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Posted on: June 13, 2020

Isolation and Quarantine: Your Questions Answered

One of the most effective tools we have to slow the spread of COVID-19 is “boxing the virus in.” This includes isolating yourself if you have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, and quarantining yourself if you have been exposed to someone with a confirmed case. Both of these actions greatly reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.

What is quarantine?

  • Quarantine is the action taken after close contact with a person who has a confirmed case of COVID-19. It separates healthy individuals, who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but do not have any symptoms, from other people. 
  • Close contact means being within six feet of a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more.
  • Quarantine includes staying home and away from others until 14 days after having been exposed to someone with a confirmed case. It also includes not having visitors, staying at least six feet away from others in your household, and not sharing things like towels and utensils.
  • If you are a close contact of a person with confirmed COVID-19, you should contact your healthcare provider to ask about testing. One of our case contact investigators will contact you if you are being asked to voluntarily quarantine, and you will receive calls daily to support you and your household in the quarantine process. You will receive a memo describing your quarantine status and another memo describing your release from voluntary quarantine.
  • The quarantine period ends after 14 days if you don’t develop symptoms. Monitor yourself for symptoms each day. If symptoms start, begin isolation.

What is isolation?

  • Isolation takes place if you have a confirmed case of COVID-19, while you are waiting for test results, or if you have symptoms of COVID-19. Isolation is used to keep sick individuals separated from healthy people so that they don’t spread COVID-19 to others.
  • Avoid interactions with other people in your household. Do not eat meals together and use a separate bathroom if available. 
  • Isolation includes staying home and away from others until it has been 72 hours since your fever is gone and symptoms are better, and at least 10 days after symptoms first started.
  • One of our case contact investigators will contact you if you are being asked to voluntarily isolate and you will receive calls daily to support you and your household in the isolation process. You will receive a memo describing your isolation status and another memo describing your release from voluntary isolation.

Are isolation and quarantine required?

  • People who are in isolation or quarantine are asked to do so voluntarily. They are contacted on a regular basis by a public health representative to provide support, check on their condition and symptoms, and to see how they and their household are coping. 

Are people at an isolation/quarantine facility required to stay until they have completed their 14 day quarantine or 10 day isolation period?

  • Guests at the isolation/quarantine facility do so voluntarily until they are effectively released from care. Guests are provided with meals, laundry, television, and other essential items in order to successfully complete their quarantine or isolation period. Staff are present on site at all times to provide support. 

Why are people at the isolation/quarantine facility not required to stay until they have completed their time?

  • Voluntary quarantine or isolation is a proven public health strategy that has been used successfully for decades. We hope people will continue to protect their families and communities by following public health recommendations. A local health officer has the authority to involuntarily isolate or quarantine an individual, but this authority is only used as a last resort when someone is intentionally putting others at risk. We are striving to ensure access to services for those who need them to make staying at home possible or to provide a safe space for anyone who needs one.

Why are isolation and quarantine facilities important to protect the public’s health?

  • Having dedicated spaces for individuals to stay throughout their quarantine period or illness prevents disease exposure to the public. Isolation and quarantine play an important role in preventing outbreaks among everyone in Whatcom County, and especially individuals who are unable to safely isolate or quarantine, such as people living homeless or in congregate housing. Additionally, those who cannot safely isolate themselves from a family member who is elderly or medically fragile may need to stay in an isolation or quarantine facility. 
  • Vulnerable populations are people who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 including:
    • Those living in congregate settings like nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or shelters
    • People 65 years or older
    • People of all ages with underlying health conditions or individuals with a compromised immune system.

How is social or physical distancing different from quarantine or isolation?

  • Social or physical distancing is taking action to intentionally keep enough physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. This might mean:
    • Staying at least six feet from people not in your household to decrease your chance of spreading illness. 
    • Attending work, medical appointments, or social events remotely.
    • Ordering food and other items online or using curbside pickup.
    • Wearing a face mask to create an additional physical barrier.

I need to quarantine/isolate but I don’t have the support I need. How can I get help?

  • We are committed to supporting people who are affected by COVID-19. Our goal is to provide the support and resources needed for people so they can to protect themselves and others. 
  • If you have been asked to quarantine or isolate, we will contact you within 24 hours. We will help you make a plan for successful quarantine or isolation and will check in with you daily. This includes asking you about the resources you need to be at home for 10 to 14 days. This could include connecting you to assistance for rent, utilities, childcare, and food. 
  • We can help you determine if you can safely isolate/quarantine at home or if an isolation/quarantine facility is the best option for you to safely meet your household needs to quarantine or isolate. 

I am a parent and need to quarantine/isolate. How can I get help to care for my children if I need to stay at an isolation/quarantine facility?

  • We work with each family and household to make a plan that protects each family member. The goal is to work through options that best meet the health and safety needs of all household members. 
  • If you have been asked to quarantine or isolate, we will contact you within 24 hours and will check in with you daily. We will help you make a plan for successful quarantine or isolation. This includes asking you about the resources you need to be at home for 10 to 14 days. This could include connecting you to assistance for rent, utilities, childcare, and food. 

For more guidance about isolation and quarantine, see these resources: 

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