Yes, You Need To Tell People if You Have Covid-19. Here’s How to Do It.

Whom to tell, when to tell them, and how to say it

Cortney Clift
Elemental
Published in
5 min readOct 9, 2020

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Just saying. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Open and honest communication is currently one of the most invaluable tools we have to slow the spread of Covid-19, experts say: Promptly notifying those around you if you test positive helps others know if they need to quarantine, alter their social behaviors, and get tested. But the protocol for sending out this kind of alert isn’t always so clear. How do you know when to start notifying people — after you test positive or the second you have a scratchy throat? Who needs to know? And what’s a contact tracer’s role in all of this? Here’s what the experts say about whom you should notify — and when — if you test positive for Covid-19 or are experiencing Covid-like symptoms.

When should you say something?

If you test positive for Covid-19, it’s crucial to quickly inform those with whom you’ve had (masked or unmasked) contact. But should you really wait for an official diagnosis to make those calls and send those texts? Or should you start even sooner, when you feel symptoms associated with Covid? While more disclosure is generally better than less, cold and flu season is complicating matters because it’s hard to tell which illness you may be coming down with. “It will be important not to freak each other out at every turn,” says Kumi Smith, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota. “My personal practice would be, if I’m reaching a point where I am considering getting a test, then that’s when I’d start to let people know.”

That said, other experts prefer earlier action, like Susie Welty, an academic program manager and contact tracing expert at UCSF: “I’d recommend letting your close contacts know as soon as you start to feel symptoms. Whether it’s Covid or the flu, it doesn’t really matter. They’re both infectious and you should act the same either way.”

Whom to notify

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Cortney Clift
Elemental

Cortney Clift is a Brooklyn-based journalist who writes about food, travel, and wellness.