Whether you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or were potentially exposed to the virus, here’s everything you need to know about quarantining with your family.

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Parents.com's COVID-19 Guide for up-to-date information on statistics, disease spread, and travel advisories.

Officials worldwide are working to combat the spread of COVID-19. As one preventative measure, government and health organizations have been asking people with the virus, as well as those who've had potential exposure, to quarantine. Why?

When infected people cough, sneeze, talk, or breathe, contagious droplets are released into the air—and they can cause infection if they come in contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth. The CDC also recognizes that airborne transmission of COVID-19 is possible, especially in enclosed spaces with minimal ventilation. Naturally, being near people who might have the coronavirus increases your risk of contracting the disease. 

Quarantining if you've had exposure to COVID-19—and isolating yourself if you've tested positive—can limit spread within the community. Keep reading to learn more about the latest guidelines from the CDC, with tips for quarantining as a family living in the same household.

What to Do After Testing Positive for COVID-19: Self-Isolation

In an effort to limit coronavirus transmission, you must self-isolate after receiving a positive COVID-19 test, or after displaying symptoms of the coronavirus. Some of the most common symptoms are coughing, fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose, and fatigue, although plenty of others have been reported, according to the CDC. "Isolation is used to separate people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 from those without COVID-19," the organization says. 

If you received a positive COVID-19 test, you should self-isolate for at least five full days after symptoms first appear, regardless of your vaccination status. Consider day 0 as the first day of symptoms, or the day of a positive viral test for asymptomatic people. Day 1 is the first full day after you noticed symptoms. Stay away from others in the household during this time, and wear a well-fitting mask when you need to be around them.

After the five days are over, you should continue wearing a mask for an additional five days around others in your household, as well as in public. Other guidelines depend on your symptoms.

  • If you had symptomatic COVID-19, you can end isolation after five full days, as long as you've been fever-free (without fever-reducing medications) for 24 hours and you're generally improving. Those with continued fever or non-improving symptoms should wait to end isolation until they meet the aforementioned requirements. If you want to take an antigen test, the CDC recommends taking it towards the end of the five-day isolation period. You should avoid travel until at least 10 days after your first day of symptoms. Also, don't go anywhere where you need to remove your mask, like a restaurant, during this time.
  • For an asymptomatic infection that continues to have no symptoms, you can end isolation after five days, as long as you mask up around others for 10 days. The five-day isolation period should restart if you develop symptoms; day 0 would be when your symptoms appear. Follow the guidelines mentioned above for testing, travel, and visiting places without masks.
  • If you were severely ill with COVID-19, or you have a weakened immune system, the CDC recommends possibly isolating for longer. "CDC recommends an isolation period of at least 10 and up to 20 days for people who were severely ill with COVID-19 and for people with weakened immune systems. Consult with your healthcare provider about when you can resume being around other people," says the organization.

What to Do After Being Exposed to COVID-19: Self-Quarantine

If you had close contact with a COVID-positive individual, you should stay home for at least five days after your last interaction with them (the date of exposure is considered day 0). That's because a majority of coronavirus symptoms appear within two to 14 days of exposure to the virus. Quarantining is critical because asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals are still contagious, and they could unknowingly affect other members of the community. "Quarantine keeps someone who might have been exposed to the virus away from others," says the CDC. 

The following situations are defined as close contact that requires self-quarantine.

  • You were within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for longer than 15 total minutes total (either at one time or split between multiple encounters)
  • You had physical contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 (for example, you kissed them or hugged them)
  • You were coughed or sneezed on by someone with COVID-19, or they managed to get respiratory droplets on you
  • You cared for someone with COVID-19
  • You used the same eating or drinking utensils as someone with COVID-19 

Anyone exposed to COVID-19 should watch for symptoms for 10 days after their last contact with the infected person, says the CDC. Test immediately if you develop them, and isolate until you get results (follow the CDC guidelines for isolation if you test positive). If you don't develop symptoms, you should still test after five days to be safe, and wear a mask around others for a full 10 days. Avoid travel during the five-day quarantine period (or for 10 days, if you haven't been tested), and avoid going places where you need to remove your mask, like restaurants. 

According to the CDC, you don't need to quarantine after exposure in the following situations.

  • You already had and recovered from COVID-19 within 3 months of the exposure. That's because the risk of re-infection appears low.
  • You're 18 or older, fully vaccinated, and boosted. 
  • You're 5-17 years old and fully vaccinated. 

If you fit into one of these categories, you still "should wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days from the date of your last close contact with someone with COVID-19 (the date of last close contact is considered day 0)," says the CDC. Also get tested at least five days after the close contact; those with positive results should isolate according to CDC guidelines.

What to Do During Quarantine With Family 

Staying away from family members who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed is clearly tricky. (Um, how do you isolate from your toddler who needs around-the-clock care?) Many families are faced with quarantining as a unit, and the length of the quarantine depends on the specific situation. Here are some tips for making the time go smoothly.

Monitor symptoms. During quarantine, monitor every member of your household for symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, runny nose, or sore throat. Alert a healthcare provider if anyone develops symptoms; they may recommend a coronavirus test.

Stock up on non-perishable food. People under quarantine shouldn't run to the grocery store. If COVID-19 cases are rising in your area, consider stocking up canned beans, boxed pasta, jarred sauces, and anything else that won't expire quickly. You might also buy longer-lasting produce like apples and carrots. Don't hoard, though—you'll usually be confined to your home for five days if quarantined, and other people need supplies as well.

Prepare to work from home. Take measures that allow for telecommuting, if possible—take your work laptop home, set up virtual forms of communication, etc. That way, if you find out you need to quarantine, you can still get some work done.

Put together some entertainment. As you can imagine, you'll probably feel restless when stuck at home. Board games, streaming services, and activities will be saving graces for children, so be prepared!

How to Prevent COVID-19 Transmission During Quarantine

Is there an active case of COVID-19 in your household? To prevent possible transmission to others during quarantine, the infected person should isolate themselves. This means:

  • Staying in a separate room
  • Using their own bathroom, if possible
  • Wearing a face mask in communal areas
  • Limiting contact with humans and pets
  • Prohibiting unnecessary visitors
  • Not sharing dinnerware, towels, and other household items 
  • Practicing proper hand hygiene
  • Improving ventilation, if possible