Whether you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or were potentially exposed to the virus, here’s everything you need to know about quarantining with your family.

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Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Parents.com's COVID-19 Guide for up-to-date information on statistics, disease spread, and travel advisories.

Officials worldwide are working to combat the spread of COVID-19. As one preventative measure, government and health organizations have been asking people with the virus, as well as those who've had potential exposure, to quarantine. Why?

When infected people cough, sneeze, talk, or breathe, contagious droplets are released into the air—and they can cause infection if they come in contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth. The CDC also recognizes that airborne transmission of COVID-19 is possible, especially in enclosed spaces with minimal ventilation. Naturally, being near people who might have the coronavirus increases your risk of contracting the disease. 

little girl leaning head on hand while sitting and looking out a window on a rainy day
Credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

Quarantining if you've had exposure to COVID-19—and isolating yourself if you've tested positive—can limit spread within the community. Keep reading to learn more about the latest guidelines from the CDCD, with tips for quarantining as a family living in the same household.

What to Do After Testing Positive for COVID-19: Self-Isolation

In an effort to limit coronavirus transmission, you must self-isolate after receiving a positive COVID-19 test, or after displaying symptoms of the coronavirus. The most common symptoms are coughing, fever, and shortness of breath, although plenty of others have been reported, according to the CDC. "Isolation keeps someone who is infected with the virus away from others, even in their home," the organization says.

If you received a positive COVID-19 test, you should isolate for 10 days after symptoms first appear, as long as you've been fever-free (without fever-reducing medications) for 24 hours and you're generally improving. Asymptomatic patients can end isolation 10 days after receiving the positive test. (Of course, isolation is hard for parents taking care of children; learn more about this situation below.)

"Most people do not require testing to decide when they can be around others; however, if your healthcare provider recommends testing, they will let you know when you can resume being around others based on your test results," says the CDC.

What to Do After Being Exposed to COVID-19: Self-Quarantine

If you had close contact with a COVID-positive individual, then stay home for 14 days after your last interaction with them. That's because a majority of coronavirus symptoms appear within two to 14 days of exposure to the virus. Quarantining is critical because asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals are still contagious, and they could unknowingly affect other members of the community. "Quarantine keeps someone who might have been exposed to the virus away from others," says the CDC. 

And while the CDC has adjusted the quarantine period for some individuals to seven to 10 days—10 days if no symptoms have developed or seven days with a negative coronavirus test taken within 48 hours of the final day of quarantine—they still recommend a 14-day quarantine "as the best way to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19."

According to the organization, the following situations are defined as close contact that requires self-quarantine.

  • You were within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for longer than 15 total minutes (either at one time or split between multiple encounters)
  • You had physical contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 (for example, you kissed them or hugged them)
  • You were coughed or sneezed on by someone with COVID-19, or they managed to get respiratory droplets on you
  • You cared for someone with COVID-19
  • You used the same eating or drinking utensils as someone with COVID-19 

If you already had and recovered from COVID-19 within 3 months of the exposure, you might not have to quarantine. That's because the risk of re-infection appears low. 

How Long Should My Family Quarantine? 

Staying away from family members who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed is clearly tricky. (Um, how do you isolate from your toddler who needs around-the-clock care?) Many families are faced with quarantining as a unit, and the length of the quarantine depends on the specific situation.

Say you live with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and you're able to isolate from them (for example, your partner has the coronavirus, and they're staying in a separate room). In this case, you should quarantine for a minimum of seven days—granted you receive a negative COVID-19 test—beginning when the patient starts home isolation. 

Another common situation involves maintaining close contact with the infected person (for example, you're caring for your child with COVID-19, or sharing a bed with your infected partner). In situations like this, you need to quarantine for seven to 10 days after the sick person meets the criteria to end home isolation. Also, "you will have to restart your quarantine from the last day you had close contact with anyone in your house who has COVID-19," adds the CDC. "Any time a new household member gets sick with COVID-19 and you had close contact, you will need to restart your quarantine."

Do You Have to Quarantine After Testing Negative for COVID-19?

The answer is yes, because the coronavirus can take time to show up through testing. Also, the current COVID-19 tests aren't 100 percent accurate. Completing an entire seven-day quarantine keeps other members of your community safe.

What to Do During Quarantine With Family 

If you're quarantined, you'll be asked to remain in your home unless you need to visit the hospital. Warn your medical center in advance that you plan to visit, and wear a face mask. Here are some tips to make sure the seven to 14 days go smoothly. 

Monitor symptoms. During quarantine, monitor every member of your household for symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough, fever, and shortness of breath. Alert a healthcare provider if anyone develops symptoms; they may recommend a coronavirus test.

Stock up on non-perishable food. People under quarantine shouldn't run to the grocery store. If COVID-19 cases are rising in your area, consider stocking up canned beans, boxed pasta, jarred sauces, and anything else that won't expire quickly. You might also buy longer-lasting produce like apples and carrots. Don't hoard, though—you'll only be confined to your home for 14 days if quarantined, and other people need supplies as well.

Prepare to work from home. Take measures that allow for telecommuting, if possible—take your work laptop home, set up virtual forms of communication, etc. That way, if you find out you need to quarantine, you can still get some work done.

Put together some entertainment. As you can imagine, you'll probably feel restless when stuck at home for two weeks. Board games, streaming services, and activities will be saving graces for children, so be prepared!

How to Prevent COVID-19 Transmission During Quarantine

Is there an active case of COVID-19 in your household? To prevent possible transmission to others during quarantine, the infected person should isolate themselves. This means:

  • Staying in a separate room
  • Using their own bathroom, if possible
  • Limiting contact with humans and pets
  • Prohibiting unnecessary visitors
  • Wearing a face mask in communal areas
  • Not share dinnerware, towels, and other household items 

Keep in mind that the absolute best way to prevent coronavirus transmission is washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, says Aimee Ferraro, Ph.D., faculty member for Walden University's Master of Public Health (MPH). She also stresses the importance of respiratory hygiene: coughing into your elbow, throwing away used tissues, and disinfecting communal surfaces (like countertops or doorknobs).