How to Quarantine Safely at Home
Have you or a loved one been exposed to COVID-19 and you’re not sure what to do next? Get some helpful quarantine tips from healthcare providers and the CDC.
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Finding out that you or someone close to you has been exposed to COVID-19 can be an extremely nerve-wracking and stressful event. Our lives have already been turned upside down by physical distancing, mask-wearing, sheltering in place and skyrocketing case numbers at every turn. But when the coronavirus shows up at your door, panic, frustration and even some confusion can arrive right along with it. So, what do you do if you or someone else under your roof has been exposed to COVID-19 and how long do you need to isolate? Keep reading to learn some helpful quarantine guidelines from healthcare providers and the CDC.
While the thought of quarantining might be overwhelming or quite dreadful for some, the actual process doesn’t have to be unpleasant. The whole point of quarantine is to prevent illnesses from spreading regardless if you have symptoms or not.
“Quarantine doesn’t have to be a scary thing,” explains infectious disease specialist Steven Gordon, MD. “And it’s an effective way to protect the public.”
While isolation and quarantine ultimately have the same goal, isolation has been designated for those who are already sick. Its purpose is to keep infected people away from healthy people so viruses like COVID-19 don’t spread.
If you are experiencing common symptoms of COVID-19 or you tested positive for the virus, isolate as soon as possible.
The CDC also recommends that people who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 — excluding people who have had COVID-19 within the past 3 months —should quarantine.
The CDC defines it as the following:
If you live with others and are sick you should stay in a separate bedroom and use a separate bathroom if possible. You’ll need to avoid other common areas as well to prevent spreading COVID-19 to others.
The CDC also recommends:
Infected people can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours (or two days) before they have symptoms or test positive. Inform everyone sooner than later to help prevent further transmission.
If you live alone, it can be tough to stay put if you don’t have help. But these tips can help you stay safe and keep you from spreading the virus.
If you live in close quarters and don’t have multiple bathrooms or even a space to avoid others, James Merlino, MD, Chief Clinical Transformation Officer, recommends the following.
Create as much air circulation as possible in your home by opening windows, if it’s warm enough outside to do so. “If you have to be in close proximity to the person who is sick, you can all wear masks,” Dr. Merlino says. “But trying to keep people separated as much as possible is the best thing you can do.” And of course, stay on top of hand hygiene and disinfecting your space.
The CDC advises that you stay at home for seven or 10 days after the last date of contact with someone who had COVID-19. Fourteen days is still the safest option though. Even if you test negative for COVID-19 or feel healthy, you should still stay at home since symptoms may appear between two and 14 days after you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus. Regardless if you quarantine for seven or 10 days, you’ll still need to watch for symptoms for the full 14 days.
If you were around a friend, coworker or neighbor, it’s much easier to distance yourself from them. As for how long you should quarantine, the CDC says seven or 10 days from the date of exposure. So, if you saw your friend who was infected on Dec. 1, your quarantine would end on Dec. 8 or Dec. 11. If the last interaction was around 2 p.m., your quarantine would end at 2 p.m. on the last day of your quarantine.
In a situation like this, the CDC says your last day of quarantine is seven or 10 days from when the person with COVID-19 began home isolation. So again, if they started their self-isolation at 2 p.m. on Dec. 1, the end of your quarantine would be on Dec. 8 or Dec. 11 at 2 p.m.
This one can be a bummer because it will require you to restart your quarantine over. For example, if you’re already under quarantine as of Dec. 1, but on Dec. 5, you came in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you now have to start the quarantine process over. So, instead of your quarantine ending on Dec. 8 or Dec.11, it would now end on Dec. 12 or Dec. 15 and around the time you made contact. Keep in mind that every time you come into close contact with an infected person, you’ll need to add another seven to 10 days to the quarantine calendar.
If you are caring for someone who is sick and you don’t have a way to isolate them or physical distance, the CDC recommends avoiding contact with people outside of your living space while the person is sick. You’ll also need to quarantine for seven or 10 days after the person who has COVID-19 can end their home isolation.
People who are severely ill might need to stay home for up to 20 days after their symptoms appeared. If someone is severely immunocompromised, check with their healthcare provider to determine if they should be tested to determine if they can be around others again.
If you are quarantining alone, keep these tips in mind.
Infectious disease specialist Alan Taege, MD, says that once a person meets certain criteria for a mild case of COVID-19 (10 days with no fever and symptoms have improved), they can safely leave isolation. However, he adds that once you leave isolation, you’ll need to keep practicing pandemic safety guidelines, which include: washing your hands, not touching your face, wearing a face mask and social distancing.
Remember that in most cases, people who get sick with COVID-19 can recover safely at home. They’ll just need reminders to get rest and stay away from others. Dr. Merlino recommends that when you are caring for someone who is infected, stay in contact with a healthcare provider. They may be advised to get tested for COVID-19 or to just stay home and monitor their symptoms.
If the person you’re caring for has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19, here’s what you can do to help them get better:
COVID-19 might find a way into your home, but that doesn’t mean that you’re automatically doomed. Family medicine physician Donald Ford, MD, MBA, offers some sage advice for being cautious and keeping things in perspective.
“It’s not 100% guaranteed that just because one person in the household gets the virus that everybody else is going to. That doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen, but it’s not universal that everybody is going to get sick when COVID-19 is in your house. However, I do think it comes down to basic conscientiousness. I think people who are observing appropriate protection measures outside of their home are also probably doing the same at home, especially if someone is already sick. These are things like washing your hands, wearing a mask and being aware of physical distance (like not talking right in someone’s face). It’s also important to clean high-touch surfaces with disinfectants and limit physical (not emotional) interaction with the person who is sick.”