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Most COVID Patients Did This Before Catching Virus

This is the riskiest thing you can do.
FACT CHECKED BY Checkmark Alek Korab
girl in a protective medical mask looks at the camera and stands in line at the cash register in a supermarket

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, much has changed about what experts know about the virus. But one early supposition still holds true. Most people who test positive for COVID-19 do one thing before their diagnosis: Have close contact with someone who's infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines close contact for COVID-19 as anyone who has been within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more. Read on for the most common way you'll get infected—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Most People Were "Physically Near" Someone

"COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person to person, including between people who are physically near each other (within about 6 feet)," the agency says on its website. "People who are physically near (within 6 feet) a person with COVID-19 or have direct contact with that person are at greatest risk of infection."

COVID spreads through respiratory droplets or small particles produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes.

Droplets generally fall to the floor within six feet, where they no longer pose a danger of transmission. Smaller particles (aerosols) can linger in the air and cause infection (what's called airborne transmission). "There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away," the agency says. "These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example, while singing or exercising." 

But, the CDC notes, close contact is a much more common mode of transmission than airborne. "Available data indicate that it is much more common for the virus that causes COVID-19 to spread through close contact with a person who has COVID-19 than through airborne transmission."

RELATED: Simple Ways to Avoid a Heart Attack, According to Doctors

What to do if you've had close contact

If you've recently been in close contact with someone who's tested positive for COVID-19, the CDC advises that you:

  • Stay home for 14 days since your last contact with the COVID-infected person
  • Be alert for symptoms of COVID, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath
  • Stay away from others, if possible, especially anyone who's at risk for severe COVID

RELATED: If You Feel This, You May Have Already Had COVID, Says Dr. Fauci

How to survive this pandemic

And do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.