COVID cases are rising again. Here’s when to mask, isolate and quarantine

With so many changing guidelines recently, it’s tough to keep track of when to isolate or quarantine — and for how long you should stay away from others. But with COVID-19 cases on the rise again in the US due to the BA.2 omicron subvariant, you may find yourself needing this information.

A new tool from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes the process of determining what to do with your COVID-19 exposure or possible symptoms much easier.

The tool, called the COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation Calculator, takes information about when you were exposed to COVID-19, any symptoms you might have and your vaccination status to provide the appropriate recommendations for your individual situation. Remember that you may need to quarantine when you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, but isolation is reserved for those who have a confirmed case.

Related: Still testing positive for COVID-19 after 10 days? Here’s what to know

When to quarantine

For people who are up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines (meaning they received a full initial series and one booster dose) and those who had the infection within the past 90 days, quarantine isn’t necessary after an exposure unless they have noticeable coronavirus symptoms, according to the latest guidelines.

People who aren’t up-to-date on their vaccinations should quarantine from others for at least five days after close contact with someone who has COVID-19. During that time, they should wear a mask if they need to be around other people. They should also not travel until 10 days after their exposure.

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status and whether or not they have symptoms, should take a COVID-19 test at least five days after their exposure, and they should continue to wear a mask and monitor themselves for 10 days. If they develop symptoms, they should start isolating themselves immediately, the CDC says.

Related: Should you get a 2nd COVID-19 booster shot? Here’s what to know

When to isolate

People who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and develop any symptoms of the infection should get tested and go into isolation until they know the results, the CDC says.

If they test positive for COVID-19, they will need to isolate for at least five days, with day one being the first full day after they had symptoms or got tested. After five days, if they never developed symptoms or they no longer have symptoms and have been without a fever for at least 24 hours, they may be able to end their isolation.

But, if they still have symptoms on day five (or they continue to test positive on a rapid COVID-19 test), they should keep isolating for the full 10 days. Either way, they should keep wearing a mask when around other people for the full 10 days.

People who live with others should try to stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom when isolating. If they need to go near others, wear a mask.

If all of these guidelines are confusing, that’s understandable. And you can use the new CDC calculator to help figure out what makes the most sense for your situation.

When to wear a mask

For the past two months, the CDC has recommended whether to wear a mask in public based on the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions and empty hospital beds in your community. The agency’s online tool helps individuals assess when masks are needed. You should also wear a mask around other people if you’ve been exposed to COVID within the past 10 days or if you have a confirmed case or symptoms, although in these situations isolating from other people altogether is recommended.

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