COVID-19 Guidelines for the General Public

Last content update: 12/21/22

    If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, use our COVID-19 Guidelines Flowcharts to learn what to do:
    COVID-19 Guidelines Flowcharts | English | Chinese | SpanishVietnamese | Tagalog |

    Description: These flowcharts provide basic instructions on isolation and testing for the general public. If you have tested positive for COVID-19, were exposed, or have symptoms, use these flowcharts to learn what to do. For more detailed information, view our Guidelines for COVID-19 Cases, Contacts, and People with Symptoms handout or scroll down to learn more.

    I Tested Positive for COVID-19

    Figure 1. I Tested Positive for COVID-19, what do I do?

    I Am A Confirmed Close Contact to Someone

    Figure 2. I am a Confirmed Close Contact to Someone with COVID-19, what do I do?

    I Developed Symptoms of COVID-19

    Figure 3. I Developed Symptoms of COVID-19, what do I do?


    The guidance above is aligned with California Department of Public Health’s guidelines. For a detailed summary of COVID-19 guidelines for the general public, see below: 

    Guidelines for COVID-19 Cases, Contacts, and People with Symptoms | English | Chinese | SpanishVietnamese | Tagalog |

    Description: This document provides guidance for the public on when and how to isolate at home. Also included are instructions for what to do if you’re a close contact to someone with COVID-19, when to test for COVID-19 and why, and what to do while waiting for your test results.

    Home Isolation & Quarantine Guidelines p1
    Home Isolation & Quarantine Guidelines p2
      • Isolate and stay home for at least 5 days.
      • Isolation can end after day 5 if symptoms are not present or are resolving and a test1 collected on day 5 or later tests negative.
      • If unable to test or choosing not to test, and symptoms are not present or are resolving, isolation can end after day 10.
      • If fever is present, isolation should be continued until fever resolves.
      • If symptoms, other than fever, are not resolving continue to isolate until symptoms are resolving or until after day 10.
      • Wear a well-fitting mask around others for a total of 10 days, especially in indoor settings.

      1When testing to end isolation, it is recommended to use an antigen test (often called a rapid test) instead of a PCR test.

      Close Contacts

      • Tell the people you were in close contact with that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. Being aware of a COVID-19 exposure will allow your close contacts to get tested, watch for symptoms, and better protect their family and loved ones.

      Get tested right away – visit the County’s "Free COVID-19 Testing Sites" webpage to find a free testing site near you. While you are waiting for your COVID-19 test results, you must stay home until you are better and will not make others sick. Watch your symptoms closely and get medical care if you feel worse, especially if you are at higher risk of serious illness. In addition:

      • Stay home, and stay away from others
      • Sleep in a separate room and use a separate bathroom, if you can
      • Wear a mask, even at home
      • Clean shared surfaces often

      If you test positive for COVID-19, follow the isolation guidelines above. If you test negative for COVID-19, you can return to normal activities once you have been fever-free for 24 hours and other symptoms are improving. Consider continuing isolation and retesting in 1-2 days if you test negative with an antigen test, especially if your first test was during the 1-2 days after symptoms began. If new symptoms develop, isolate and get tested again.

      • Test within 3-5 days after last exposure.
      • If symptoms develop, test and stay home.
      • If test result is positive, follow isolation recommendations.
      • California Department of Public Health (CDPH) masking guidance also strongly recommends wearing a well-fitting mask around others for a total of 10 days, especially in indoor settings and when near those at higher risk for severe COVID-19 disease.

        Exposed persons should consider testing as soon as possible to determine infection status and follow all isolation recommendations above if tested positive.

        If you test negative with an antigen test, consider testing again 48 hours later, then again 48 hours after the second negative test.

        Knowing one is infected early enables (a) earlier access to treatment options, if indicated (especially for those that may be at risk for severe illness), and (b) notification of exposed persons ("close contacts") who may also benefit by knowing if they are infected.
      1. In the workplace, employers are subject to the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS)or in some workplaces the Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) Standard, and should consult those regulations for additional applicable requirements.
      2. The above guidance does NOT apply to those living or working in high-risk settings such as jails and shelters, nor to healthcare providers in any kind of healthcare facility. For more information, see COVID-19 Guidelines for Staff and Residents in High-Risk Settings.
      3. TK-12 students should follow CDPH’s COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools.
      1. All close contacts should be tested immediately if they develop symptoms.
      2. A non-household close contact(regardless of vaccination status) should test 3-5 days after last exposure to case.
      3. A household close contact(regardless of vaccination status) with ongoing exposure should be tested two times:
        • 3-5 days after first exposure to case AND
        • 5 days after case completes their isolation period

      What if you develop symptoms

      • If you develop any COVID-19 symptoms you must isolate and stay away from others, even if you are up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccination. For more information, see above guidance for persons with symptoms.


      School aged (TK-12) children who test positive for COVID-19, are exposed to COVID-19 should, or develop symptoms of COVID-19 should follow CDPH’s COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools.

      If you have completed your isolation period, you may no longer be considered contagious. The Public Health Department does not provide individual Return to Work or Work Excuse Letters for employees or School Excuse Letters for students.  You may download and print the applicable letter below showing proof that you can return to work or school if you meet the criteria in the letter and that your employer or school should not request a medical note.

      Updated 5/25/22: Return to Work Letter (PDF):
      English  | Chinese | Spanish | Vietnamese | Tagalog |

      Employees are no longer considered contagious if they meet the criteria detailed in the Return to Work letter​​. The County of Santa Clara discourages employers from requiring a medical note to return to work as long as the criteria detailed are met.

      Updated 11/17/22: Return to School Letter (PDF) :
      | English | Chinese | Spanish | Vietnamese | Tagalog |

      Students and staff are no longer considered contagious if they meet the criteria detailed in the Return to School Letter. For more information on guidance for school employees and students, see the COVID-19 and Schools/Education webpage and CDPH’s COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools.

      For information on resources and benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19, refer to the State of California's COVID-19 Worker Benefits and Leave Navigator. For resources related to COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave, visit

      A high-risk setting is one in which transmission risk is high (e.g., setting with a large number of persons), and where populations served are at risk of more serious outcomes of COVID-19 disease including hospitalization, severe illness, and death. This includes healthcare settings of any kind and congregate living settings. CDPH has different recommendations for staff and residents in these settings who are exposed to COVID-19.

      Face masks are required for all staff, customers, and members of the public in high-risk settings, regardless of vaccination status.

      On 9/12/22, the County of Santa Clara Health Officer issued a Health Order Requiring Use of Face Coverings in Higher-Risk Settings. All higher-risk settings must enforce this face covering requirement.

      Note: In addition to the guidance in this section, high-risk settings should also look at the CDPH recommendations for their specific facility type. Find the latest guidance from CDPH by setting type here.


        Healthcare workers in hospitals or skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) should follow the isolation, testing, and work restriction guidance in AFL 21-08. Skilled nursing facilities should follow the guidance for management of exposed residents in AFL 22-13

        For more information, please see the County's COVID-19 Resources for Providers webpage.

        Healthcare personnel working in settings not covered by AFL 21-08, such as long-term care settings and adult/senior care facilities, may follow the guidance outlined in AFL 21-08.

        For more information, please see the County's COVID-19 Resources for Providers webpage.

        NOTE: On 12/15/2022, the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department released recommendations to Shelter Providers regarding increased shelter capacity during inclement weather events. Please refer to this letter for additional guidance. 

        Staff and residents in non-healthcare congregate settings may follow COVID-19 Guidelines for the General Public. These settings may include:

        • Emergency shelters
        • Cooling and heating centers
        • Homeless shelters
        • Local correctional facilities and detention centers

        For more information on COVID-19 prevention and response in these settings, refer to the CDC’s Guidance on Management of COVID-19 in Homeless Service Sites and in Correctional and Detention Facilities.

        Received a text message and wondering if it is legitimate?

        Legitimate Text


        You may be contacted if you were near someone who has COVID-19 or if you tested positive. Protect your family and friends by responding immediately. If you get a text from 23393, answer the text. Help stop the spread of COVID-19 in California.

        View CDPH’s informational video and review the FAQs below:

          • We need you to complete a COVID-19 contact tracing survey.
          • We may need to notify you of a positive test and/or COVID-19 exposure.
          • We also will follow-up with symptom check-ins through text messages to see if you feel sick. 
          • This is an automated system created by the state of California. It is used to support you as part of Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.
          • The sooner you respond, the sooner you can get important information, advice, testing, and any support you need.
          • Being aware of possible COVID-19 exposure helps you protect your friends and loved ones from exposure and illness. Responding to the text message can keep you from spreading the disease to others.

          CA Connected Logo - Keeping our families and communities healthy


          • If you receive a text with a link from the phone number 233-93, it is safe to click on the link in this text message.
          • The text message points you to a state of California website called California Connected at This is a safe and secure way to share information with us.

          Below are screenshots of what someone would receive being asked to complete the survey:


          CA Connected Screenshots of Phone

          CA Connected Screenshots of Phone

          Screenshot #1

          Description: This is the text message you will receive from Santa Clara County Department of Public Health.

          Hi Donald, this your Santa Clara County Department of Public Health reaching out about an important health issue. Please click the link to access your secure message. Your information is kept confidential and protected by California’s strict privacy laws.

          Nos estamos comunicando con usted para compartir información importante sobre su salud. Para español, responda “2”.

          Screenshot #2

          Description: After you click the link in the text message, this will be the first page of the survey. You will be asked to enter your name, zip code and date of birth into the form.

          Please enter your date of birth and you zip code to confirm your identity

          Name: Donald

          Zip Code

          Date of Birth

          [Continue button]

          Screenshot #3

          Description: After you click the ‘continue’ button, you will be taken to the next page of the survey, where you can view the privacy policy and begin to answer the survey questions.

          The Santa Clara Department of Public Health is working hard to slow the spread of COVID-19. You can help us by answering a few very important questions. The answers you give will help us protect you, the people in your house, and your community. And your answers will also help us learn how COVID-19 is spreading in our area.

          We WILL NOT ask for your Social Security Number, income, credit card information, passwords, or immigration status.

          “View Privacy Policy” – this allows you to view details of your privacy rights and use of information.

          “Continue” – start questions.

          [Continue button]

          [View Privacy Policy button]

          • You may receive links on your phone for Surveys, FAQs, or the Symptom Monitoring System. You can reply STOP at any time to stop receiving messages.
          • All information collected is protected and will be used only for public health purposes. No information will ever be requested about an individual’s Social Security Number, payment information, or immigration status.
          • Please see the CDPH website to learn more.

          You may receive a text and then a call from 916-262-7553 with the caller identity as “CA COVID TEAM.” This is our County of Santa Clara COVID Support Team trying to reach you. You can help protect your family and friends by answering the call. The goal of the call is to make sure you have everything you need to safely stay home and prevent exposure to others.

          Your privacy is incredibly important to us, and any information you provide will only be used by the Public Health Department to ensure the health and safety of our community. You will never be asked for your social security number, financial information, or immigration status.

            Isolation means staying home, without contact with others, for a certain period of time in order to prevent the spread of disease. “Isolation” is used for a person who has had a positive test result or has symptoms and is likely contagious.

            Everyone who is isolating should:

            • Stay home
            • Separate yourself from others in your home
            • Do not allow visitors
            • Do not use public transportation
            • Do not prepare or serve food to others
            • If you are unable to isolate safely at home, call 211 for information on housing, food, or other support services.

            A person who tests positive for COVID-19 is considered contagious starting 2 days before symptoms began until at least 5 days after symptom onset IF symptoms have resolved AND a repeat test is negative. If symptoms are still present at Day 5 OR the individual has not tested negative after initial diagnosis, they are considered likely to still be contagious through Day 10 from symptom onset AND until fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications (like Tylenol or ibuprofen) AND until other symptoms have improved.

            If a person who tests positive has NO symptoms, that person is considered contagious starting 2 days before their first positive test was collected until 5 days after their first positive test was collected IF a repeat test is negative.

            See CDPH’s Isolation and Quarantine Guidance for more information.

            The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) defines a “close contact” as someone who shared the same indoor airspace as a person who has COVID-19 (e.g., in a home, airplane, or clinic waiting room) for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period while the case was considered contagious (see FAQ “When is a person with COVID-19 considered contagious?”).

            Spaces that are separated by floor-to-ceiling walls (e.g. offices, rooms, waiting areas, bathrooms, or break or eating areas that are separated by floor-to-ceiling walls) should be considered distinct indoor spaces. 

            Close contacts include people who shared indoor airspace with the infected person for a continuous 15 minutes or longer, as well as people who shared indoor airspace with the case over multiple short-duration periods that add up to at least 15 minutes during a 24-hour period. For example, if in the 2 days before the infected person had symptoms or tested positive, someone had three 5-minute interactions with the infected person within a 24-hour period, that person would be considered a close contact.

            Entities such as businesses and healthcare facilities overseeing indoor spaces greater than 400,000 cubic feet per floor should consider CDPH's updated close contact definition for large indoor spaces. For more information, refer to the State Public Health Officer Order of October 14, 2022.

            Regardless of vaccination status, the County of Santa Clara urges the public to get tested for COVID-19 when experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, when identified as a close contact to a case, and whenever recommended by CDPH. However, if you were recently infected with COVID-19, you do not need to test for it again in the 30 days after you had COVID-19 unless you develop new symptoms.

            In general, the County recommends testing 3-5 days after last exposure to a confirmed case of COVID-19. If you have an ongoing exposure to a case and cannot separate yourself from them, follow the above testing guidance and get an additional test 5 days after the case completes their isolation period.

            Up to date means a person has received all recommended COVID-19 vaccines, including any booster dose(s) when eligible. 

            Fully vaccinated means a person has received their primary series of COVID-19 vaccine. 

            For more information, see the CDC’s Stay Up to Date with Your Vaccines.

            Individuals experiencing new COVID-19-like symptoms, regardless if they previously had COVID or not, should get tested. While symptomatic, individuals should not attend events or gatherings or visit congregate settings, no matter their test results. See CDPH for more information.

            Traveling and Gathering Guidance

            If traveling, please consult the CDC’s testing guidance for domestic travel and international travel. If gathering or planning an event, please consult CDC’s Guidance for Gatherings.

            To find testing sites and schedule an appointment, please visit

            It is recommended that persons infected with SARS-CoV-2 re-test to end isolation as described in isolation guidance. After ending isolation, persons recently infected with SARS-CoV-2 do not need to test again in the 30 days after they had SARS-CoV-2 unless they develop new symptoms.

            It is recommended that persons use an antigen test for ending isolation. See CDPH guidelines for more information.

            For Healthcare Workers: Please see AFL 21-08 for testing guidance for healthcare workers in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. For all other healthcare settings, see COVID-19 Guidelines for Staff and Residents in High-Risk Settings.

            If you do not have COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of whether or not you were a close contact, you just need to wait for your test results. You do not need to follow isolation steps while you wait for your results.

            If you develop any COVID-19 symptoms, and they are new symptoms that you do not usually have in daily life, then you may have COVID-19 and you must follow the Home Isolation Steps, even if you are up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations.

            Two or more individuals with COVID-19 may safely isolate in the same room or physical space. In healthcare and non-healthcare congregate settings where space limitations may not allow individual isolation rooms, isolating COVID-19 positive individuals in groups or “cohorts” is an important infection control measure.

            The County Public Health Department recommends that you follow the CDC’s guidance on domestic travel and international travel.

            The most important safety precaution that anybody can take against COVID-19 is staying up-to-date on all recommended COVID-19 vaccinations. The County Health officer urges everyone to get fully vaccinated and boosted when eligible, and for unvaccinated people to continue to take appropriate safety measures.

            Some people are at higher risk for serious COVID-19 illness than others. Specifically, unvaccinated older adults and unvaccinated people with underlying health conditions are more likely to develop more serious symptoms and to require more intensive medical care.

            Based on what we know now, the following unvaccinated people are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19:

            • Unvaccinated people aged 50 years and older
            • Unvaccinated people who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
            • Unvaccinated people of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including:
              • Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
              • Serious heart conditions
              • Compromised immunities
                • Many conditions can cause a person to have compromised immunities, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune-weakening medications
              • Severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
              • Diabetes
              • Chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
              • Liver disease
            • Unvaccinated people who are pregnant.

            The County Public Health Department strongly urges unvaccinated persons at higher risk of severe illness to stay home until they become up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccination, which they should do as soon as possible.

            In addition, follow this general guidance:

            • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water, cough into a tissue or your elbow, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
            • Stay away from people who are ill.
            • Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy foods, and manage your stress to keep your immunity strong.
            • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using personal protective equipment (PPE).
            • If you are not up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccination, avoid non-essential visits to hospitals, long term care facilities, nursing homes, or other settings with vulnerable populations. If you must visit one of these facilities, stay outdoors if possible, limit your time there, wear a face covering, and limit interactions with patients and employees of the facility.

            For more information on groups at risk for serious illness, visit the CDC’s COVID-19 Information for Specific Groups of People webpage.

            The County of Santa Clara Health Officer and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) strongly recommend that all persons wear face coverings when indoors. In Santa Clara County, you must wear a face covering whenever required by CDPH’s Guidance for the Use of Face Masks or the County Health Order Requiring Use of Face Coverings in Higher-Risk Settings.

            Breastfeeding has been shown to have many benefits for both infants and breastfeeding parents. However, if a parent has COVID-19, there is a significant risk of COVID-19 transmission from the parent to the infant.

            The decision whether to breastfeed is a complex and personal one, and there are multiple options to reduce the risk of COVID for the infant while continuing to breastfeed:

            • A parent may choose to continue breastfeeding during the period they are contagious with COVID-19 and reduce risk to the infant by consistently wearing a face covering, performing frequent hand hygiene before and after breastfeeding, and reducing total amount of time spent within 6 feet of the infant where possible.
            • A breastfeeding parent may choose to pump and have another adult bottle-feed expressed breastmilk to the infant during the period the COVID+ parent is instructed to isolate. Hand hygiene and following cleaning instructions for pump parts, bottles, and other feeding supplies may further reduce risk.
            • Another option is to pump to maintain lactation during the period the COVID+ parent is instructed to isolate and have another adult bottle-feed formula to the infant (“pump and dump.”)
            • Finally, a parent may choose to stop breastfeeding during the period they are in isolation for COVID-19 in order to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission, even though they may not be able to breastfeed afterwards.

            Some additional considerations for breastfeeding when the parent has been diagnosed with COVID-19:

            • Infants and children generally have been shown to have milder illness when sick with COVID-19 and have the lowest risk of death of any age group.
            • There is NO evidence that breastmilk itself can transmit COVID-19.
            • Masks and face coverings can significantly reduce the amount of virus an infected person breathes into the air.

            Talk to a doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant if you have specific questions about your circumstances and breastfeeding during COVID-19 infection.

            Note:  Pregnant people who do not have COVID-19 are strongly urged to stay up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations. The CDC and FDA have not identified any safety concerns for pregnant people who are vaccinated or for their babies, but unvaccinated pregnant people are at particularly high risk for severe COVID-19 illness.

            Some variants may be more easily spread or less responsive to treatment or vaccination.  More information about variants detected in Santa Clara County can be found here.

            As with all COVID variants, the best way to protect yourself and loved ones is to:

            1. Get vaccinated and boosted;
            2. Wear your mask in indoor settings;
            3. Get tested if you have symptoms; and
            4. Stay home if you are sick.

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