How Many Days to Quarantine or Isolate After COVID-19

Medically reviewed by Amelia MacIntyre, DO

The guidelines for quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 and isolation after a positive COVID-19 test or symptoms come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Guidelines have changed periodically since the start of the pandemic.

After a known exposure to someone with COVID-19, you should wear a high-quality mask for 10 days when around others indoors and avoid people who are at high risk for severe illness. You should test for COVID-19 when you develop symptoms or after five days if you have no symptoms.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you should isolate for at least five full days after the start of symptoms or after a positive test (if you didn't have symptoms). People with more severe symptoms or whose symptoms are not improving need additional isolation time. Masking when indoors around others and avoiding people at higher risk of severe illness are needed until day 11.

This article will cover when to quarantine or isolate, ending and extending quarantine or isolation, and more.

<p>sestovic / Getty Images</p>

sestovic / Getty Images

Quarantine vs. Isolation

Although people commonly use the terms "quarantine" and "isolation" interchangeably, they have separate definitions, as follows:

  • Quarantine is the act of separating yourself from others when you have been exposed to a contagious illness—to see if the illness develops and to protect others from transmitting it before symptoms start.

  • Isolation is separating yourself from others when you have a contagious illness, whether you have symptoms and are sick or you have tested positive but have no symptoms.

Quarantine After COVID-19 Exposure: Mask for 10 Days and Test After 5 Days

The day you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 is day zero. Day one is the first full day after this exposure. You should quarantine even if you have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

You should wear a high-quality mask through day 10 after exposure when you are around others indoors (including at home). Avoid going to places where you can't wear a mask. You can still leave home and go into public places as long as you can wear a mask.

Monitor yourself for symptoms of COVID-19 and test if you develop symptoms. If you have no symptoms, on day six (five full days after exposure), test for COVID-19. If the test is positive, you will now need to isolate.

If the test is negative, continue to wear a mask through day 10, monitor yourself for symptoms, and test again if you develop any. You can get COVID-19 up to 10 days after exposure.

Related: When and What Day to Test for COVID-19

Isolate 5 Days or More After Starting Symptoms or Testing Positive

Symptoms of COVID-19 can present as early as two days and as late as 14 days after exposure to the virus.

Common symptoms include:

You might be contagious at any time from when you are exposed until you develop symptoms. You are most contagious with COVID-19 two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

You could be contagious for up to 10 days after symptoms start, regardless of whether symptoms are mild or severe. During this time, you will want to take steps to avoid exposing others to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

If you test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms of the illness, you should isolate yourself from other people for at least five days. The five-day requirement should be extended if you are seriously ill or your COVID symptoms have not improved after five days. Ask your healthcare provider how long you should isolate.

You might still be contagious after the five-day period, so you should continue masking through day 10 (until day 11) after symptoms develop or you have a positive test.

One study reported in the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Network Open analyzed data from a testing site during the January 2022 Omicron variant surge in San Francisco. The data found that many people with COVID-19 were still testing positive after five days.

How to Isolate

When you isolate, you are separated from others, and your movement is restricted. With a positive COVID-19 test and/or symptoms, do the following:

  • Stay home, do not go to work, school, or other public places, and do not travel.

  • Wear a high-quality mask when you are around others, including at home.

  • Separate yourself from others in your household as much as possible.

  • Avoid contact with anyone who is at higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19.

People at higher risk include:

  • Older people (especially those over age 65)

  • People with a weakened immune system (immunocompromised)

  • People with certain health conditions, including cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, heart conditions, and pregnancy

CDC Timeline

The CDC timeline for quarantine and isolation is based on when you are most likely to transmit the virus to others.

The timeline after exposure to COVID-19 is:

  • Day 0: This is the day you were exposed.

  • Days 1 to 10: Mask and monitor yourself for symptoms for 10 days after exposure (until day 11).

  • Day 5: If you have no symptoms, get a COVID-19 test.

  • Any day through day 10: Test if you develop symptoms.

The timeline after a positive COVID-19 test or symptoms develop is:

  • Day 0: This is the day you took the test that was positive or the day you first developed symptoms.

  • Day 1: This is the first full day following symptom onset or the day you were tested.

  • Days 0 to 5: Isolate at home and wear a mask when around others.

  • Day 6: You may end isolation if you had no symptoms (were asymptomatic). If you did not have moderate or severe illness, your symptoms are improving, and you are fever-free for 24 hours (without having taken any fever-reducing medications). Continue to wear a high-quality mask when around others until day 11.

  • Days 7 through 10: If your symptoms improve and you are fever-free for 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medication, you may end isolation. Continue to wear a high-quality mask when around others until day 11.

The timeline if you had moderate or severe illness or have a weakened immune system is:

  • If you had shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, you must isolate through day 10 (until day 11).

  • If you were hospitalized or have a weakened immune system, you will need to isolate at least through day 10 and should consult a healthcare provider about when you may end isolation.

Asymptomatic COVID-19

People who have asymptomatic COVID-19 have tested positive for the virus but do not develop symptoms even after the incubation period—the time between when you are exposed until the time when symptoms present.

One 2021 JAMA Network Open research review found 40.5% of people with a confirmed COVID-19 infection were asymptomatic. People who test positive for COVID-19 but do not have symptoms can still transmit the virus to others.

The CDC recommends staying home and isolating for five full days even with asymptomatic COVID-19, but for some people, that may be a lot harder. If you test positive, check with your employer, school, or public health department for additional guidelines for asymptomatic people with COVID-19.

When It's Safe to Leave Isolation

You can leave isolation after five full days after symptom onset. This is provided that any fever has resolved for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medication and other symptoms are improving.

The CDC rule is that day zero is the first day you experience symptoms. If your day zero is Sunday, then Thursday is your day five. If you feel fine on Friday, you can venture out of your home to work or to run errands. But you should wear a high-quality mask for five additional days as you might still be contagious (through day 10).

Alternatively, if you have access to tests, you can stop wearing a mask if you test negative with two at-home COVID-19 tests taken at least 48 hours apart. In this case, you can be around others without a mask, even if it has not been 10 days. 

When to Stay in Isolation

People who become severely ill with COVID-19, especially those who are hospitalized or require breathing support, might need to isolate longer. If you have moderate to severe disease, you may need to isolate for up to 10 days. Some people with severe symptoms that last beyond 10 days may need to isolate even longer, up to 20 days.

This extended isolation period may also apply to those with compromised immune systems. The CDC recommends isolating for up to 20 days if you are moderately or severely immunocompromised. They also recommend a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or antigen COVID test before resuming being around others.

What Does It Mean to Be Immunocompromised?

Being immunocompromised means your immune system, which typically fights off pathogens, is not as strong as it should be, making you more likely to get sick with COVID-19 and be sick longer.

You may be immunocompromised due to a medical condition, such as an immunodeficiency disease or advanced human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or because you take immunosuppressive drugs, including high-dose corticosteroids, biologics, or methotrexate).

If Symptoms Return

If, after you have ended your isolation, COVID-19 symptoms recur or get worse, the CDC advises restarting your isolation at day zero. Contact your healthcare provider if you have questions about coming out of isolation or the need to extend isolation based on your unique health situation.

Isolating From Others in Your Home

Most people who become sick with COVID-19 will have a mild illness and can recover at home. Their symptoms may last a few days, but most will feel better in about a week.

While you recover from COVID-19, you will want to avoid transmitting the virus to others. By isolating, you separate yourself from people in your home who are not sick.

When you isolate at home, spend most of your time in one room, staying away from other members of your household as much as you can. Use a separate bathroom, if possible. Do not share personal household items, including cups, utensils, bedding, and towels.

Consider taking steps to improve the ventilation in your home. You can do this by opening windows and using fans to direct air outside or into the home but not toward others. If you cannot open windows, use a portable air purifier.

If you have to share spaces with others in your household, limit your time in those areas and wear a face mask. Make sure your mask fits well and is comfortable. Your mask should be disposed of and replaced with a new one daily.

While isolating and recovering, monitor your symptoms. If you have severe symptoms, like shortness of breath and trouble breathing, call a healthcare provider immediately or head to your local emergency department.

If You Cannot Isolate

If full isolation is impossible due to work or family commitments, isolate yourself as much as possible from others in your work area or home. Wear a well-fitting mask. Household members and coworkers should also wear masks when around you.

Use disinfecting wipes to wipe down high-touch services in your work area, including desk surfaces, computers, keyboards, telephones, and pens. Try to avoid common areas, such as a break room or a frequently used bathroom.


If you have been exposed to COVID-19, quarantining by wearing a high-quality mask when around others for 10 days is vital to avoid transmitting the virus. Even if you are up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines and haven't developed symptoms, you can still transmit the virus to others. Monitor yourself and test for COVID-19 if you develop symptoms or on the fifth full day after exposure.

If you test positive for COVID-19 or develop symptoms, the CDC recommends isolating for five days and wearing a mask when around others for another five days. Isolation guidelines are to stay home, wear a mask when around others, and separate yourself from others in your household as much as possible.

Your first day of isolation is either the day symptoms start or the day you test positive for COVID-19 if you are asymptomatic. If you have severe symptoms, are hospitalized, or are immunocompromised, you may need to isolate for longer than 10 days. Your healthcare provider can best advise you when to isolate and for how long based on your unique health situation.

While isolating, keep an eye on your symptoms. If they become severe or you have breathing troubles, seek emergency medical care.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.