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What does it mean to self-quarantine?

Woman inside looking outside window Photo: Getty Images

Updated January 14, 2022

Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shortened the number of days it recommends that people exposed to COVID-19 or who tested positive quarantine or isolate.

Quarantine refers to the time following exposure to the coronavirus or close contact with someone known to have COVID-19. Isolation relates to your behavior after a confirmed infection. In either case, the guiding principle is the same — stay home, away from others.


What does it mean to quarantine or isolate? 

Stay home except for medical care

Don’t leave your home unless you’re going to the doctor’s. Don’t go to work, school or public areas. Avoid using public buses, subways, ride-sharing services or taxis.

Separate yourself from other people and pets

  • People. As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Use a separate bathroom, if you can.
  • Animals. Don’t touch your pets or other animals. Have another member of your household care for your pets during this time.

Call ahead before visiting your doctor

If you have a medical appointment, call your doctor and say that you have or may have COVID-19. This will help your doctor’s office take steps to keep other people in the office or the waiting room from getting infected.

Wear a face mask

Wear a face mask when you are around other people, such as sharing a room or car, around pets, and before entering your doctor’s office.

Cover your coughs and sneezes

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in a lined trashcan. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Avoid sharing personal household items

Do not share dishes, glasses, cups, silverware, towels or bedding with other people or pets in your home. After using these items, wash them thoroughly with soap and water or detergent.

Wash your hands

Wash your hands often, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food. Use soap and water and wash for at least 20 seconds. This is about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands, including between your fingers, and rub your hands together until they feel dry. Use soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if you haven't washed your hands.

Clean all “high-touch” surfaces every day

High-touch surfaces include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables. Clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool or body fluids on them. Use a household cleaning spray or wipe. The label contains directions for safe and effective use of the cleaning product, such as wearing gloves and making sure the room has good airflow.

Monitor your symptoms

See your doctor if your illness gets worse — for example, you find it hard to breathe. 

Before seeking care, call your doctor and say you have or may have COVID-19. Put on a face mask before entering the building. These steps will help keep people in the doctor’s office or waiting room from being infected.

If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, say that you have or may have COVID-19. If possible, put on a face mask before the ambulance arrives.

Ending home isolation

How long you quarantine or isolate depends on many factors. For the most current recommendations, please see these updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or this infographic from the Virginia Department of Health

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