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Here's When COVID Symptoms Appear, Says Science

If you've been exposed to COVID, this is when symptoms start. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The surge is finally starting to decline and COVID-19 cases are dropping, but the pandemic isn't over. The virus is still here, infecting thousands and new variants are expected to pop up. Trying to avoid getting the COVID by taking precautions continues to be highly recommended by experts and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center who explained when COVID symptoms appear and how long immunity lasts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


How Soon After Exposure Do Symptoms Start Appearing?

woman trying to sense smell of half fresh orange, has symptoms of Covid-19

Marchese says, "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 symptoms first appear between 2 days and 2 weeks after first exposure to the virus. These can include fever, cough, chills or loss of smell or taste. Symptoms and onset time will vary from person to person. Omicron and other variants may also produce symptoms earlier or in specific areas, such as the nasal passages and upper respiratory tract." 


How Often Can You Get COVID and How Long Does Your Immunity Last?

Doctor holding syringe in hospital.

"Immunity from COVID-19 after an infection tends to last for a few months and decreases over time," says Marchese. "Because of this, even vaccinated individuals can become infected multiple times. Some reports indicate reinfection is possible after just three months, though the consensus seems to be that immunity after infection lasts around 4 to 6 months. However, the vaccines have proven to reduce the disease's severity for most people."


The Surge is Declining

Happy vaccinated woman gesturing thumbs up.

Marchese explains, "The CDC has indicated that cases nationwide have been on a downward trend for the past four weeks. According to the data, hospitalizations in the U.S. are currently around 70,000 compared to almost 100,000 in early February. California currently has the most hospitalizations at 8,000, followed by Texas and New York with 7,500 and 3,500, respectively. States are reporting fewer new cases and total cases in the U.S. are declining by roughly 35%. While it's likely that we've seen the peak of the Omicron surge, it's unlikely that this will be the final surge of COVID-19 as new variants are likely to develop. As vaccinations continue and cases decline, however, there's potential for any future surges to be less severe." 

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What is MIS-C and Why are Doctors Concerned About it in Children?

School child wearing face mask

Marchese states, "MIS-C is an acronym for multi system inflammatory disease in children. The condition affects sensitive tissues throughout the body such as digestive organs, the eyes, skin, lung, brain, heart and kidneys. Common symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, rash, vomiting, diarrhea, or lesions in mucous membranes. According to the CDC, most children diagnosed with MIS-C have had a prior COVID-19 infection or been around someone with COVID-19 within the past few weeks. Thankfully, doctors have been able to treat this condition with IV fluids and strong anti-inflammatory medications such as steroids to prevent organs from becoming permanently damaged. Right now, information about MIS-C is limited, but doctors are working to figure out how and why it's affecting children exposed to COVID-19."

RELATED: Doctors Warn of "Worrying" COVID Symptoms


Mask Mandates are Still a Good Idea

Shot of a senior businesswoman opening her cafe.

"While cases are currently declining, removing safeguards such as mask mandates would only reverse the progress we've made so far," Marchese explains. "Throughout 2020, mask mandates in Kansas proved their effectiveness in reducing cases and hospitalizations by roughly 60% and reducing deaths by 65%. The longer that we have mask mandates in place, the better results we'll see until cases and hospitalizations hit an all-time minimum. Right now, it's a tug-of-war between relaxing restrictions and watching case numbers rise until it's time to do something again. It just doesn't seem like a good idea to reverse course in the home stretch." 

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Brunette woman wearing a KN95 FPP2 mask.

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather