The Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread. As more people become exposed to or infected with COVID-19, it is important to know what to do in those situations.
Quarantine vs. Isolation
Quarantine is a strategy used to prevent transmission of COVID-19 by keeping people who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 away from others. Quarantine occurs when you might have been exposed to the virus and may or may not be infected (CDC, 2021a). Anyone who is not vaccinated or has not done their booster shot when eligible should quarantine (CDC, 2021b). Local public health authorities make the final decision on how long quarantine should last, so stay up to date on local public health department recommendations.
Isolation occurs when you have been infected with the virus, even if you don’t have symptoms. Isolation is used to separate infected individuals from those who are not infected (CDC, 2021a). Regardless of vaccination status, anyone who tested positive (regardless of symptoms), along with those who are waiting test results that have symptoms should isolate. The CDC recently updated isolation guidelines, recommending people with COVID-19 isolate for five days if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving and have no fever. Following isolation, a mask should be worn around others for an additional five days (CDC, 2021b).
Department of Public Health recommendations for each county on isolation and quarantine:
COVID-19 Exposure and Close Contact
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines exposure as contact with infection agents (bacteria or viruses) in a manner that promotes transmission and increases the likelihood of getting infected with the virus. Close contact is being within six feet of someone who is showing symptoms of COVID-19, for at least 15 minutes, or an infected person who shows no symptoms but later tests positive for the coronavirus. This is considered exposure regardless of whether one or both parties were wearing a mask (Demarco, 2020). If you have been exposed to COVID-19, do the following (CDC, 2021a):
If you are vaccinated (including a booster shot):
- You do not need to quarantine after contact with someone who had COVID-19 unless you develop symptoms.
- Get tested five to seven days after exposure, even if you don’t develop symptoms.
- Watch for symptoms for at least 10 days after you last had close contact with someone with COVID-19.
- Wear a mask around others for 10 days from the date of you last close contact with someone with COVID-19.
- If you develop symptoms, isolate immediately and get tested. Continue to isolate until you receive the test results.
- Avoid travel and being around others who are at high risk.
If you are not vaccinated or up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations:
- Stay home and away from others for at least five days and wear a mask around others whenever possible.
- Get tested at least five days after you last had close contact with someone with COVID-19, even if you don’t develop symptoms.
- For 10 days, watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other COVID-19 symptoms.
- If you have symptoms, get tested immediately and self-isolate yourself.
- If you do not develop symptoms, get tested five days after exposure.
- Avoid travel and being around others who are at high risk.
If You Are Sick
If you are sick with COVID-19 or think you might have it, follow these steps below to care for yourself and to protect those in your home and community. These steps apply, regardless of vaccination status (CDC, 2021a):
- Stay Home
- Stay home for at least five days, except to get medical care.
- Get rest and stay hydrated.
- Stay in touch with your doctor. Call ahead before going to see your doctor.
- Avoid public transportation, travel, and being around others who are at high risk.
- Stay in a specific room and away from others as much as possible for at least five days.
- Try to use a separate bathroom.
- If you must be around others, wear a mask.
- Don’t share personal household items with others like cups, towels, and utensils.
- Tell close contacts that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. A close anyone who was within six feet of you for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. Tell anyone who fits this category and who you were around two days before symptoms started or two days before a positive COVID-19 test (CDC, n.d.).
- Monitor Symptoms
- COVID-19 symptoms include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Follow care instructions from your doctor and local health department.
- Look for emergency warning signs such as trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds.
- Call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility. Notify them that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19.
- Get Tested
- If you have COVID-19 symptoms, get tested.
- Stay away from others while waiting for test results.
- Prevention Practices
- Continue other prevention practices such as disinfecting surfaces, especially in shared spaces.
- Ending Isolation
- You may end isolation after five full days if you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and other symptoms are improving. Both LA County and Orange County requires that you have a negative antigen test result (not PCR) to end isolation after day five.
- If you did not have symptoms, you may end isolation after five full days after receiving your positive test. For Los Angeles County and Orange County, you must have a negative antigen test result to end isolation.
- If you were severely ill, isolate for at least 10 days and consult your doctor before ending isolation.
Lastly, remember that the Omicron variant is still new and information and news changes frequently. Stay up to date on the latest information and guidelines for quarantine and isolation recommendations.
CDC. (n.d.). How to Talk to Your Close Contacts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/tell-your-contacts.pdf
CDC. (2021a). Quarantine and Isolation. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/quarantine-isolation.html
CDC. (2021b). CDC Updates and Shortens Recommended Isolation and Quarantine Period for General Population. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s1227-isolation-quarantine-guidance.html
Demarco, C. (2020). What Counts as COVID-19 Exposure? Retrieved from https://www.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/what-counts-as-coronavirus-covid-19-exposure–how-does-contact-tracing-identify-who-has-been-exposed-to-covid-19.h00-159383523.html