the advantage of increased testing capacity and prevention of cross-infection between testees in the waiting space.[791]

Temperature screening

There is little scientific evidence to support temperature screening with thermal cameras or temperature screening products as a reliable method for the detection of COVID-19 or any other febrile illness, especially if used as the main method of testing.[792]

Non-contact infrared thermometers generally have reasonable sensitivity and specificity for detecting fever; however, their performance varies in different settings. Environmental factors (e.g., absolute temperature, variation in temperature, relative humidity) play an important role in the accuracy of the result. False negatives may be seen in people wearing make-up on the target area or who are significantly perspiring. False positives may be seen in people who are pregnant, menstruating, or on hormone replacement therapy, or those who have recently consumed alcohol or hot beverages, or done strenuous physical activity. Also, fever is not present in asymptomatic or presymptomatic people, and may not be present in symptomatic people, which means infected individuals could be missed.[793]

Non-contact infrared thermometers demonstrated variable accuracy levels across populations and had a low sensitivity for temperatures >37.5℃ (>99.5℉) in adults compared with temporal artery thermometers. Therefore, they may not be the most accurate device for the mass screening of fever during a pandemic.[794]

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