Have you been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or are you experiencing symptoms? You may be asked by your health care provider to self-isolate or quarantine.  

These words have been used interchangeably because they both require you to stay home and stay away from others. However, there’s a difference between these terms.  

What is Isolation? 

Isolation asks a sick person who is infected with COVID-19 to stay home and separate themselves from others, including those within their household. 

Regardless of vaccination status, if you test positive or have symptoms of COVID-19 you must: 

    • Stay home and isolate for 5 days.
    • If you have no symptoms or symptoms have improved after 5 days, you can leave your house.
    • Continue to wear a mask around others for an additional 5 days, including around the house.


What Does Isolation Look Like?

1. Stay home and do not go out in public.

Do not leave your house or isolation zone for any reason. This means not going to in-person classes, going to work or running essential errands. 

Use contactless delivery to get your essential needs, such as food and meals.  

2. Stay away from other members in your household.

This means staying in your room or designated isolation zone within your house or residence hall.  

3. Avoid sharing personal items.

Do not share any personal items with others within your household including blankets, pillows, sheets, towels, dishes, cups, and utensils. 

4. Wear a mask.

Wear your mask every time you leave your isolation zone, such as using a shared bathroom, or when interacting with others–such as with your caretaker.  

It is not recommended to get another COVID-19 test to see if you get a negative result due to the high demands of testing. If you experience loss of taste or smell as one of your COVID-19 symptoms, it may take weeks or even months to regain those senses. 

What is Quarantine?  

Quarantine asks a healthy person who had close contact to someone infected with COVID-19 to stay home to avoid becoming sick. 

If you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19, follow the guidance below: 

If you are fully vaccinated & boosted OR are waiting to be eligible for your booster

If you have received your booster shot OR are within 6 months of getting Pfizer & Moderna or within 2 months of J&J you must: 


    • Wear a mask around others for 10 days. 
    • Test on day 5 if possible. 
If you are fully vaccinated & are not boosted

If you are late to getting your booster shot–meaning you are past 6 months for Pfizer & Moderna or 2 months past J&J–you must quarantine: 


    • Stay home for 5 days. After that, continue to wear a mask around others, including those within your household for an additional 5 days. 
    • You must wear a mask for the full 10 days. 
    • Test on day 5 if possible. 
If you are not fully vaccinated
    • Stay home for 5 days. After that, continue to wear a mask around others, including those within your household for an additional 5 days. 
    • You must wear a mask for the full 10 days. 
    • Test on day 5 if possible. 

What Does Quarantine Look Like? 

1. Stay home as much as possible.

Stay home and do not attend in-person classes or go to work. 

Limit the number of outings for only getting essential needs. Use online shopping, curbside pickup, or delivery whenever possible. 

2. Physically distance yourself from others.

Stay away from others within your household. Do not invite others into your home or visit others in their home. 

3. Wear a mask.

This means wearing a mask while running errands and being in spaces where physical distancing is difficult. 

4. Wash or sanitize your hands often.

Wash your hands often for 20 seconds with soap and running water. When hand washing isn’t available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. 

5. Avoid touching your face.

Avoid touching your faceespecially your eyes, mouth, nose, and ears, with unwashed hands.  

So, What’s the Difference? 

The main difference between the two terms is that isolation is for someone who is sick, and quarantine is for someone who might be sick 

Either way, here are some tips to keep yourself entertained while alone in isolation or quarantine: 

    • Stay connected with friends and family through phone and video calls. 
    • Get creative by coloring, painting, or drawing. 
    • Stay away from watching COVID-19 news by binge-watching a new TV show. 
    • Read a book or start a virtual book club with friends. 
    • Practice self-care by taking a bath or having a spa night with a cleansing face mask (and yes–facemasks are good for men, too). 
    • Host a Zoom game night or play online video games with friends on Discord. 
    • Teach yourself a new skill or online software such as the Adobe Suite. 
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Amy Nelson

Amy Nelson graduated in 2020 with a degree in Art: I-Design. As a student, she worked with the University Marketing & Communications team as a writer and photographer. She was hired after graduation to support public health communications during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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