How many minutes of exposure does it take to get COVID?

Infection and Spread

Contact longer than 15 minutes is more likely to result in infection, but you can still get COVID in shorter periods of time, depending on a number of other factors.

In theory, how long you were exposed to the virus is an important factor in whether you end up getting it. For example, if you were in the grocery store for 2 minutes versus talking to an infected person in an enclosed space for 20 minutes, you’re probably more likely to become infected in the latter scenario. However, time is not the only factor and must be weighed against other relevant risk factors.

Some other factors that matter in whether or not you ultimately develop COVID-19 (or many other infectious diseases for that matter) are what the infected person was doing during the time you were exposed, whether they actively had symptoms or not, how ventilated the space was, and how far away you were from the person. Let’s take each of these in turn:

✳️ What was the infected person doing? It matters whether the person was just talking, coughing, breathing heavily, singing, or engaging in some other activity that would increase the number of particles coming from their mouths and the force of that release. So it’s good to take special precautions at the gym, indoor protests (where shouting might happen), or group singing activities.

✳️ Did the infected person have symptoms? In most cases, if the person is exhibiting symptoms, such as coughing or sneezing, they are likely to be more infectious and have a higher chance of infecting you.

✳️ Was the space well-ventilated? We’ve all heard by now that outdoor spaces are the safest possibilities in terms of preventing transmission of infection. Indoor spaces are also very variable in how well-ventilated they are. The more well-ventilated a space is, the better your chances are of not catching COVID, even if you are exposed to infected people.

✳️ How close were you to the infected person? Being closer to someone who is infected gives virus particles an easier shot at infecting you.

As you can see, there are many variables that determine your risk of becoming infected once exposed to a viral illness like COVID-19. So while the average time of exposure that may lead to infection is usually about at least 15 minutes, it’s important to understand that there are other factors that might affect this time estimate. For example, if you’re only exposed to someone for 5 minutes, but they’re shouting in your face, sneezing, coughing, and the area is not well-ventilated, you might still become sick. So don’t assume that you are completely safe in all situations if they are under 15 minutes. Take precautions especially when some of the other factors mentioned above are at play. And this is why it’s still usually a good idea to wear a mask when you’re indoors, even for brief periods.

Take care of yourselves and stay safe and well!


Those Nerdy Girls


Additional Resources:

CDC explanation of risk factors for COVID-19

Goats & Soda exploration of the “15-minute rule”

Washington State Department of Health guidance on when you might be exposed to COVID

Link to original Those Nerdy Girls Facebook post