The Director General of the World Health Organization is in quarantine at home, after exposure to a person who tested positive for COVID-19. World Health Organization virtual press conference November 2, 2020/Zoom screenshot

The head of the World Health Organization is in quarantine after someone he came into contact with tested positive for COVID-19.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he’s not showing symptoms of the virus.

His colleagues at WHO headquarters said in a virtual press conference on Monday afternoon that “he will be tested as necessary at the appropriate time,” but that for now “he is at home, in quarantine, and as you can see, very well and working away.”

It makes sense that Tedros wouldn’t be tested yet if he was exposed to the virus in recent days: typically, the virus incubates for at least a few days before people get sick. 

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The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) is quarantining at home after a person he was in contact with tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. 

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus first announced his exposure in a Tweet on Sunday. On Monday, he Zoomed into the regularly scheduled press conference that his colleagues were holding from WHO headquarters in Geneva, and repeated his status: 

“I have been identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19,” he said. “I am well and without symptoms but will self-quarantine in the coming days, in line with WHO protocols.”

The WHO says that people who have been exposed to a person who has COVID-19 should isolate for two weeks. This means they should not go to work, school, or public places. Ideally, quarantiners should also stay in a separate bedroom and use a separate bathroom from people who were not exposed to the virus, avoiding sharing air in case they get sick. 

“At this time, it’s critically important that we all comply with health guidance. This is how we will break chains of transmission, suppress the virus, and protect health systems,” Tedros said. 

At the Monday press conference, WHO officials also seemed to signal that Tedros’ exposure probably didn’t happen at work.

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“We haven’t had any transmission take place on the premises, we have no clusters on the premises, but it is something we are monitoring every day,” WHO’s technical lead for the coronavirus, Maria Van Kerkhove, said. “Everything that we are recommending to the world we are putting in place here as well.” 

Tedros hasn’t been tested yet, which makes sense if he was only just exposedWorld Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (right) speaks with WHO Health Emergencies Programme Director Dr. Michael Ryan during a press briefing on COVID-19 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 6, 2020. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Pandemic precautions in place at the WHO headquarters include more teleworking, aimed at reducing the number of staff coming in, added handwashing stations, capacity limits on meeting rooms and offices, temperature checks on arrival, symptom monitoring, and mask-wearing in open spaces. 

“This is not a zero risk situation, we’ve said it again and again: there is no environment right now in the world that is without risk,” WHO’s executive director of health emergencies Mike Ryan said about the recent precautions. “We believe we have put in place appropriate and robust risk-management measures that balance the risk of the disease against our need to provide the services that we must provide to our member states and the world.”

Ryan added that Tedros has not yet been tested for the virus, which makes sense if he was only just exposed.  

“He is at home, in quarantine, and as you can see, very well and working away, and continuing to do his job,” Ryan said. “His testing will depend on the arrival of symptoms or otherwise, and he may be tested in the days to come, but our current protocols don’t require that he be tested.”

It usually takes around 5 to 7 days from the time a person is exposed to the virus for them to test positive, if they have contracted COVID-19

Public health experts agree it generally takes around five to seven days from the time a person is exposed to the virus for them to develop an infection. 

“If you’ve been exposed, get into quarantine,” Virginia Tech professor and public health expert Lisa Lee recently told Insider. “This idea that we’ve been exposed, and we’re just going to wait around to see if we’re positive is a bad idea.”

As the head of the WHO, Tedros has helped to lead the global response to the coronavirus pandemic — which has now infected more than 46 million people and killed more than 1.2 million people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

But the virus is now reaching new peaks across Europe and the US, including in Switzerland, home of the WHO offices.

Tedros said in a briefing in October that “We must not give up” and acknowledged that what he called “pandemic fatigue” had set in globally, making people less likely to follow guidance and restrictions.

“It’s tough and the fatigue is real,” he said.This story has been updated with new information on Tedros’ status. 

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