(NEXSTAR) – Every day in quarantine can feel extra long, especially if you’re anxiously awaiting a COVID test result — or even worse, waiting for symptoms to subside. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidelines on how long people need to quarantine or self-isolate, shortening the time span and adding new masking requirements.
When can you end quarantine or isolation and rejoin the world? It depends on a few factors. Let’s break it down.
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Isolate vs. quarantine
Are you isolating or are you quarantining? The difference here is mainly semantics. You isolate yourself from others if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or if you’re experiencing symptoms. You quarantine yourself from others if you’ve been exposed to the virus but don’t know if you have it or not.
Either way, you’re stuck at home.
When you can leave quarantine
If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and you haven’t received all the vaccinations you’re eligible for (that includes a booster shot if it’s time), then you need to quarantine for five full days afterward. The day you were exposed to the person with COVID counts as “day 0,” says the CDC.
If you still aren’t feeling any symptoms after five full days, the CDC says you should get tested for the virus. If you test negative, you can reenter the world. Just continue to wear a mask anytime you’re around other people and monitor yourself for a fever or any other COVID-19 symptoms until it has been 10 days since your exposure.
Because COVID tests are hard to come by right now, they are suggested for those wishing to exit quarantine, but not required.
If you can’t find a COVID test, the CDC says you can still re-enter the world after five days of quarantine, as long as you’re not feeling sick and keep wearing a mask for another five days.
When you end quarantine, you still need to wear a mask anytime you’re around others until it’s been 10 days since your exposure.
If you start to feel symptoms or test positive, it’s time to restart the clock and isolate yourself.
When you can stop isolating
If you test positive for the virus or experience symptoms, you need to stay home and away from others for five full days, according to the CDC, regardless of your vaccination status.
If you tested positive but you were never sick, you can end isolation after five days.
If you were sick, you can end isolation when:
- You haven’t had a fever for 24 hours (without using a fever suppressant like ibuprofen or Tylenol)
- AND your other symptoms are getting better (the exception is loss of smell or taste, because those symptoms can persist for weeks or months, and do not necessarily mean you’re contagious)
After five days, if you’re still feeling sick, wait until you’ve met the above criteria to leave isolation, the CDC says.
Currently, the CDC isn’t requiring a negative test to end isolation. However, people with access to a rapid test can still take one near the end of their five-day isolation period. (The CDC recommends rapid, antigen tests over PCR tests in this case, because the highly sensitive PCR tests could still show positive test results for weeks or even months, in some cases.)
In any case, after you leave isolation, you should still wear a mask anytime you’re around other people, including members of your household, until it has been 10 days after you started isolating.