When to Isolate, When to Quarantine, While the words are used for different situations, our actions for both are the same: when isolating or quarantining, you  must avoid  contact with  others. Read our blog post:  bit.ly/3eJyiUa. Icon of people chatting on a video callPlease note this post was updated on December 11 to reflect changes in quarantine guidelines. 

The words “isolate” and “quarantine” get thrown around a lot these days. We often get asked, “When should I be quarantining?” and “How long am I supposed to isolate?” Let’s take a look at these words, how we use them, and common situations in which we talk about them.

What’s the difference between isolation and quarantine?

  • When you are sick or have a confirmed COVID-19 test, you isolate.
  • When you may have been exposed or are waiting for a test result, you quarantine.

Isolation and quarantine keeps people who are sick or who may get sick away from healthy people. They are both critical tools to helping us stop the spread of COVID-19.


Should I be isolating?

You should isolate if you are sick or have a confirmed COVID-19 test, even if you don’t have symptoms.

How should I isolate?

  • You don’t go anywhere outside your home except to get medical care.
  • You separate yourself from people and animals within your home as much as possible.
  • Do not go to work, school, or public areas.  
  • Avoid using public transportation, taxis, or ride-share.
  • Call before visiting your doctor. If you have an appointment, be sure you tell them you have or may have COVID-19.
  • Wear a face covering if you have to be around people or pets, like if you share a room at home or need someone to drive you to a medical appointment.
  • Tell your employer, school, or child care center about your diagnosis so they can instruct your close contacts to quarantine.

Read more on our website for things to do to keep your household members safe while you isolate.

When can I stop isolating?

You had symptoms

You must isolate until all the following are true:

  • It’s been at least 10 days since the first day you had symptoms AND
  • Your symptoms are improving AND
  • You’ve gone at least 24 hours without a fever, without taking fever reducing medication

You don’t have symptoms

You must isolate until it’s been at least 10 days since the collection date of the positive test.


Should I be quarantining?

You should quarantine if:

  • You were a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19
  • You’re waiting for a COVID-19 test result

What’s close contact?

Currently, an individual is considered a close contact if any of the following is true:

  • You were within 6 feet of a person who tested positive for more than 15 minutes total in a day (this time does not need to be consecutive. Three, 5-minute periods over the course of a day is still close contact).
  • You had any physical contact with a person who has tested positive.
  • You had direct contact with the respiratory secretions of a person who has tested positive (i.e., from coughing, sneezing, contact with a dirty tissue, shared drinking glass, food, or other personal items).
  • You live with or stayed overnight for at least one night in a household with the person who tested positive.

How should I quarantine?

I had close contact with someone with COVID-19 but am not sick

You can develop COVID-19 anytime during the 14 days after your last close contact with someone who has COVID-19. In order to prevent spreading COVID-19 to others, you must quarantine, which means you must stay home from work, school, and other activities.

When quarantining, you should always:

  • Monitor your symptoms for 14 days after your last exposure to COVID-19
  • Stay home from school, work, and other activities and get tested as soon as possible if you develop symptoms. If positive, follow isolation guidance for people who test positive; if negative, continue quarantining.

It is safest if you quarantine for 14 days after your last exposure. No test is required to end quarantine.

You do have other options for quarantine. These options are to:

  • Quarantine for 10 days after your last exposure. No test is required to end quarantine. Monitor yourself for symptoms until 14 days after your last exposure.
  • Quarantine and get tested for COVID-19 6 or 7 days after last exposure. If your test is negative, you could end quarantine after 7 days of quarantine. You must have your negative test result before ending quarantine and the test cannot be before day 6. Monitor yourself for symptoms until 14 days after your last exposure.

I had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and am sick

If you are sick with COVID-19 symptoms, even if your symptoms are mild, isolate yourself and get tested

When can I stop quarantining?

Except for health care personnel, you'll need to stay home for a minimum of 7 days after the last contact or exposure with the person who has COVID-19. See the options above for duration depending on the quarantine option you choose. 

Learn More

To learn more about what to do if you’re sick or were exposed—or if one of your employees was sick or exposed—visit our website.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.