Student sitting at a desk working on her laptop.

This information is intended for those who have been exposed, have symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Quarantine and isolation are two tactics used by public health agencies to help contain and prevent the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know about the differences between quarantine and isolation.

Please see the chancellor's message for more information about the stay-at-home notice issued for local CU Boulder students.

Quarantine

Quarantine is intended for people who are not sick and do not have symptoms of COVID-19, but may have been exposed through close contact with someone who is sick. This includes people who may be asymptomatic but have not been tested. Quarantine is a pre-emptive measure meant to prevent spread of disease when people might have been exposed to COVID-19. Quarantine doesn’t mean an individual can’t still live with their roommate.

Close contact is defined as anyone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person (with or without a mask) for at least 15 minutes.

Quarantine can be voluntary or mandated by the state or a public health agency.

When to quarantine:

Here are some examples of times when you should quarantine:

  • You have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive or shown symptoms of COVID-19 (i.e. riding in a car, hanging out within 6 ft., engaging in intimate activities, attending a party or large gathering with more than 10 people, etc.)
     
  • Someone you live with has tested positive or shown symptoms of COVID-19 (i.e. roommate, family member, housemate, etc.)
     
  • When following local public health guidelines or stay-at-home orders

Remember that symptoms may be mild and feel like a common cold, especially early on. Early symptoms could include a combination of cough, body aches, fatigue and chest tightness. To reduce your need for repeated quarantine, you should limit the total number of people that you interact with socially. The fewer people that you are exposed to, the less likely you’ll have to quarantine repeatedly for the rest of the semester.


When to start quarantine:

You should begin quarantine immediately after potential exposure/close contact with a sick individual or once you have been instructed to quarantine by a healthcare provider or public health professional. Quarantine typically lasts 14 days after your last exposure. If you are re-exposed or make contact with another sick person, the 14 days period begins again. During this time period you will actively monitor your symptoms.

For instance, if you hang out with a friend who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is showing symptoms, begin quarantine as soon as you stop hanging out with them. If it is someone that you have had continued contact with, such as a coworker, quarantine should begin after your last contact with them.

If you live with someone who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19, the quarantine period depends on if you can effectively separate yourself from that person. 

  • Able to avoid contact: If you are able to avoid contact with a sick person in your household (e.g. allowing them to isolate themselves in a separate bedroom or living area), then your quarantine can start as soon as you can avoid contact with that person.
     
  • Unable to avoid contact: If you share a bedroom or living space with a sick individual and you cannot effectively avoid contact with them, you should stay home and avoid additional contact with anyone outside of your home/room until the person is no longer sick. Once the person is no longer infectious, you should begin a 14-day quarantine starting on that date.

What to do during quarantine:

If you are quarantining because of a local order, please adhere to local rules and ordinances. If you are quarantining because you may have been exposed, follow the recommendations below:

  • Stay home. If you must go out, wear a face covering at all times, and maintain at least six feet of distance with others.
  • If you think you've been exposed, complete your classes remotely. For in person classes, reach out to your faculty to let them know and do not attend in person. Notify your employer to let them know that you are unable to work.
  • If you live on campus, you should still complete your weekly monitoring appointment.
  • Follow CDC guidelines for quarantining with a roommate by maintaining at least 6 feet distance, avoid touching your face, and regularly wash your hands and disinfect common surfaces daily.
  • Have basic supplies like cleaning/disinfecting products and hand sanitizer nearby.
  • Avoid sharing personal items with others.
  • Do not go to public areas.
  • Avoid using public transportation, rideshares, or taxis.

If you need medical attention or have a medical appointment, call ahead to let them know you are currently under quarantine for COVID-19. If you may have been exposed to COVID-19, wait at least five days before getting a test so that there is adequate time for the virus to be detected by the test. Even if you test negative for COVID-19 or feel healthy, you should quarantine since symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 or another illness while under quarantine, contact a medical provider to discuss treatment, testing options and further steps. You will be required to isolate if you have COVID-19.

 

Isolation

Isolation is intended for people who are sick, beginning to show symptoms, getting ill and think they might have COVID-19, or have tested positive for COVID-19. Symptoms may be mild and feel like a common cold, especially early on. Early symptoms could include a combination of cough, body aches, fatigue and chest tightness. Some people may not develop a fever or a fever may not appear until several days into the illness.

Isolation can be voluntary or mandated by a public health professional.

When to isolate:

Here are some examples of times when you should isolate:

  • You are experiencing or beginning to experience any symptoms associated with COVID-19, even if they are mild.
     
  • You have tested positive for COVID-19.

When to start isolation:

You should begin isolation as soon as you begin to experience symptoms, receive a positive test result for COVID-19 or have been instructed to isolate by a healthcare provider. You should isolate for 10 days from onset of symptoms or your test date if you are asymptomatic AND when you’ve had no fever for at least 24 hours (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers) AND other symptoms have improved.       

Some people with severe illness may require an extended duration of isolation up to 20 days after symptoms first appear.


What to do during isolation:

If you are isolating because you are sick or have tested positive for COVID-19, you need to:

  • Separate yourself from animals and other people in your home; try to stay in a specific room or location away from other household members. Have someone else look after your pet(s). If you must care for your pet, wash your hands before and after contact with them
  • Stay home except to receive medical care; do not come to campus, visit with others or take public transportation
  • Monitor your symptoms and notify a healthcare provider of any changes or worsening of symptoms
  • Use a separate bathroom if possible; if it is not possible, clean the bathroom after you use it.
  • Regularly wash your hands and disinfect common surfaces daily
  • Avoid sharing personal items with others
  • If you live on campus, do not complete monitoring appointments.  Remain in your isolation space until cleared.

If you need medical attention or have a medical appointment, call ahead to let them know you may be sick with COVID-19 or have tested positive for COVID-19. Learn more about what to do during isolation.


When to seek emergency medical care:

If you or someone you know is showing any of these signs or symptoms*, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

Call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility and notify the operator that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19.

*This list does not cover all possible symptoms. Please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

More information on quarantine and isolation can be found on the Public Health Clinic website.

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