Exposed to coronavirus? Know when to isolate vs. quarantine

Health officials and medical professionals are pleading with Americans to practice safe public health measures like wearing a mask, avoiding crowded areas, washing hands and practicing social distancing to avoid contracting or spreading coronavirus. But between Friday and Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 3 million passengers at airports, increasing the likelihood of potential COVID-19 exposure.

If you’ve been exposed or possibly exposed to COVID-19, it’s important to know what to do to best protect yourself and those around you, like what “quarantining” means versus “isolation.”

Knowing when you should isolate versus quarantine can help keep you and others safe.

Quarantining, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is for people who believe they may have had close contact with someone who has had COVID-19 and involves staying away from others for the recommended period of time. Isolation, meanwhile, is for those who are sick or tested positive for COVID-19, even without symptoms, and requires those that are sick or infected to stay away from others, even in their own home.


If you have had close contact with a person who has COVID-19, the CDC says the best way to protect yourself and others is to stay home and quarantine for 14 days after the last contact. Local health departments may have additional guidance on how to shorten the quarantine period, like negative testing or waiting a certain amount of days to see if symptoms develop. Those in quarantine should check their temperature twice daily, monitor for additional symptoms and stay away from people who are at high risk for getting severe illness from COVID-19.

On the other hand, those who are sick or think they may have COVID-19, or have received a positive test result, should stay home and isolate until after at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared, or until at least 24 hours pass with no fever without the aid of medication, or symptoms have improved.


Those who are isolating should also “stay in a specific ‘sick room’ or area and away from other people or animals, including pets,” the CDC said. Using a separate bathroom if possible is also advised. Asymptomatic COVID-19 patients should stay home and isolate until after 10 days have passed since the positive test.

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