Despite the need for social distancing, people still need to work and not everyone can work from home. That means even with kids out of school, adults are still having interactions which can lead to exposure.

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Here’s a scenario.

Two friends, Jake and Mark, went on a Spring Break trip to Florida, but stayed in different hotel rooms.

Sat 3/14 Jake and Mark returned from trip

Sun 3/15 Jake was tested for COVID-19. It’s unclear when Jake developed symptoms.

Mon 3/16 8am — Mark went to work. He didn’t know Jake had gone for testing.

Mon: Noon — Mark went out to lunch with Laura, shared a car ride.

Mon: 1pm — Back at work, Laura chatted with a colleague, Jenny, though they maintained a 6 foot distance

Mon: 2pm — Jake’s test came back positive, he calls Mark, Mark calls Laura, who calls Jenny.

Jenny’s kids are home from school, she is mostly working from home as well but went in briefly to take care of a few tasks. Jenny’s husband’s employer won’t allow work from home.

Jake and Mark didn’t share a room, but did spend time together. We know the people are most contagious when they’re 4–5 days into having symptoms. Unfortunately, we don’t know when Jake developed symptoms. Still, Mark’s risk of infection is higher since they were in close contact.

If Mark is infected, he would have been infected in the last 5 days. That’s long enough that he could be contagious. That means that Laura, riding in a car next to Mark, could have become infected. Laura should remain at home in isolation for 14 days and monitor symptoms.

Jenny wants to know, what should she do?

Jenny kept a distance of 6 feet from Laura, so the risk of exposure is low. But more importantly, the virus takes time to replicate. Even if Laura became infected on that car ride with Mark, the virus would not have replicated enough to start shedding in less than an hour. Laura is not contagious.

Therefore, the possibility Jenny has become infected is pretty much, not at all. Should she do anything different? For now, she should stay home. Each time she goes into work, she risks exposure to anyone that is there. Her husband doesn’t have a choice, but since she can work from home. She doesn’t need to fully isolate herself. Jenny will need to go to the grocery store and take care of other essential things.

Some things that would help in estimating risk for Mark and Laura would be to know when/if Jake developed symptoms. Without that information, we have to assume that Jake was symptomatic when he was with Mark. Mark and Laura should both stay in self-isolation for 14 days and monitor themselves for symptoms. Anyone in contact with them (like family members in the house) should take extra precautions such as making sure toothbrushes don’t touch. Utensils and cups are washed immediately and hands are washed.

In an ideal situation, everyone can stay home in isolation. But many people don’t have a choice and need to work. For some, not working may mean no paycheck, no way to pay rent, no way to buy food. So those of us that can stay home, should.

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