How to quarantine

Last updated October 18, 2021.

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If you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t need to quarantine after being exposed to someone with COVID-19. However, we recommend that you get a COVID-19 test five to seven days after exposure and wear a mask in public for 14 days after exposure or until you have a negative test result. These precautions will help protect the people around you in the rare case of a breakthrough infection. If you develop any symptoms of COVID-19  in the 14 days after exposure, you should get tested, even if you have a previous negative test.

The following instructions are for people who need to quarantine because they have been exposed to COVID-19 and are not fully vaccinated. Exposure occurs when people have a household member or close contact who:

  • Has a positive COVID-19 test, or;

  • Has symptoms of COVID-19, or;

  • Is getting ill and thinks they might have COVID-19. Symptoms, especially early on, may be mild and feel like a common cold. Early symptoms could include a combination of cough, body aches, fatigue, and chest tightness. Some people may not develop a fever until several days into the illness.

Read more about what counts as close contact here.

Read more about the possibility of reinfection

 

What is quarantining? 
  • Quarantining prevents the ongoing spread of the virus to other people by individuals who know they have been exposed or  are likely to have been exposed, but do not yet know if they have been infected. It’s a precaution and an effective tool to prevent viral spread since people infected with COVID-19 can be contagious even without having symptoms.

  • Quarantining can be voluntary, and people should self-quarantine if they have a known exposure and do not know whether they have been infected.  Colorado also has the legal authority to issue quarantine orders to people who were exposed to a contagious disease. This will not occur in most cases and is reserved for circumstances where it is difficult for people to voluntarily quarantine.

 

How long should quarantining last?
 
Length of quarantine Is testing required? Who should use this option?
14 days No

People who have regular close contact with high risk individuals. This includes people who live or work in residential or congregate living facilities.*

People who had close contact with a case infected with a COVID-19 variant virus of concern.**

10 days  No This quarantine period is appropriate for most people who do not have contact with high risk individuals. 
7 days Yes  People who do not have contact with high risk individuals and have a negative test collected 48 hours before quarantine is discontinued (on day 5 or later).

*The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommends nursing homes use a 14-day quarantine period. During times of worker shortages, facilities may need to implement shorter or modified quarantine for critical infrastructure workers.

**While in some cases of COVID-19 shorter quarantines might be appropriate, for contacts of cases infected with COVID-19 variant viruses public health may require a full 14-day quarantine.

 

For 14 days after exposure, regardless of your quarantine length, you should:

  • Watch for symptoms of COVID-19.

  • If you have symptoms, immediately self-isolate and contact your local public health authority or health care provider.

  • Wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet from others, wash your hands, avoid crowds, and take other precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Avoid contact with high-risk individuals.

 

What is the risk for each of the quarantine options?
  • Based on an analysis conducted by CDC scientists, if the person in quarantine is infected, ending quarantine at day 14 results in minimal (0.1%) risk that the person will transmit the virus to someone else. 

  • If quarantine is shortened to 10 days without testing, the risk of transmission after 10 days is 1 in 70 (1.4%). If quarantine is shortened to 7 days with testing performed 48 hours before the end of quarantine, the remaining risk is 1 in 19 (5.5%) if a rapid test is used and 1 in 25 (4.0%) if a PCR test is used.

  • Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier for people to quarantine and is balanced against a small possibility of increasing the spread of the virus.

 

Do I need to quarantine if I have already had COVID-19?
  • For most people, if you have had a positive molecular or antigen COVID-19 test in the 90 days before your exposure, quarantine is not required. 

  • If you are exposed to someone with a variant that is more likely to cause reinfection, you may be required to quarantine, even if you have been recently infected.

  • Whether or not you are in quarantine, watch for symptoms for 14 days after exposure.  If symptoms develop, isolate and get tested.

 

Do I need to quarantine if I have been vaccinated?
  • For most people, if a full two weeks has passed since you completed a vaccine series, you do not need to quarantine if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19. The exception is if you live in a congregate setting (such as a correctional facility or homeless shelter). In that case, you should still quarantine and get tested after exposure even after you are fully vaccinated. This is because residents of congregate settings may face high turnover, a higher risk of transmission, and challenges in maintaining recommended physical distancing.

  • If it has been less than two weeks since you completed the vaccine series, you should quarantine if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19.

  • We recommend that you get a COVID-19 test five to seven days after exposure and wear a mask in public for 14 days after exposure or until you have a negative test result. These precautions will help protect the people around you in the rare case of a breakthrough infection.

  • Whether or not you are in quarantine, watch for symptoms for 14 days after exposure. If symptoms develop that are not likely to be side effects from a recent vaccine dose, isolate and get tested, even if you have a previous negative test result.

 

What else should I do?

Stay home, or in your same location, except to get medical care.

  • If you have a medical appointment, call ahead and let them know you are under quarantine (either by order or self-imposed) for COVID-19, so the office can take steps to protect other people. Otherwise:

    • Restrict activities outside your home.

    • Do not go to work, school, or public areas.

    • Avoid using public transportation, rideshares, or taxis.

Practice actions that protect others.

  • Clean your hands often.

    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. When using hand sanitizer, cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Soap and water is preferred if hands are visibly dirty.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.

    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue away. If a tissue is not available, use your inner elbow or sleeve.

    • Immediately clean your hands (see above).

  • Avoid sharing personal household items.

    • Don’t share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.

    • After you use these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.

  • Clean surfaces every day.

    • Clean “high touch” surfaces like 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 regular household cleaning spray or wipe. Follow the label directions for correct and safe use of the cleaning product.

If you need to seek medical care, first CALL a provider or clinic first to get instructions BEFORE going to a health care office, hospital, or urgent care.

If you have a medical emergency, call 911 and tell the dispatcher you are quarantining for COVID-19.

Additional resources