Updated Sept. 29, 2021
The words "isolation" and "quarantine" have become commonplace terms during the COVID-19 pandemic, often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between the two and it is important to understand the difference, especially if you or a family member or friend become sick.
Isolation is used to separate people infected with the virus (those who are positive for COVID-19 with or without symptoms) from people who are not infected. People who are in isolation should stay home until they can no longer infect others. When at home, anyone sick or infected should separate themselves from others by staying in a specific “sick room” or area and use a separate bathroom (if available). How long you need to isolate will depend on your circumstances. (See below.)
If you think or know you have COVID-19 and have symptoms
- At least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and
- At least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication and
- Symptoms have improved
If you had severe COVID-19 illness (requiring hospitalization), you should remain isolated for at least 20 days (instead of 10 days, as indicated above).
If you tested positive for COVID-19 but have no symptoms
If you continue to have no symptoms, you can be with others after
- 10 days have passed since the day you were tested
SRHD does not recommend getting tested again to see if you still have COVID-19. The test is very sensitive and may show positive even if you are no longer infectious to other people. After you have met the isolation requirements, you no longer need to remain in isolation.
If you develop symptoms after testing positive, follow the guidance above for “If you think or know you have COVID-19 and have symptoms” starting the day you begin to have symptoms (regardless of how long you have already been in isolation since your positive test).
If you have fever with cough or shortness of breath but have not had an exposure to someone confirmed to have COVID-19 and you have not tested positive for COVID-19, you should stay home away from others until 24 hours after the fever is gone and symptoms get better. Learn more about testing positive.
Quarantine is the practice of separating someone who has been exposed to a virus from other people to see if the person becomes sick. This helps prevent the spread of the virus before symptoms develop. A quarantine period is usually 14 days* after the date you were last exposed to the person with COVID-19 when they were infectious. This could be longer for household members due to the possibility of repeated exposures. This is the period during which you could develop symptoms of COVID-19 based on your exposure to the case. During quarantine, it is important to avoid being in close contact with others.
*In some cases, it may be possible to quarantine for a shorter length of time. Read more about this under “How long do I quarantine and what actions should I take?”
Who should quarantine?
Anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. This includes people who previously had COVID-19 and people who have taken a serologic (antibody) test and have antibodies to the virus.
What counts as a close contact?
- You were within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes, cumulatively
- You provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19
- You had direct physical contact with the person (touched, hugged, or kissed them)
- You shared eating or drinking utensils or cigarettes or other smoking/vaping related implements
- They sneezed, coughed or somehow got respiratory droplets on you
How long do I quarantine and what actions should I take?
Typically, you should stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19 and
- Watch for fever (100.4◦F), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19
- If possible, stay away from others, especially people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19
In some circumstances, you may be able to end quarantine sooner. This includes the following:
- If you have no symptoms, wear a mask whenever you are near others from outside your household during your quarantine, and continue to monitor for symptoms through day 14, then quarantine can end after day 10
Due to the high transmission rate in Spokane County, SRHD does not currently recommend shortening quarantine to seven days, regardless of test results.
Keep in mind that there is a small chance if you choose to shorten your quarantine period, you may transmit the infection to others post-quarantine. It is very important if you have been in quarantine to continue to monitor your symptoms and wear a mask and distance yourself from others through day 14. If you develop symptoms, you should isolate yourself to avoid infecting others and get tested.
If You Have Been Fully Vaccinated for COVID-19
According to updated guidance from the CDC, if you are fully vaccinated and you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should get tested five days after exposure and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until you receive a negative test result. You should isolate for 10 days if your test result is positive. If you have continuous exposure in your home or work, test again on day 10 and again every five days until five days have passed since you were last exposed. See more from the CDC
Content adapted from materials and recommendations produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.