Isolation and Quarantine

Isolation vs. Quarantine: What's the Difference?

With COVID-19 safety guidelines evolving constantly,  it can be difficult to keep up with the latest safety measures. On this page you'll learn the difference between "quarantine" and "isolation," and how your vaccination status determines how you might need to respond to a potential COVID infection.

Definintions Are Important

Although the words "quarantine" and "isolation" are often used interchangably, they actually mean different things in the context of public health. 

  • Quarantine is a precautionary measure for individuals who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, but are unsure whether they have the virus themselves.
  • Isolation, on the other hand, is for individuals who definitely or likely have COVID: either they tested positive on a PCR or rapid test, or they have COVID-like symptoms. 

One main difference is that isolation requirements are the same for everyone, regardless of vaccination status -- whereas quarantine requirements differ depending on your vaccine status. 

Understanding THE Requirements

The chart below provides some context on each category of individual, depending on their vaccination status, and the requirements for quarantine and isolation. 

Vaccination Status Weekly On-Campus
Testing Requirement?
Quarantine
Requirements
Isolation
Requirements
You have already received the booster shot No

If you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 but are not showing any symptoms, you are not required to quarantine.

If you become sympomatic during that five-day period OR if you test positive, you must go into isolation (see right).

If you are showing COVID-19 symptoms OR you have tested positive, you are required to isolate  for a minimum of five days. 

Isolation may end on day 5 if you are no longer symptomatic and have been fever-free for the past 24 hours (without the use of pain relievers such as Tylenol or Advil).

You are eligible* for the booster shot, but have not received it
Yes - you must still be tested every week

If you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 but are not showing any symptoms, you must quarantine for five days.

If you become sympomatic during that five-day period OR if you test positive, you must go into isolation (see right).

see above
You have completed the initial vaccinations, but are not yet eligible* for a booster
No

If you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 but are not showing any symptoms, you are not required to quarantine.

If you become sympomatic during that five-day period OR if you test positive, you must go into isolation (see right).

see above
You have been approved for an exemption from the College's vaccine requirement (i.e., you do not have your initial vaccinations**)
Yes - you must still be tested every week If you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 but are not showing any symptoms, you must quarantine for five days.

If you become sympomatic during that five-day period OR if you test positive, you must go into isolation (see right).

see above

Some Examples

Below are a few fictional examples that will help shed some light on how quarantine and isolation are distinct from each other. 

Example 1

Frances had her second Pfizer dose nine months ago, but has not yet received a booster shot. She just learned that she was exposed to someone with COVID. Does she have to quarantine?
Yes. Because it has been more than five months since her initial Pfizer vaccination, she is eligible for a booster shot. Studies show that the antibodies we received from our initial vaccinations begin to fade over time. Frances must quarantine for five days, because she is at higher risk of becoming ill with COVID -- and possibly infecting others as well. 

Example 2

Sally got her second Moderna dose two months ago, but has not yet had her booster shot. Like Frances above, she was just exposed to someone with COVID. Does she have to quarantine? 
No. This is because, according to the CDC, Sally still has a higher level of antibody protection from her initial vaccinations, and thus is not required to quarantine. She will not be eligible for a booster shot for several more months.

Example 3

Henry received the booster shot last month. Today, he tested positive for COVID-19 but has no symptoms and feels fine. Does he need to go into isolation?
Yes. Anyone who tests positive for COVID must isolate for a minimum of five days, even if they have no symptoms. This is because those who have received the booster shot may have lesser or no symptoms, but are still capable of spreading the virus to others in the early stages of their own infection.

Booster Shot Eligibility Requirements

*As of January 2022, the CDC defines eligibility for a booster shot as:

  • Five or more months following the second Moderna or Pfizer dose
  • Two or more months following the Johnson & Johnson dose

**In this context, "initial vaccinations" means that the individual has completed the primary two doses of Pfizer/Moderna or the single J&J dose.


This page was last updated on Jan. 28, 2022.

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