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Home isolation and COVID-19

Home isolation for COVID-19 keeps people with COVID-19 away from other people who are not infected with the virus. If you are in home isolation, you should stay there until it is safe to be around others.

If you were exposed to COVID-19, you should take precautions right away to help protect others.

How to Isolate from Other People

Learn when to isolate at home and when it is safe to be around other people.

You should isolate yourself at home if:

  • You have symptoms of COVID-19, but do not yet have test results showing you are positive for the virus
  • You have no symptoms, but tested positive for COVID-19

You should isolate yourself in either case, even if you have been vaccinated.

While in home isolation, you should separate yourself and stay away from other people to help prevent spreading COVID-19.

  • As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from others in your home. Use a separate bathroom if you can. Do not leave your home except to get medical care. Wash your hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
  • Take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, taking over-the-counter medicines for specific symptoms, and staying hydrated.
  • Keep track of your symptoms (such as fever >100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or >38 degrees Celsius, cough, shortness of breath) and stay in touch with your doctor. You may receive instructions on how to check and report your symptoms.
  • If you have severe symptoms, call 911 or the local emergency number.
  • Tell your close contacts that you may have been infected with COVID-19. Close contacts are people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, starting 2 days before symptoms appear (or before a positive test) until the person is isolated.
  • Use a well-fitting face mask or respirator that fits well over your nose and mouth without gaps when you see your health care provider and anytime other people are in the same room with you. If you can't wear a mask, for example, due to breathing problems, people in your home should wear a mask if they need to be in the same room with you.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. Throw out the tissue after use.
  • Wash your hands many times a day with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not easily available, you should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Do not share personal items such as cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding. Wash anything you have used in soap and water.
  • Clean all "high-touch" areas in the home, such as doorknobs, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, toilets, phones, tablets, counters, and other surfaces. Use a household cleaning spray and follow instructions for use.
  • Take steps to improve ventilation in your home. You can do this by turning on exhaust fans in your bathrooms and kitchen, using a portable air cleaner, and setting the fan on your furnace or air conditioning to "on" if you have central heating and cooling in your home.

When to End Home Isolation

These are the recommendations from the CDC for when it is safe to be around other people.

If you think or know you had COVID-19, and you had symptoms.

It is safe to be around others if ALL of the following are true:

  1. It has been at least 5 full days since your symptoms first appeared (day 0 is the day symptoms appeared, and day 1 is the day after symptoms appeared) AND
  2. You have gone at least 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medicine AND
  3. Your other symptoms are improving. You may end home isolation even if you continue to have symptoms such as loss of taste and smell, which may linger for weeks or months.

When you end isolation, you should avoid being around people who are at risk for serious illness from COVID-19, such as older adults, at least until day 11.

If you still have a fever after 5 days, continue to isolate until you are fever-free without medicine for 24 hours.

WHEN TO REMOVE YOUR MASK

After you have ended isolation (no fever for 24 hours) you may remove your mask by following one or the other of the following recommendations.

You may remove your mask after wearing a mask through day 10 while you are around other people both in your home and out in public. Do not go to restaurants or other places where you cannot wear a mask or eat or drink around other people until after this time.

OR

You may remove your mask after having two negative antigen tests taken 48 hours apart. COVID-19 self-tests are a type of antigen test. If either self-test is positive, continue to mask around others and keep taking self-tests 48 hours apart until two tests taken one after the other are negative. NOTE: This may mean you need to continue to wear a mask beyond day 10.

If you tested positive for COVID-19, but did not have symptoms.

You can end home isolation after 5 days.

People with weak immune systems due to a health condition or medicine may need to be tested before being around others. People who have moderate (difficulty breathing) to severe (you were hospitalized) COVID-19 and those with a weak immune system need to stay in home isolation for at least 10 or more. Talk with your health care provider to find out when it's safe to be around others.

When to Call the Doctor

You should contact your health care provider:

  • If you have symptoms and think you may have been exposed to COVID-19
  • If you have COVID-19 and your symptoms are getting worse

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion or inability to wake up
  • Blue, gray, or pale skin, lips, face, or nail beds
  • Any other symptoms that are severe or concern you

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: Isolation and precautions for people with COVID-19. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/isolation.html. Updated August 11, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: Understanding exposure risks. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/risks-exposure.html. Updated August 11, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2022.

 

Review Date: 8/5/2022

Reviewed By: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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