COVID-19 incubation timeline: When am I contagious?


Key takeaways:

  • An incubation period is the length of time between when you become infected and when you experience symptoms. For COVID-19, that could last up to 5 days after having no symptoms.

  • Testing for COVID-19 too soon after exposure may produce false-negative results.

  • Most people with COVID-19 are no longer contagious 5 days after they first have symptoms and have been fever-free for at least three days.

If you’re exposed to COVID-19 your first impulse may be to get tested immediately. But getting tested too soon in the incubation period may lead to a false-negative result and, even worse, a false sense of security.

An infection’s incubation period is the length of time between when you first become infected and when you begin to experience symptoms. For COVID-19, that timeline stretches anywhere from the first day after your exposure through 5 days after experiencing no symptoms. 

We know it can be confusing to keep track of the all the different guidelines and recommendations. Here’s a timeline of COVID-19’s incubation period with answers to some of your most pressing questions. If you have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed it’s important to check in with your doctor who can monitor your symptoms and determine treatment and give guidance on quarantine and testing.



Infographic sources

CDC: Quarantine and Isolation

World Health Organization: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Home care for families and caregivers

CDC: Post-COVID Conditions

Reinfection with COVID-19


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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.