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, except to receive medical care. 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.  

Share a common bathroom safely with others by checking out our tips which include increasing ventilation, wearing a mask, and waiting in-between uses.

3. Avoid sharing personal items.

Avoid sharing 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.  

To end isolation, it must be a full 5 days since the onset of symptoms and symptoms must be improving (such as fever free for 24 without using medication). It is not recommended to get another COVID-19 test to see if you get a negative result to end isolation. 

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. 

How to Combat Symptoms

Stay Hydrated

Stay hydrated by drinking water and electrolytes, such as Gatorade. Hot beverages such as herbal or mint teas can help with throat discomfort and congestion.

Eat Nutritious Foods

Food is medicine. Aim to eat nutritious foods that are high in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C that helps your immune system. Fruit smoothies, popsicles, and soups can help ease discomfort from a sore throat.

Take Medicine

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Ibuprofen help to reduce fever and pain. Other cold and flu medicines such as DayQuil, NyQuil, and Mucinex may help to combat other symptoms such as cough and congestion.

Before taking any medication, read the directions and take as directed.


Get plenty of rest while recovering from COVID-19. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself to stay awake if you are not feeling well. Sleeping may help to speed up your recovery.

Take Hot Showers or Baths

Taking hot showers or baths can help ease congestion and give comfort while combating a fever. Showering may also help to bring some normalcy back into your life.

Use a Hot Pad or Cold Pack

Using heat or ice can help ease chest pain, muscle aches, headaches and fever. 


Aromatherapy may help combat symptoms of COVID-19. Essential oils such as peppermint can help with congestion, muscle aches and headaches; lavender can help reduce anxiety and stress.

Pro Tip: add a few drops of peppermint oil to your shower or bath to further help ease congestion.

Monitor Your Mental Health

While coping with COVID-19, stay connected with friends and family by calling or video chatting. 

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 & up to date on vaccinations.

If you are fully vaccinated & boosted OR are waiting to be eligible for your booster (completed your initial series within 5 months of getting Pfizer & Moderna or within 2 months of J&J) you must: 

    • Wear a mask around others for 10 days, including within the home.
    • Test on day 5 after last known exposure, if possible. 
    • If exposure is unknown (notified via a contract tracer), get tested immediately after being notified and again if results are negative.
If you are not fully vaccinated OR not up to date on vaccinations

If you unvaccinated or are late to getting your booster shot (past 5 months for Pfizer & Moderna or 2 months past J&J for your initial series) you must quarantine: 

    • Stay home for 5 days. After that, wear a mask an additional 5 days. 
    • You must wear a mask for a full 10 days, including within the home.
    • Test on day 5 after last known exposure, if possible. 
    • If exposure is unknown (notified via contact tracer), please get tested immediately after being notified and again if results are negative.

If symptoms develop or tests come back positive...

Please start isolating immediately and contact Ask-A-Nurse. Review the guidance above for how to isolate safely.

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 if you are not up to date on your vaccinations.

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.