When in doubt, stay home.
This is the takeaway message when it comes to the sometimes confusing math of isolation or quarantine guidance, said Michelle Moritz, Crow Wing County public health supervisor. Moritz said she continues to hear of people exposed or awaiting test results who go about their business in the community, potentially infecting others in their wake. Staying home during these crucial days can be the difference between stopping the spread in its tracks or bringing more COVID-19 patients into the fray.
“One piece is while people are awaiting their test results, they need to stay quarantined. We want them to stay away from others they could be potentially infecting,” Moritz said during a phone interview Friday, Nov. 20. “ … We need to make sure people understand that quarantine means stay home and limiting contact with others. We just want to slow that spread and stop the spread within that level of people, their close contacts.”
Isolation and quarantine are not the same thing, and the guidance is different depending on which of these situations a person finds themselves in.
Isolation separates those who’ve tested positive from those who are well. For those who are ill, it is safe to discontinue home isolation when at least 10 days have passed since symptoms appeared, 24 hours have passed since a fever and symptoms have improved. For those who are asymptomatic, it is safe to discontinue home isolation when at least 10 days have passed since a positive test.
Quarantine, on the other hand, is what’s expected of those who’ve been exposed to the coronavirus and who have the potential of becoming infectious. The guidance on quarantine varies when considering whether the positive person is inside or outside of a household. If the person who’s tested positive is outside the household — or able to fully isolate from others inside a household — the 14-day clock starts ticking from the last time contact was made. If they’re inside the household but unable to isolate completely, it’s likely quarantine time for those exposed will be lengthened. In those cases, it is safe to discontinue quarantine if still healthy when at least 14 days have passed since the person with COVID-19 was allowed to end home isolation.
It isn’t a foregone conclusion that everyone in the same house will become infected if one person does. If space allows, it is possible to isolate from family members or housemates and prevent spread even within a household, Moritz said. She noted some people will even move to campers or nearby cabins to limit contact. If that’s not an option, move to another floor of the home, or simply hole up in a bedroom and let other members of the household bring meals or medicine. Wear a mask in common areas if needing to use the restroom.
Moritz said she knows there are sometimes caveats that can prompt questions and confusion. For instance, what about those who live with a person who’s considered a close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19? Are they also expected to quarantine in the same manner? Based on current guidance, Moritz said the answer is no — of course, that changes if symptoms begin to appear or a test result for their household member returns a positive.
Crow Wing County recently posted a calculator on its website to help people determine how long they need to isolate or quarantine. Visit https://bit.ly/3nKlgcg to use the calculator.
“This is a virus that we continue to learn about, and so the one thing that we have learned to get good at is being flexible, that this guidance does change from time to time,” Moritz said. “ … We just have needed to be flexible and adaptable to changes as we’ve learned. And that’s the great thing about science, is that they’re ever looking to learn more and get better at protecting our communities.”
Moritz said it’s extremely important for people to act as though they have COVID-19 if they’re experiencing any symptoms at all that are among those possible with the virus. These include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. She said in those cases, it’s important to quarantine and get tested.
“People can also help impact those numbers beyond what the governor has put into place by following the isolation and quarantine guidelines, as well as getting tested so they know their COVID status and they’re not exposing other people,” she said. “Don’t just assume that you have a cold or influenza or seasonal allergies. Go find out. Go find out if it is COVID. We have made it very simple to order the in-home saliva kit where you don’t need an appointment, you don’t need to go to the clinic, you don’t need to wait in line. We’ve made it as easy as possible so you can know your status.”
For more information on the in-home saliva tests, visit https://bit.ly/3kQhjRB.
Isolation vs. quarantine: What’s the difference?
Isolation separates sick people from people who are not sick. People in isolation need to stay home and separate themselves from others in the home as much as possible.
Whether it’s safe to return to normal activities depends on if people were sick with COVID-19 or if they were diagnosed with COVID-19 but remained asymptomatic.
Sick: It is safe to discontinue home isolation when at least 10 days have passed since symptoms appeared and 24 hours have passed since a fever and symptoms have improved. Seek medical attention if unable to manage symptoms.
Asymptomatic: It is safe to discontinue home isolation when at least 10 days have passed since a positive test.
Quarantine separates people who were in close contact with a person with COVID-19 from others. People in quarantine should stay home, limit their contact with other people and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.
Whether it’s safe to return to normal activities depends on if the person with COVID-19 with whom contact was made lives outside the home or in the same home.
Outside the home: It is safe to discontinue quarantine if still healthy and at least 14 days have passed since the last contact with the person with COVID-19.
In the same home, complete separation: If able to separate completely from the person with COVID-19, it is safe to discontinue quarantine if still healthy and at least 14 days have passed since the last contact.
In the same home, unable to separate completely: If unable to separate completely, it is safe to discontinue quarantine if still healthy and at least 14 days have passed since the person with COVID-19 was allowed to end home isolation.
Source: Crow Wing County.
NOTE: Since this story was first published, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on quarantine. While still recommending 14 days, the CDC now states seven to 10 days may be sufficient based upon factors including the lack of symptoms and availability of test results. Visit https://bit.ly/2JWnya3 to learn more about the new recommendations.