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Coronavirus (COVID-19): How to Quarantine or Isolate at Home

Sometimes, people might need to stay home and away from others during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This is known as quarantine or isolation. Someone might need to do this if they have a COVID-19 infection, were in close contact with someone who's infected, or have returned from traveling and aren't yet fully vaccinated. Keeping your household ready can reduce stress in case your family needs to quarantine or isolate.

What Does Quarantine Mean?

Quarantine means staying home after a person has been exposed to a contagious disease, to see if they become sick. Quarantining helps to keep people who might have been infected separate from others so they don’t spread the disease. During the pandemic, people should quarantine after close contact with a person who is infected with coronavirus, if they are not vaccinated (or boosted, depending on age).

Someone who is in quarantine should stay home and away from other people until it is clear that they are not infected. While watching for symptoms of COVID-19, they should:

  • Keep at least 6 feet away from other household members and pets when possible (unless they are also quarantining for the same reasons).
  • Wear a mask if they must be around other people and can't stay 6 feet apart. Children under 2 years old and people who can't take a mask off without help should not wear a mask. For more about masks, check the CDC's guide.
  • Wash their hands well and often. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

What Does Isolation Mean?

Isolation means staying home when a person is infected with a contagious disease so they don’t spread it to others. It means staying away from family members and pets too. During the pandemic, people should isolate if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or test positive for coronavirus (with or without symptoms). Even people who are fully vaccinated and have gotten a booster shot should isolate if they have symptoms or test positive.

Someone in isolation should:

  • Sleep in a bedroom not used by anyone else. If that's not possible, try to keep as much of a distance as possible between beds. If sharing a bed, even sleeping head to toe can help.
  • Use a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Use their own personal items (like cups, towels and toothpaste) and not share these with others.
  • Eat apart from the rest of the family.
  • Wear a mask if they must be around other people.

What Can Other Family Members Do When a Person Is in Isolation?

Even if the person in isolation does not have symptoms, all members of the household should:

  • Wear a mask if they need to be in the room with the person who is in isolation or quarantine.
  • Make sure shared spaces in the home have good air flow. You can open a window or turn on an air filter or air conditioner.
  • Not have any visitors into the home.
  • Wash their hands well and often. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Other ways to lower the risk of spreading the virus:

  • If you do the laundry of the person in quarantine or isolation, wash it with detergent on the hottest temperature possible. Wear gloves, if possible. Wash hands well after handling the laundry, even if you wore gloves. It’s safe to wash a sick person’s laundry together with the rest of the household laundry.
  • Every day, use a household cleaner or wipe to clean things that get touched a lot. These include doorknobs, light switches, toys, remote controls, sink handles, counters, and phones.

For the latest updates, visit your local health department's website or the CDC's website.

How Long Should Quarantine or Isolation Last?

The guidelines for how long to quarantine or isolate may differ from country to country, or may change over time as the virus changes or there’s new information about how it spreads. The CDC recently updated its recommendations for quarantine and isolation, but how and where they’re applied might vary.

To get the most updated and relevant information for your family, call your doctor’s office, your child’s school district, or your local health department. The CDC can help you find the health department in your area.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor if someone in quarantine or isolation has new symptoms or seems to be getting sicker.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2022