Here’s the confusing part…when does the quarantine start? When the person you were exposed to started showing symptoms? When you yourself start showing symptoms? What if you don’t show symptoms, but are in a house with positive members? Does your quarantine period start when the first person has symptoms or tests positive? What if other people start showing symptoms later but you have no symptoms? When does your quarantine period start?
These are great questions.
Say you visited with friends on Monday. You all felt fine and didn’t worry about COVID-19. On Wednesday, one of your friends tests positive for COVID-19 and called to let you know. You feel fine, but you know that you were exposed, and might have the virus. You might be contagious now, even if you don’t have any symptoms yet.
If you quarantine now, you won’t spread the virus during the time that you don’t yet show symptoms. If you don’t have COVID-19, that’s great. But if you do, quarantine keeps others safe.
Quarantine means staying home, away from people who are not part of your household.
When does the quarantine begin?
Once you find out that you have been exposed, your quarantine begins. Count from the day you were exposed. In our example above, you would quarantine beginning on Wednesday, when you find out that you were exposed.
You should start counting from the day you were exposed, Monday. You didn’t know that you were exposed, so you didn’t quarantine on Monday, but if you were exposed, that’s when it happened.
What counts as exposure?
The CDC tells us this is close contact:
- You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more. That’s not the UPS driver walking away from your package. That’s the friend you sat next to at the bar or your grandchild who came and spent a couple of hours with you.
- You provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19. You were comforting your sick child, feeding your sick spouse, or cleaning up after your sick roommate.
- You had direct physical contact with the person. You hugged or kissed them.
- You shared eating or drinking utensils, drinking from the same glass or taking a bite from their fork.
- Someone sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on you. You shared a microphone and sang a duet. You were in a face-to-face shouting match.
If these things happened and you find out later that the individual you were in close contact with has COVID-19, you must quarantine.
When does the quarantine end?
The safest option is to stay away from other people for 14 days. However, the new guidelines from the Arkansas Department of Health allow shorter quarantine times. If you have had no symptoms, you can end your quarantine after 10 days if you don’t test. That would be Wednesday in our example, ten days after your exposure.
If you get tested and have a negative result, you can end your quarantine after 7 days — Monday in our example.
What if you have symptoms?
Suppose you have a high fever a few days into your quarantine. Now what? Contact your physician and arrange for a COVID-19 test.
If your test is negative, finish your quarantine and don’t worry.
If you are positive, count out 10 days from your first symptoms. Make sure that you have no symptoms for 24 hours without medication. That is, you have no fever when you don’t take any aspirin or other medication.
That’s the end of your quarantine.
What about people in your household?
Check the definition of “close contact” above. If your roommate tests positive for COVID-19, ask yourself whether you have been within 6 feet of them, shared a drinking glass, or given them a hug. If so, you’ve been exposed.
You should, in that case, quarantine according to the timeline explained above.
What about a family member that you live with and have close contact with every day? If they turn up positive for COVID-19, they should be isolated from the rest of the family. Anyone in the family who has had close contact with them should quarantine.
This quarantine should follow the same timeline as discussed above. It can’t begin from the first exposure because you will probably have been exposed before your family member had symptoms.
Begin from the time you find out your family member has COVID-19. This will make the quarantine a little longer, but it is safer.