Staying Away from Others When You are Sick with COVID-19

COVID-19 is an illness that most often spreads through the air.  When a person who has COVID-19 and is contagious spends time indoors with others, they can spread their germs and get other people sick.  That is why you have to stay away from other people when you are sick with COVID-19

Having a sore throat or cough, or being very tired, are signs that you may be sick with COVID-19.  You should stay home so you do not spread your germs to your friends, family, and coworkers.  If you need to be around other people, wear a mask to protect them.

Child care providers have a lot of experience keeping children from spreading illnesses to each other in the classroom.  The Daily Health Check, exclusion policy, and staff health policy help keep children and staff home when they are sick.  Providers have to be even more careful when it comes to COVID-19, because of how contagious it is and how sick it can make some people.

How do you keep a child or staff member who is contagious from spreading COVID-19 in your child care program?

The best thing you can do is to have the child or staff member stay home until they are no longer contagious and won't spread COVID-19 to the other staff and children in your program.  Have the child or staff member stay home:

  • when they have one or more symptoms of COVID-19. Here is a list of symptoms.  If they test negative for COVID-19, they can follow your usual exclusion for illness policy to decide when to come back to school/work.
  • after they test positive for COVID, for at least 5 days.  After 5 days, follow your usual exclusion for illness policy.
Returning to school after getting sick from COVID-19

Once a child or staff member has stayed away and is no longer contagious, they will still need to be careful when returning to school.  Have the child or staff member wear a high-quality mask that fits snugly around their mouth and nose for 10 days after they tested positive.  Here is a useful page on high-quality masks.  

What to Do if You are Exposed to COVID-19: A Case Study

On Saturday, a father took his children to visit their aunt's house for a few hours.  They had lunch together indoors and played card games around the table.  Later that night, the aunt started getting a sore throat, and on Sunday morning she tested positive for COVID-19.  This means the family was exposed to COVID-19 on Saturday.  

After being exposed to COVID-19, the family has to be careful around others as they wait and see if they got infected:

  • The family should wear masks when around other people for at least 10 days, but they can go to work, school, or child care.
  • If the father or any of the children start feeling sick, they should get tested right away for COVID-19.
  • Even if the father and children do not feel sick, they should take a COVID-19 test that week, sometime between Tuesday and Thursday (about 3-5 days after they were exposed).
Other Advice

Masks are only recommended for children 2 years of age and older, if they can wear a mask safely.  

If you or your adult family members test positive for COVID-19, make sure to ask your health care provider if there are any medicines you can take.  They will help keep your sickness mild, but you need to take them right away after you test positive. 

Consider getting everyone in your family vaccinated against COVID-19.  You are less likely to get very sick or be hospitalized if you get vaccinated.

Staying home when you feel sick, even if you don't have COVID, keeps others safe from getting your illness.  If you do go out, wearing a mask also keeps your germs from spreading and making other people sick.  


California Department of Public Health (2022) Self-Isolation Instructions for Individuals with COVID-19 at (English) and (Spanish)

California Department of Public Health (2022) What to Do if You Are Exposed to COVID-19 at

California Department of Public Health (2022) Guidance for Child Care Providers and Programs: Questions and Answers at . 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022) Isolation and Precautions for People with COVID-19 at

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022) What to Do If You Were Exposed to COVID-19 at

August 2022, UCSF California Childcare Health Program

This article was made possible with funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation.