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In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, the medical community’s collective wisdom was that everyone should quarantine for 14 days if they’d been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Now, however, 2 years of medical data and several vaccines later, we know a bit more about COVID-19, vaccinations, and quarantines.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently changed its recommended quarantine and isolation times for people who are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Keep reading to find out more about the latest quarantine recommendations.

It’s important to understand some definitions of phrases and words commonly used to discuss COVID-19 and quarantine.

The first two phrases relate to vaccination status:

  • Fully vaccinated. A person is fully vaccinated if they’ve received their primary series of COVID-19 vaccines. The primary series of shots is two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, two doses of the Moderna vaccine, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine.
  • Up to date. A person is up to date if they’ve received their full primary series of COVID-19 vaccines plus any recommended booster doses. These people are “optimally protected,” according to the CDC.

There are also two terms to keep in mind when it comes to quarantining or distancing yourself from others after COVID-19 exposure:

  • Quarantine. A quarantine is a period of time during which a person takes precautions to avoid exposing others to the coronavirus following close contact with a person who has had a positive COVID-19 test. During quarantine, it’s important to keep away from others to limit the spread of the virus. You also take precautions, such as mask wearing, if you need to be around other people, and monitor yourself for symptom development.
  • Isolation. Isolation requires strict separation from other people. The goal is to keep a contagious person away from people who don’t have infection, even in your own home.

It may also be helpful to understand the terms that are used to discuss exposure:

  • An exposure occurs if you come in contact with someone who has contracted the coronavirus.
  • Close contact occurs when you’ve been within 6 feet of a person who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes in a 24-hour period.

According to the CDC, if you’re vaccinated and exposed to COVID-19, you do not need to quarantine.

However, it’s recommended that you:

  • wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days after the exposure
  • get tested on day 5 after the exposure
  • quarantine immediately and get tested for COVID-19 if you develop symptoms

For clarity, the first day you were exposed is day 0. Day 1 is considered the first full day after you were in contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

If you aren’t up to date on your vaccines, or you’re not vaccinated at all, the CDC recommends that you:

  • quarantine (stay home) for 5 days after any exposure
  • wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days, even around people in your home
  • avoid being around high risk people (for instance, people who are immunocompromised or older)
  • do not travel
  • take a test on day 5, and quarantine immediately if you develop any symptoms

Below is a summary of the quarantine recommendations if you’ve been exposed to someone who has COVID-19:

Vaccination statusQuarantine recommendation
You are up to date on all shots and boosters.You do not need to quarantine following an exposure unless you develop symptoms. However, it’s recommended you wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure and test 5 days after exposure.
You completed the primary series of vaccines more than 6 months ago (or you had the J&J shot more than 2 months ago) and are not boosted.Quarantine (stay home) for 5 days. Wear a well-fitting mask at all times for 10 days after your exposure. If you cannot complete a 5-day quarantine, it’s imperative you wear a mask at all times around other people. Get tested 5 days after exposure.
You are not vaccinated.Quarantine for 5 days and get tested on the 5th day. Wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days after the exposure.

All people who have a positive COVID-19 test should isolate for 5 days, regardless of their vaccination status, according to the CDC. This is true even if you don’t have symptoms.

If your symptoms resolve and you are fever-free without the use of fever-reducing medications for 24 hours, you can end isolation.

However, you should wear a well-fitting mask for another 5 days when around people to minimize the chance of transmitting the coronavirus to others.

If you have a fever, remain in quarantine until the fever resolves.

If you never had symptoms, you can end isolation after 5 days, but wear a mask for 5 days after isolation.

If you had severe symptoms of COVID-19, it’s recommended that you isolate for at least 10 days. Consult a doctor before ending isolation.

Day 0 is your first day of symptoms, or the day you get a positive test. Day 1 is the first full day after you develop symptoms of COVID-19, or the day after your testing specimen is collected.

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should follow the 5-day isolation period with mask wearing until day 10. You should also avoid travel, and avoid contact with high-risk individuals.

Below is a summary of the quarantine recommendations if you test positive for COVID-19:

COVID-19 severityIsolation recommendation
You test positive and have symptoms (regardless of vaccine status).Isolate for 5 days. Continue to isolate while you have a fever or other symptoms.
You test positive but have no symptoms.Isolate for 5 days. You can leave isolation on day 5 if you remain symptom- and fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.
You test positive and have severe symptoms.Isolate for at least 10 days. Consult a doctor for the right time to leave isolation.
You test positive (all cases).Even if your isolation ends before day 10, it’s important to take precautions, including wearing a well-fitting mask, avoiding travel, and keeping distance from people in high risk categories.

A vaccine is not a guarantee that you won’t develop COVID-19 if you are exposed to the coronavirus. Instead, a vaccine aims to reduce the risk of:

  • contracting the virus
  • having severe COVID-19 symptoms and complications, including death
  • requiring a hospital stay

However, even the most protective vaccines are not 100 percent effective, and it’s possible to develop a breakthrough infection.

But vaccinated people who develop COVID-19 are less likely to experience severe illness or require hospitalization. They are also less likely to die as a result of the infection.

According to the CDC, vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization in healthy people who have had two doses of an mRNA vaccine (like Pfizer or Moderna) is approximately 82 percent. Those who’ve had a vaccine booster restore the vaccine’s effectiveness against hospitalization to 97 percent.

For those who are immunocompromised, mRNA vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization is 69 percent with two doses. A booster increases it to 88 percent.

As coronavirus variants develop and spread globally, vaccination is an important tool in slowing the spread and reducing the risk of a variant being resistant to the current vaccines.

Vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 will likely experience milder symptoms. It’s also likely that the duration of symptoms will be much shorter.

One 2022 study found that fully vaccinated people saw benefits during both the Delta variant–predominant period and the Omicron variant surge. Full vaccination protected against infection and death during Delta, and against infection during Omicron. This was especially true among people ages 50 to 64 and people over 65.

These milder symptoms may include:

If you test positive for COVID-19, the best course of treatment depends on your symptoms. Most people can treat their symptoms at home and will not have further issues. Typical self-care steps for COVID-19 include:

  • Rest. Stay at home and get as much rest as possible. Working or attending school, even remotely, can be too taxing.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, including water, decaffeinated tea, and juices.
  • Take medication when needed. Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications like fever reducers for symptoms.

For some people, the antiviral remdesivir (Veklury) or an intravenous monoclonal antibody therapy may be recommended. These are typically reserved for people at high risk of complications from COVID-19.

Vaccinated people are less likely to develop severe disease. However, if you do test positive, keep an eye out for signs of a worsening infection. These symptoms include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • pressure or pain in the chest
  • inability to stay awake or be alert
  • bluish tint to the lips or face
  • confusion or difficulty with comprehension

As medical professionals better understand COVID-19 and how vaccines affect how easily the virus is spread, advice on quarantine and isolation is changing. Today, the CDC has less strict quarantine requirements for people who have been vaccinated.

But the recommendations for isolation following a positive COVID-19 test remain the same, regardless of vaccine status.

It’s important that everyone understand and follow the best practices for isolation and quarantine. This will help reduce the spread of the virus and potentially save hospitalizations and even deaths.