In the ongoing battle against COVID-19, two separate terms are frequently referred to as strategies for reducing risk of transmission – quarantine and isolation. Although often used interchangeably, these two terms actually have different meanings.
It is important to understand and use the terms correctly to effectively guide procedures and applications of both in the workplace, as well as public settings. When followed correctly, both quarantine and isolation are effective ways to implement infection control measures, and both are used to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
Quarantine is the infection control measure that is used when a person or group of people have been exposed by close contact to the virus that causes COVID-19. The overarching goal of quarantining is to limit exposure of COVID-19 to others by staying at home and watching for symptoms.
It is important to note that quarantine guidelines vary depending on whether a person is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or not. Here are the different types of quarantine guidelines to consider:
- Unvaccinated Guidelines: Current Centers of Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for quarantine recommend that persons who are not fully vaccinated should stay at home and away from other people for at least five days after the last contact with a person who is positive for COVID-19 and monitor for symptoms for at least ten days after last exposure. The last day of close contact exposure is classified as “Day 0.” If symptoms develop, it is important to isolate immediately and be tested as soon as possible. If an individual has tested positive, they will then be directed to follow isolation guidelines (listed below). If a person stays asymptomatic (e.g., no symptoms of COVID-19) they should still be tested for COVID-19 five days after the last close contact exposure.
- Vaccinated Guidelines: People who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine. However, they should wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days after exposure and be tested on day five after exposure if symptoms do not develop. If they develop symptoms before the testing date on day five, they should immediately isolate and seek testing for COVID-19 as soon as possible. If they test positive for symptoms on day five, they should immediately isolate and follow guidelines for isolation procedures.
Isolation is the term used after someone tests positive for COVID-19 or for someone experiencing symptoms of the virus. It is is also a behavioral measure that works to reduce exposure to others and limit transmission of COVID-19.
One key difference between quarantine and isolation is that isolation guidelines are the same for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Isolation involves staying home for five days after a positive test result. If the individual has no symptoms or symptoms are resolving, they may leave the isolation environment after five days. If the individual has a fever, they must continue to isolate at home until it resolves. After leaving isolation it is of extreme importance to continue to wear a well-fitting mask for five additional days. Masks remain an important strategy in reducing transmission of COVID-19 and should be worn as an everyday strategy to reduce risk even without a close contact exposure of recent isolation cases.
Note: The above are guidelines issued from the CDC. This may be different due to state, county, territorial rules, etc. Please always follow guidance and recommendations regarding health and illness per your personal medical team.
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About the Author
Dr. Scarlet Spain is an Assistant Professor at Valparaiso University and a practicing Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner. She has been a Healthcare Consultant with the Medix team since May 2020, supporting our Occupational Health efforts.
Thank You for the information