Isolation & quarantine

Last updated May 25, 2022.

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Isolation and quarantine are important tools for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Both strategies keep people who may be contagious away from others who might catch the virus from them. The best place to isolate or quarantine is in your own home. 

If you have been instructed to isolate or quarantine and have any questions, please contact your local public health agency.

These isolation and quarantine instructions apply to the general population in the community, including workplaces. They do not apply to health care settings, correctional settings, homeless shelters, or other high-risk congregate living settings.

Si le han pedido que se aísle o se ponga en cuarentena y tiene alguna pregunta, por favor comuníquese con su agencia local de salud pública.

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    Isolation

    If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you should isolate. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and are waiting for your test results, or you have symptoms and have not been tested yet, you should also isolate. Isolation means staying at home and away from other people until you are likely no longer contagious. 

    Symptoms of COVID-19 may be mild and feel like a common cold, especially early on. Symptoms can include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, tiredness, soreness, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and/or diarrhea.

    If you have any of these symptoms or you have tested positive, you should isolate, even if you are vaccinated.

    How long should I isolate?

    It depends on how you are feeling. For some people, isolation should last five full days, followed by five more days of precautions.

    You can stop isolating after five full full days if:

    • You tested positive, but don’t have any symptoms.

    • You had mild symptoms, you are starting to feel better, and you don’t have a fever.

    Your first day of isolation is the first full day after you started feeling symptoms or tested positive. 

    Testing is not required to stop isolation. If you have access to a test and want to test, the best approach is to use an antigen test (such as a rapid at-home test) toward the end of the five-day isolation period if you do not have symptoms or are fever-free and your symptoms are improving.  If your result is positive, you should continue to isolate until after day 10. If the result is negative, you can stop isolating after 5 days.

    If you stop isolating after five days, you should continue taking precautions for five more days. 

    • Wear a well fitted mask around other people, both in your home and in public. Do not go to places where you are unable to wear a mask.

    • Avoid eating and drinking around other people.

    • Avoid contact with people who are at high risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.

    • Avoid travel.

    People who are unable to wear a mask around others, including children under the age of 2 years and people of any age with certain disabilities, should isolate for a full 10 days even if they are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.

    If you still have a fever after five days or your symptoms haven’t improved, you should isolate until: 

    • You have had no fever for at least 24 hours (without using medicine that reduces fevers) AND 

    • Other symptoms have improved (for example, your cough or headache are starting to get better). If you have lost your sense of taste or smell, you may not get it back for weeks after you have started to feel better. You don’t need to wait for your taste or smell to come back before you can stop isolating.

    If you didn’t have any symptoms when you tested positive, but you started to feel symptoms AFTER your test, you should continue to isolate for at least five full days after your symptoms start. Day zero is the day your symptoms start, even if you were previously isolating because of a positive test. You can stop isolating when at least five full days have passed since you first felt mild symptoms, you don’t have a fever, and you are starting to feel better.

    Some health care workers and staff in other high risk congregate settings may be excluded from work for longer. If you are a health care worker or work in another high risk setting, you should follow your employer’s instructions about when to return to work. 

    People with severe illness or who are immunocompromised should isolate for at least 10 days and may require testing to determine when they can be around others. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about how long you could be infectious.

    Isolation is usually voluntary, but public health agencies have legal authority to issue isolation orders to sick people.

    While you are isolating

    Stay home except to get medical care. If you have a medical appointment, call ahead and let them know you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms. Be sure to wear a mask to your appointment. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Don’t have friends or family visit you at home. Avoid using public transportation, rideshares, or taxis.

    Monitor your symptoms. Many people recover from COVID-19 without needing to go to the doctor. However, some people may get very sick from COVID-19. If your symptoms get worse (e.g., if you start having trouble breathing) or if you are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19, call a health care provider or nurse line to find out what to do. If you are at high risk, you may be able to get monoclonal antibody therapy to help you recover

    If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the dispatcher you are isolating for COVID-19. If possible, put on a mask before emergency medical services arrive.

    Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home. As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from others in your home. Use a separate bathroom if you can. Have another member of your household care for your pets. If you must care for your pet, wash your hands before and after contact with them.

    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.

    Wear a well-fitted mask around other people or pets, and before you enter a health care provider’s office. If you are medically unable to wear a mask, then people who live with you should not be in the same room with you, or they should wear a mask if they enter your room.

    Clean your hands often. Wash your hands 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.

    Improve ventilation in your home, if possible. Open doors and windows if weather allows, or run your HVAC system.

    Quarantine

    If you have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, you may need to quarantine. Quarantine means staying away from other people for a certain amount of time to make sure you don’t spread the virus. Even if you don’t feel any symptoms, you might be contagious after exposure to COVID-19.

    Exposure happens when you have close contact with someone who has COVID-19. Close contact means you have been within six feet of an infectious person for a total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. That doesn’t have to be 15 minutes in a row. If you were close to an infectious person for 5 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon on the same day, you’ve had close contact with someone with COVID-19.

    Quarantining is usually voluntary. Public health agencies in Colorado also have the legal authority to issue quarantine orders to people who were exposed to a contagious disease. This is reserved for rare circumstances where it is difficult for people to voluntarily quarantine.

    Who needs to quarantine

    People who need to quarantine after exposure include:

    If you need to quarantine, you should stay home for five days after you were exposed to COVID-19. Your first day of quarantine is the first full day following your exposure. Wear a well-fitted mask around others in your home if you aren’t able to remain completely separate during quarantine. You should wear a well-fitted mask around other people at home and in public for five more days after that. If you can’t quarantine, you’ll have to wear a well-fitted mask around others for 10 days after exposure. People who are unable to wear a mask around others, including children under the age of 2 years and people of any age with certain disabilities, should quarantine for a full 10 days. 

    Get tested on day five after your exposure. Watch yourself for symptoms for 10 days after exposure. If you start to feel symptoms, get tested immediately and start isolating.  Avoid contact with people who are at high risk and high risk settings for at least 10 days after exposure. Do not go to places where you are unable to wear a mask. Avoid eating around others at home and at work for at least 10 days after exposure.

    People who don’t need to quarantine after exposure include:

    If you were exposed but you don’t need to quarantine, you should still wear a well-fitted mask around others for 10 days and avoid high risk people and settings.  If you do not develop symptoms, get tested five days after exposure unless you had a positive viral test in the 90 days prior to exposure. Watch yourself for symptoms for 10 days after exposure. If you start to feel symptoms in the 10 days after exposure, get tested immediately and start isolating.

    While you are quarantining

    Stay home except to get medical care. If you have a medical appointment, call ahead and let them know you are quarantining after exposure to COVID-19. Be sure to wear a well fitted mask to your appointment. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Don’t have friends or family visit you at home.  Avoid using public transportation, rideshares, or taxis.

    If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the dispatcher you are quarantining for COVID-19. If possible, put on a mask before emergency medical services arrive.

    Monitor your symptoms. If you start to feel sick, get tested immediately and start isolating.

    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.
    • Avoid contact with people you live with, especially if they are at higher risk for severe illness.  Wear a well-fitted mask any time you must have contact with other people you live with.
    • Increase ventilation in your home, if possible.
    • 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.
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    Enforcement of isolation and quarantine

    • State and local public health agencies request that Coloradans and visitors from other states or countries voluntarily cooperate with isolation and quarantine instructions.
    • State or local public health agencies may issue isolation and quarantine orders in some high-risk situations or if non-compliance is anticipated. 
    • If people do not follow the orders, public health agencies can involve law enforcement.
    • If enforcement were to become necessary, the entity that issued the order (the state or local public health agency) could file an enforcement action in state district court asking a judge to enforce the order. The court could also levy fines but, on the whole, public health is more interested in compliance with the terms of the order.
    • Public health agencies are working hard to make sure the needs of people in isolation/quarantine are being met to help ensure compliance.
    Legal Authority in Colorado