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Who needs to isolate or quarantine? And for how long?

A woman wearing a face mask looks out a window showing her reflection.

When you have—or have been exposed to—COVID-19, one of the best things you can do for your community and loved ones is to stay away from others. Stopping the spread during those critical days is key to containing the virus.

Your doctor should be your first source for advice on how to isolate or quarantine, but in general, here's what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends.

What's the difference?

Isolation is for people who have COVID-19. The purpose is to keep others from getting sick. According to CDC, you should isolate if you:

  • Have symptoms of COVID-19 and can recover at home.
  • Have no symptoms but tested positive for the virus.

Quarantine is for people who may have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19. The purpose is to protect others while waiting to see if you also become sick. According to CDC, close contact means any of the following:

  • You were within 6 feet of them for 15 minutes or more.
  • You provided care to them while they were sick.
  • You had direct contact (like hugging or kissing).
  • You shared eating or drinking utensils.
  • They sneezed, coughed or somehow got respiratory droplets on you.

How long do I need to isolate?

According to CDC, if you have symptoms, isolation should last until you meet all of the following criteria:

  • It's been at least 10 days since your symptoms started.
  • You've been fever-free for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medicine.
  • Your other symptoms are improving.

If you tested positive but have no symptoms, isolation should continue until 10 days after your positive test.

Some people may have to isolate for longer. For instance, if you were seriously ill with COVID-19, had to be hospitalized or have a weak immune system, your doctor might suggest that you isolate for to up to 20 days. You also might need to isolate for more than 10 days if you continue to have a fever or other symptoms.

If you have new symptoms after you recover, it could be a new infection. And you may need to start isolation again. Follow your doctor's advice.

How long do I need to quarantine?

It can take up to 14 days for symptoms of COVID-19 to appear, according to CDC. So quarantine should last for 14 days from the last date of close contact you had with a person who has COVID-19.

If you have a new close contact within the 14 days, you should start over. If you are living with someone who has COVID-19 and can't avoid them, you should quarantine while they are sick and for 14 days after they end isolation.

Your local health authority may allow you to stop quarantining earlier in certain cases. Follow their advice.

According to CDC, if you're in quarantine, you should stay home, keep an eye out for symptoms and, if possible, separate yourself from others in the household—even if you've tested negative or feel fine.

Learn more about how to self-isolate or self-quarantine.

Reviewed 2/17/2021

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