Isolation explained

This article was last reviewed on May 13, 2022.


Isolation is an important way to protect yourself and others and slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Isolate means staying at home, and applies to those who are infected with COVID-19 and those who live in the same household as someone infected regardless of whether they are having symptoms or not. Quarantine applies to those who have been in close contact (less than 6 feet apart for a total of 15 minutes or more) with someone who has COVID-19.

Isolation:

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or tested positive for COVID-19, you should isolate. You need to stay home for at least 5 days and avoid contact with other people.1

You can stop isolation after

  • it has been 5 full days (day 0 is your first day of symptoms) since your symptoms first started AND
  • at least 24 hours with no fever AND
  • other COVID-19 symptoms are improving

If you have not had symptoms, you can stop isolation if it has been 5 full days since your positive COVID-19 test.

If you have had severe illness with COVID-19, you should isolate for a full 10 days.

You should also continue the following precautions until day 10:

  • wear a well fitting face mask when around other people
  • avoid travel
  • avoid being around people that are high risk for COVID-19 illness

Quarantine:

If you are not up to date on your vaccine and have been around someone who has COVID-19, you should1:

  • stay home and quarantine for a full 5 days
  • get tested at least 5 days after your contact
  • isolate and get tested if you develop symptoms
  • for 10 days, watch for symptoms, wear a well-fitted mask when around others, avoid travel and avoid contact with people at high risk

If you are up to date on your vaccine and have been around someone who has COVID-19, you should1:

  • get tested at least 5 days after your contact
  • isolate and get tested if you develop symptoms
  • for 10 days, watch for symptoms, wear a well-fitted mask when around others, avoid travel and avoid contact with people at high risk

If you had confirmed COVID-19 within the past 90 days (you tested positive using a viral test), you

  • do not need to quarantine
  • do not need to stay home unless you develop symptoms
NO ALT TEXT Self Isolate

How to self-isolate in case of COVID-19 symptoms

  • Stay at home
  • Avoid public transportation, ride-sharing (like Uber and Lyft), and taxis
  • Stay away from others as much as possible if you feel sick
  • If you go outside, stay at least six feet away from others and wear a face mask that completely covers your nose and mouth
  • Do not invite visitors into your home
  • Have groceries and medicine delivered to your house by friends, family, or delivery services
  • Ask for deliveries to be left outside your house for you to collect, unless delivered by a member of your household

If you live with other people:

If you are sick and live with someone at higher risk for complications from COVID-19, try to arrange for them to stay elsewhere while you are in self-isolation. If this is not possible, you should:

  • Stay in a specific “sick room” away from other people in the home
  • Wear a facemask around other people
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of it immediately after
  • Wash your hands often, following the CDC’s recommendations
  • Avoid sharing personal household items
  • Clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces everyday

How to cope with self-isolation

Isolation can be difficult. Here are a few tips to help you see it through:

1. Take care of yourself

Look after yourself as you would with any other illness. You can take pain and fever reducing medication, if you need it, to ease your symptoms. Rest as much as you need to. And stay well hydrated by drinking water and other fluids, even if you can only manage frequent small sips.

2. Try to relax

It’s understandable if you’re feeling stressed or worried, but high stress levels can affect your immune system, which is your body’s defense against disease.3 Yoga, mindfulness meditations, or simply deep breathing – using your abdominal muscles instead of your chest and shoulders – can help.4 Place your hand on your belly and feel it rising as you breathe in. Even just a few deep breaths can help ease stress and anxiety.

3. Battle the boredom

If you’re feeling really sick, you won’t be up to doing much more than sleeping, but boredom can set in when you start feeling better. If you’re well enough and working from home is an option for you, do so.

If you’re well but not working from home, now is the perfect time to pick up an old hobby, learn a new language, or work on something creative, like drawing, embroidery, writing, baking, or even sewing masks for those in need.

If you need to feel productive, you can turn your mind to tasks you’ve been putting off – organizing cabinets, sorting through photographs, repairs around the house, unsubscribing from emails, etc..

4. Stay Connected

Whether you’re typically an introvert or an extrovert, keeping in contact with your friends and family is important during this time. Sending texts to loved ones who are far away to check in and share how you’re both feeling can have significant positive psychological benefits. Explore new technology (group video chats, FaceTime, etc.) to stay in touch responsibly.

5. Look for the positives

If you find that having to isolate yourself is making you feel down, try to keep in mind that you’re not alone — people all over the world are doing the right thing, just like you, and isolating themselves. In the meantime, there are things you can do to help your mood. There’s evidence that we feel more positive if we start taking note of small things that make us feel good.3 This can be anything from a pair of fuzzy socks to the smell of your favorite body lotion. When you’re happier, you’ll feel more motivated to take care of yourself.5

If you find that your low mood lasts more than two weeks, and feel like you can’t get any enjoyment out of life, it might be time to talk to a healthcare provider.

6. Get practical help

You may not be able to head out shopping, but that doesn’t mean you have to go without. Use online delivery services and ask for your items to be left at your door for you to collect. When you order food, keep in mind that eating a healthy balanced diet will help keep your immune system strong, so include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.6 If you need to, ask friends and family to lend a hand with delivering medications and supplies – just remember to stay at least six feet away from them if they come indoors, and have items delivered outside the door if possible.

7. Focus on Your Health

Quarantine and isolation are definitely stressful situations, and stress weakens our immune systems. It’s important to stick to your normal routine as much as possible. If you can, keep up with your normal morning alarm, bed time, and meal times. Take breaks during the day, especially if you’re working from home, to go into a separate room and focus on something else. Stay hydrated, move your body often, and keep close attention on how your body feels.

References


  1. COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation
  2. When You've Been Fully Vaccinated
  3. Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychol Bull. 2004;130(4):601–630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601
  4. Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, et al. Front Psychol. 2017;8:874. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
  5. Charlson ME, Boutin-Foster C, Mancuso CA, et al. Contemporary Clinical Trials. 2007 Nov;28(6):748-762. doi: 10.1016/j.cct.2007.03.002
  6. Marzieh Kafeshani. Immunopathol Persa. 2015;1(1):e04
  7. COVID-19 Testing Overview

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.