[Image description: A woman has a telehealth visit from her couch. She is wearing a mask and holding a tablet.]
We’re living in a confusing time and there’s a lot of information out there about COVID-19. By now, you may know someone who has been exposed to the virus or had it themselves. You may have a lot of questions about testing, quarantine, and isolation. We’re here to help!
First things first: Quarantine versus isolation
Quarantine keeps someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others. Isolation keeps someone who is sick with the virus away from others, even in their own home.
What should I do if I was exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19?
Exposed to COVID-19
If you were in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, it’s best to stay home and quarantine.
What is close contact?
- You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more.
- You took care of someone at home who has COVID-19.
- You had physical contact, such as hugging or kissing, with someone who has COVID-19.
- You shared eating utensils or drinks with someone who had COVID-19.
- Someone who has COVID-19 sneezed or coughed on you.
What steps should I take to quarantine if I haven’t had the COVID-19 vaccine?
Unless you are a healthcare worker who was using full protective gear during your contact, you should ideally stay home for 14 days after your last in-person contact with the person who has COVID-19 — as symptoms can develop two to 14 days after infection. You’ll also want to monitor your health and watch for any symptoms such as congestion, cough, fatigue, fever, muscle aches, new loss of taste or smell, shortness of breath, or sore throat.
If you live with someone who has COVID-19 and you can’t avoid close contact — for example, if you are their primary caretaker or you don’t have a separate bedroom for them to isolate — you should avoid contact with people outside of the home while the person is sick and for 14 days afterward.
If you’re unsure about how many days to quarantine, you can talk to a doctor on Amwell or read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) scenario guidelines. While quarantining for 14 days is the safest option, the CDC understands that this may place strain on some individuals or communities so has agreed to the following alternative options for quarantine duration:
- Continue to monitor yourself closely for 14 days and, as long as you have not developed any symptoms by day 10, you may end quarantine on day 10.
- Continue to monitor yourself for symptoms for 14 days but wait and get tested no sooner than 5 days after exposure. If the test result is negative and you have not developed any symptoms of COVID-19 then you may end quarantine on day 7.
What steps should I take to quarantine if I have had the COVID-19 vaccine?
If you have received the full series of vaccine (2 of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine) more than two weeks ago you may refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure, as long as you remain symptom-free.
For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:
- Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings.
- Take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing.
- Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and adhere to other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease, or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease.
- Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households.
- Get tested if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
- Follow guidance issued by individual employers.
- Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations.
Tested positive for COVID-19
If you are sick with COVID-19, it’s best to stay home except to get medical care. You’ll also want to isolate yourself.
When should I isolate?
- If you have COVID-19 symptoms and can recover at home.
- If you have tested positive for COVID-19, even if you’re asymptomatic.
How do I isolate?
- Monitor your symptoms at home. If you have an emergency warning sign such as trouble breathing, seek emergency medical care immediately.
- If possible, stay in a separate room and use a different bathroom from the other people in your household.
- Avoid contact with other people and pets in your home.
- Don’t share personal items such as cups, towels, and utensils.
- Wear a mask when you’re around others.
How can I take care of myself if I'm sick with COVID-19?
- Get rest and stay hydrated.
- Take over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) if needed.
- Stay in touch with your doctor and, if you need in-person care, call ahead before visiting. Doctors on Amwell are also here to support you and are available 24/7.
- Tell close contacts they may have been exposed.
- Wash your hands often, cover your coughs and sneezes, and disinfect services frequently.
When can I end isolation?
It’s a good idea to check with a doctor, but typically, if you didn’t have symptoms when you were diagnosed with COVID-19 and don’t develop any during your isolation, you can be around people 10 days after your first positive test.
If you did have symptoms when you were diagnosed with COVID-19, you can be around people if it’s been:
- At least 10 days after symptoms first appeared, and
- At least 24 hours without a fever (and no fever-reducing medication), and
- Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving.
The loss of taste or smell may last longer than recovery and does not impact when you can end isolation and/or quarantine.
If you’re looking for guidance, you can talk to a doctor on Amwell anytime. Doctors can assess symptoms, screen for COVID-19, prescribe medication, and provide next steps for care, isolation, or quarantine.