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Dec 28

How long to quarantine after exposure to COVID: December 21, 2020

Posted on December 28, 2020 at 8:22 AM by Kari Bray

Updated guidance on how long public health officials should quarantine contacts who have been exposed to COVID-19 was recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and adopted by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).

The Snohomish Health District is aligning with CDC and DOH on quarantine timelines. There has been some confusion over the updated timelines that we would like to address here.

The first thing to know is that, even under the updated guidance, 14 days is still the recommended length of time to quarantine for all individuals. Absent explicit permission from the Health District or an employer to do otherwise, quarantine remains 14 days.

The new guidance allows for flexibility in situations where a full 14 days would create particular hardship, such as economic strain, understaffing in essential work activities, or mental health concerns.

Here’s what to know about the quarantine guidance:

Quarantine means staying home and away from others. Stay home from work, school, or other activities, except medical appointments. Do not have visitors. Whenever possible, maintain distance from your household members, avoid using the kitchen, eat separately, and use a different bathroom than your housemates.

A 14-day quarantine remains the safest option for preventing the spread of COVID-19. During those 14 days, people should stay home and monitor for symptoms. If they start having symptoms, they should get tested. Those without symptoms also should consider testing, but wait 5-7 days after exposure. Remember, even if that test is negative, the virus may still be incubating. Those who test negative still need to finish out their quarantine.

If the 14-day quarantine would be a hardship, it may be reduced to 10 days if the person has not had any symptoms. If symptoms develop during those 10 days, the person should get tested and continue quarantining through the full 14 days. Those who do not have symptoms and end quarantine after 10 days still need to monitor their health. They must resume quarantine if symptoms develop. 

Quarantine may end at seven days for special circumstances, but only if certain conditions are met. The seven-day timeline requires that the person not have any symptoms AND they must test negative within 48 hours of ending quarantine (so the test would be done on day 5 or 6 of quarantine if they plan to end on day 7). It will be the responsibility of the employee and employer to coordinate testing and timeline verification. A seven-day quarantine should be used sparingly as it can increase risk of spreading COVID. Even after quarantine, people should minimize contact with others. As with the 10-day option, people must monitor for symptoms and resume quarantine if symptoms develop. 

Quarantine starts after the person’s most recent contact with a COVID case. If someone lives with or cares for someone who has COVID-19 and cannot avoid close contact, their quarantine starts after the confirmed case’s isolation period ends. This means that day 1 of quarantine for the contact would be day 10 of the isolation period for the confirmed case.

The Health District or, in some cases, employer will designate the assigned quarantine duration. While your input and capacity to complete the full, preferred 14-day quarantine will be taken into account, other factors also play a role in defining the minimum duration of isolation. For example, people who live or work in certain settings or occupations may not be eligible for a shorter duration (e.g., some health care, other employment, or housing settings).  

More information about COVID symptoms and exposure is available at under the “COVID-19 Health Info” button.