The new coronavirus is a rapidly spreading disease for which we have three FDA-approved vaccinations to slow down and prevent the spread. If you’re not fully vaccinated, one of the best ways to slow or stop the pandemic is to separate people. Social distancing, quarantine, and isolation all are types of separation.
But if you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to socially or physically distance unless you have symptoms or test positive.
Social distancing is when everyone, including those who don’t have symptoms, keeps 6 feet away from each other to lower the chances of spreading the virus. Isolation is when someone who is sick or who suspects they may have coronavirus segregates themselves while they recover.
Quarantine is a way to separate and to restrict movements of someone who may have been exposed to the virus to check if they become sick.
Who Should Quarantine?
During an outbreak of a highly contagious disease, public health recommendations can change from day to day. If you come in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, here’s what the CDC guidelines state:
A close contact is someone who:
- Lives in your house
- Is your intimate partner
- Takes care of you or is cared for by you
If you’re not vaccinated. Stay home and quarantine for at least 5 days. Take precautions like wearing a mask and socially distance for 10 days after your exposure.
If you’re fully vaccinated. No quarantine is necessary. If you notice symptoms, get tested immediately and quarantine for 5 days.
If you test positive, stay home for at least 5 days. Don’t travel during this time and wear a well-fitted mask if you must be around others. After 5 days, you can stop isolating if you no longer have symptoms and you are fever-free for at least 24 hours. But if your symptoms don’t improve, you’ll have to continue quarantine for a little longer.
How to Self-Quarantine
Usually, any symptoms of COVID-19 appear within 2 weeks or less after an exposure or infection. But some people who get this coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, may not have any symptoms. So if you’re unvaccinated and come in contact with someone who tests positive, self-quarantine should last for 5 days to allow time to confirm, without testing, that you don’t have it or can't spread it to others.
The CDC recommends different guidelines if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 based on your vaccination status.
If you’ve had your booster shot, had your Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last 6 months, or had your J&J vaccine within the last 2 months:
- Wear a mask around other people for 10 days
- Take a COVID-19 test on the fifth day after exposure
If you haven’t had a COVID-19 vaccine, had your Pfizer or Moderna vaccine more than 6 months ago and aren’t boosted, or had your J&J vaccine over 2 months ago and haven’t had your booster:
- Stay home for 5 days and continue to wear a mask around other people for an extra 5 days
- If you’re unable to quarantine, where a mask for 10 days
- Take a COVID-19 test on day 5
If you test positive for COVID-19, you’ll need to isolate from other people. Regardless of your vaccination status, you should:
- Stay at home for 5 days
- Wear your mask for an extra 5 days after your isolation
If you don’t have any symptoms or your symptoms are going away after 5 days, you can leave your house.
During your quarantine you should:
- Stay home unless you absolutely must leave, such as for essential medical appointments
- Separate yourself from other household members and pets
- Use a separate bedroom and bathroom if possible
- Not share utensils, dishes, cups/glasses, bedding, towels, and other personal items
- Wear a mask if you can't separate yourself
You also should follow the same hygiene habits that the CDC recommends for everyone during a disease outbreak:
- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in your area daily, including phones, remote controls, countertops, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom handles, toilets, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables
- Wash your hands well with soap often, including after coughing, sneezing, using the bathroom, and before and after eating
During your self-quarantine, monitor your symptoms. Watch for fever of 100.4 F or greater. Be on the lookout for other signs of coronavirus infection, such as dry cough and shortness of breath.
If you notice symptoms, follow the CDC’s guidelines for isolation. These are similar to a quarantine.
You will most likely get better on your own, but if you need medical help, call your doctor first. If you feel you need to go to a clinic, call ahead and ask how you should arrive. You should wear a fitted face mask and use a separate entrance.
If you show no symptoms during your 5 days, you can resume your normal routine. Depending on the status of the outbreak at that time, social-distancing recommendations still might be in force.
Good Quarantine Practices
If someone in your household has COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you:
- Clean and disinfect countertops and other touched surfaces often
- Wash and disinfect your hands often, including after you’ve been near someone who is sick
- Keep your hands away from your face
- Wear a face mask if you can't separate yourself