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Coronavirus (COVID-19): How to Quarantine or Isolate at Home

Sometimes, people might need to stay home and away from others during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This is known as quarantine or isolation. Someone might need to do this if they have a COVID-19 infection, were in close contact with someone who's infected, or have returned from traveling and aren't yet fully vaccinated. Keeping your household ready can reduce stress in case your family needs to quarantine or isolate.

What Does Quarantine Mean?

Quarantine: This is when someone who might have been exposed to the virus but has no symptoms and hasn’t been vaccinated needs to stay home for 14 days (2 weeks).

What Does Isolation Mean?

Isolation: This is when someone who is infected with the virus and is contagious needs to stay home for 10 days after symptoms start or after they have a positive test result.

How Does Someone Quarantine or Isolate at Home?

Someone who is in quarantine needs to stay home and away from other people until it is clear that they are not infected. While watching for symptoms of COVID-19, they should:

  • Keep at least 6 feet away from other household members and pets when possible (unless they are also quarantining for the same reasons).
  • Wear a mask if they must be around other people and can't stay 6 feet apart. Children under 2 years old and people who have trouble breathing should not wear a mask. For more about masks, check the CDC's guide.
  • Wash their hands well and often. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Someone in isolation who has symptoms of COVID-19 or had a positive test also should:

  • Sleep in a bedroom not used by anyone else. If that's not possible, try to keep as much of a distance as possible between beds. If sharing a bed, even sleeping head to toe can help.
  • Use a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Use their own personal items (like cups, towels and toothpaste) and not share these with others.
  • Eat apart from the rest of the family.

What Can Other Family Members Do When a Person Is in Isolation?

Even if the person in isolation does not have symptoms, all members of the household should:

  • Quarantine if a household member has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Wear a mask if they need to be in the room with the person who is in isolation or quarantine.
  • Make sure shared spaces in the home have good air flow. You can open a window or turn on an air filter or air conditioner.
  • Not have any visitors into the home.
  • Wash their hands well and often. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Other ways to lower the risk of spreading the virus:

  • If doing the laundry of the person in quarantine or isolation, wash it with detergent on the hottest temperature possible. To avoid sending the virus into the air, don't shake the laundry. Wear gloves, if possible. Wash hands well after handling the laundry, even if you wore gloves.
  • Every day, use a household cleaner or wipe to clean things that get touched a lot. These include doorknobs, light switches, toys, remote controls, sink handles, counters, and phones.

Do Others in the Household Need to Quarantine or Isolate?

  • If someone is in quarantine and watching for symptoms, other household members do not need to quarantine unless the quarantined person develops symptoms or has a positive test result.
  • If someone is in isolation because they have symptoms that could be from COVID-19 or had a positive test result, everyone in the family should quarantine for 14 days after their last close contact with that person.
  • If someone taking care of a person in isolation can't keep 6 feet between them, they should begin a 14-day quarantine when the person in their care is done their 10-day isolation.
  • Fully vaccinated people do not need to quarantine after contact with an infected person.
  • People who were infected with coronavirus within the previous 3 months, are recovered, and have no symptoms also do not need to quarantine after contact with an infected person.

For the latest updates, visit your local health department's website or the CDC's website.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor if someone in quarantine or isolation has new symptoms or seems to be getting sicker. The doctor can decide whether they:

  • can be treated at home
  • should come in for a visit
  • can have a video or telehealth visit

In a telehealth visit, a health care provider can see you on video while you stay at home. If the doctor thinks a person needs care right away, they will guide you on where to go. When possible, check for telehealth in your area before anyone in your family is sick.

Call 911 or go to the ER right away if someone at home looks very sick, has severe symptoms, has trouble breathing, or is very sleepy.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: April 2021