COVID-19 Isolation and Quarantine Guidance for the General Public

Isolation and quarantine are important steps to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Table of Contents

If you test positive for COVID-19 (isolate)

If you test positive for COVID-19 on either a rapid antigen or PCR test, you are required to self-isolate – whether you are vaccinated or not. Do not leave your home, except to get medical care. Do not visit public areas. Self-isolation means separating yourself from others to keep your germs from spreading. Regardless of vaccination status, all individuals who test positive should avoid people who are at high risk of severe disease for 10 days.

  Able to Mask*** Isolation Guidance
Anyone who lives or goes to school in MA
 
Yes

• Stay home and isolate for at least the first 5 days

• If you never had symptoms or symptoms are improving,* may resume most usual activities (except those that do not allow mask wearing) on day 6**

• Wear a mask around others for 10 days (including in the household)

No

• Stay home and isolate for 10 days

• If you never had symptoms or symptoms are improving,* you may resume usual activities on day 11

• Wear a mask around others in the household for 10 days

*Note: If you have or develop symptoms, you must continue to stay home, potentially beyond the 5 or 10 days, until you have not had a fever for 24-hours without the use of fever reducing medicine and your other symptoms are improving.

 ** Testing during isolation is not required. If you test on day 5 and are positive, you must continue to isolate. You may choose to retest sometime between days 6-9 and can resume normal activities while wearing a mask when you test negative or isolate for the full 10 days without retesting.

***Whether the individual is unable to consistently wear a mask due to young age or medical or behavioral condition

Days to Isolate

  • Day 0, first day of symptoms OR day the positive test was taken, whichever is earlier
  • Days 1-4, continue to isolate
  • Day 5, last day of Isolation if asymptomatic or symptoms are improving
  • Day 6, leave isolation (if you are able to wear a mask at all times when around other people, including in your household, through day 10).

While everyone must isolate if required, individuals may be able to return to childcare, school or a healthcare job sooner under certain conditions. See guidance on return to work, school and childcare, below.

If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 (quarantine)

If you are a close contact of someone with COVID, follow the quarantine recommendations below based on your vaccination status and your ability to wear a well-fitting mask consistently and correctly. Regardless of vaccination status, if you were infected with COVID-19 in the prior 90 days you should follow the guidance for those up-to-date on vaccinations; however, testing is not recommended unless you have symptoms, and if you do have symptoms, a rapid antigen test is recommended. All close contacts should avoid people who are at high risk of severe disease for 10 days.

Vaccination Status Able to Mask** Quarantine Guidance
Up-to-date* on COVID-19 Vaccinations 
 
Yes

• No quarantine requirement

• Wear a mask around others for 10 days (including in the household).

• Rapid antigen or PCR on day 5. If positive test, follow Isolation Guidance.

• Isolate and take a rapid antigen or PCR test anytime symptoms develop. If positive test, follow Isolation Guidance.

No

• Quarantine for 10 days after the exposure

• Can end quarantine prior to day 10 if test negative on or after Day 5

• If positive test, follow Isolation Guidance. If no test on or after day 5, must quarantine full 10 days

• Isolate and take a rapid antigen or PCR test anytime symptoms develop. If positive test, follow Isolation Guidance.

Not up-to-date* on COVID-19 Vaccinations or Unvaccinated
 
Yes

• Quarantine for 5 days after the exposure

• Wear a mask during quarantine and for an additional 5 days when around others (including in the household).

• Take a rapid antigen or PCR test on day 5. If positive test, follow Isolation Guidance.

• Isolate and take a rapid antigen or PCR test anytime symptoms develop. If positive test, follow Isolation Guidance.

No

• Quarantine for 10 days after the exposure

• Can end quarantine prior to day 10 if test negative on or after Day 5

• If positive test, follow Isolation Guidance. If no test on or after day 5, must quarantine full 10 days.

• Isolate and take a rapid antigen or PCR test anytime symptoms develop. If positive test, follow Isolation Guidance.

* “Up-to-date” on COVID-19 Vaccinations is defined as:

  • Completed the primary series of Pfizer, Moderna or J&J vaccine AND a booster dose OR
  • Completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last 5 months OR
  • Completed the primary series of J&J vaccine within the last 2 months

** Whether the individual is unable to consistently wear a mask due to young age or medical or behavioral condition

Days to Quarantine

  • Day 0, day of Exposure
  • Days 1-4, continue to quarantine
  • Day 5, continue to quarantine and get tested if you haven't had symptoms
  • Day 6, you can leave quarantine but must continue to wear a mask at all times when around other people (including in your household) through day 10
  • Day 10, last day of quarantine

While everyone must quarantine if required, individuals may be able to return to childcare, school or a healthcare job sooner under certain conditions. See guidance on return to work, school, and childcare, below.

Return to schools, childcare, or certain healthcare settings

Workers in schools, childcare and certain healthcare settings have specific isolation and quarantine standards for returning to their workplaces, as do children returning to school, childcare or camp settings. It should be noted that these standards apply to their specific setting only, and all individuals must follow the isolation and quarantine guidance for the general population when outside of those settings.

Specific guidance and protocols on when individuals may return to these settings:

Return to work guidance for other business sectors

All business sectors must comply with general isolation and quarantine guidance before returning to a work setting.

All other business sectors aside from school, childcare, and certain healthcare settings must comply with general isolation and quarantine guidance outlined above before returning to work, including all non-health care congregate care settings/residential programs and shelters. Additionally, this guidance applies to emergency shelter programs, including individual and family homeless shelters, domestic violence and sexual assault shelters, and Veterans’ shelters.

Frequently asked questions

The guidance issued for schools and childcares is different than the previously issued DESE guidance for schools and EEC guidance for childcare programs. Have those documents been replaced? What guidance should be followed?

The guidance for School, Childcare, and Camp settings is the most up to date guidance for children and students in those settings.  Staff in these settings should follow previously issued guidance by DESE and EEC. Staff in recreational camp settings should follow general population guidance. There is also setting specific guidance for healthcare workers and long-term care facilities.

If a person tests positive with a rapid antigen test (such as over the counter home tests or rapid tests from schools and testing centers) do they need to get a PCR test to confirm they are positive?

No. A PCR test is not necessary or recommended to confirm a positive result on a rapid antigen test. Rapid antigen tests have a low rate of false positives. As a result, a person who tests positive on a rapid antigen test, almost certainly has COVID-19 and must follow isolation guidance.

If a person with COVID-19-like symptoms tests negative on a rapid antigen test, DPH recommends repeating an antigen test in the next 24-48 hours. Alternatively, these individuals could consider getting a PCR test. In the meantime, while waiting to take the additional rapid test or while waiting for the PCR results (which can take 24-72 hours) these individuals should assume they are positive and follow the isolation guidance.

What type of test is recommended for individuals?

Please refer to the Guidance About COVID-19 Testing for details on different test types and recommendations for use.

Does a person need to notify DPH or local board of health if they test positive for COVID-19?

No. In most cases, a public health authority does not need to be notified of a positive COVID-19 test. People should stay home and notify their close contacts about their possible exposure.

Some sectors (e.g. schools, licensed daycare settings, long term care facilities, and other congregate care facilities) have specific reporting requirements and should continue to follow their established procedures for state and local notification of positive cases.

Do state or federal guidelines require employees to show a negative test to return to work following isolation or quarantine? 

No. DPH advises that employers, including schools and childcare providers, should not require a test as a condition of returning to work, school, or childcare. If an employer chooses to require testing, a PCR should not be required. The Department of Public Health’s protocols do not require a return to work or school letter for anyone returning from isolation or quarantine; clearance letters are not necessary, and this requirement is discouraged.

What is the isolation requirement?

If you test positive you must isolate – whether or not you are vaccinated. This isolation means you must be alone, without direct contact with anyone else, until you can no longer spread the virus.

  • This isolation period must last for minimum of 5 days.
  • On Day 6, if you have not had any symptoms OR you have been fever free without the use of fever reducing medications for at least 24 hours and your other symptoms are improving, then you may resume your usual activities.
  • You must wear a well-fitting mask covering your nose and mouth at all times when you are with other people (even in your own household) from days 6 to 10.
  • If you still have a fever or your symptoms are not improving OR you cannot wear a mask at all times, you must continue to isolate for an additional 5 days.

If your symptoms are not resolving on Day 5 then you should continue to isolate until your symptoms are resolving or through Day 10.   

What is the quarantine requirement?

If you have been exposed to COVID AND can effectively mask around others, you do not have to quarantine if you have received a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine, or completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine less than 5 months ago, or completed the primary series of J&J vaccine less than 2 months ago, or had COVID-19 in the last 90 days However, you must still monitor your symptoms for 10 days and wear a well-fitting mask over your nose and mouth at all times when you are around others.  You should get a viral test (antigen or molecular) on Day 5 after your exposure; people who had COVID-19 in the last 90 days should not get tested. If you experience symptoms, stay away from others, seek testing, and contact your healthcare provider.

If you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 and you have not received all doses of vaccine you are eligible for, OR you cannot effectively mask around others, you must quarantine. This means anyone unvaccinated, or anyone who completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine over 5 months ago but has not received a booster dose, or anyone who completed the primary series of J&J over 2 months ago but has not received a booster dose.

If you are required to quarantine, please see the table above to determine the length of quarantine, which is based upon your vaccination status AND your ability to mask effectively around others.

Resources are available to support you if you're required to isolate or quarantine, and need medical, housing, food, or other assistance. If you need help getting resources to stay at home, call your local board of health.

What should I do during isolation and quarantine?

  • If you tested positive or are a close contact required to quarantine, you should:
    • Stay at home
      • Rest if you are not feeling well
      • Use a separate bedroom and bathroom if possible.
      • Wear a mask and do your best to stay at least 6 feet away from other people in the house.
      • Do not leave your house to go to school, work, or run errands. If you have to go to a medical appointment, do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares to get to your appointment.
      • Do not have any visitors to your house during this time.
      • Do not share eating or drinking utensils with anybody.
      • Drink a lot of water. Avoid caffeine and alcohol since it can dehydrate you.
    • If you tested positive, tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.
    • Monitor your health every day and contact your healthcare provider if you have any questions about your health
      • Watch your symptoms. Look for emergency warning signs* for COVID-19. Call 9-1-1 to get emergency medical care immediately if you have:
        • Trouble breathing
        • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
        • New confusion
        • Inability to wake or stay awake
        • Bluish lips or face
      • If you are a close contact and develop symptoms, even if they are mild, you should get a rapid antigen or PCR test
      • If you need to seek medical care, call your doctor first before going and tell them you COVID-19 positive or are within 10 days of exposure to someone with COVID-19.

* This is not a list of all symptoms. Please call your doctor for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

  • All close contacts, even those not required to quarantine, should take these steps to help stop the spread of COVID-19 during the 10 days after exposure:
    • Do your best to stay at least 6 feet away from other people
    • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Do not share eating or drinking utensils with anybody.
    • Monitor your health every day.
    • If you need to seek routine medical care, call your doctor before you go and tell them you are within 10 days of exposure to someone with COVID-19.
    • Avoid people who are at high risk of severe disease for 10 days.

If a person tests positive on Day 5 or later of their quarantine, does their quarantine continue until Day 10?

No. Any time someone tests positive for COVID, whether they have a known exposure, were already in quarantine, or not, they must start isolating, with Day 0 as the date of symptom onset or a positive test, following current guidance, and notify their close contacts.

What should someone do who develops symptoms during their quarantine period?

Whenever anyone has symptoms of COVID they should isolate themselves away from others and get tested. If a COVID-19 test is negative, they should stay home until they feel better. If symptoms persist, they should consider repeating an antigen test in 24-48 hours to ensure they do not have COVID. If they test positive at any time, they must isolate following current guidance and notify their close contacts.

CDC guidance talks about people who are not able to quarantine. What criteria determine quarantining is not possible; who decides?

There are particular congregate settings where individual quarantine spaces may not be available. In those specific instances, the CDC guidance that refers to people who are unable to quarantine may be used. Most people in Massachusetts are required to follow current Massachusetts isolation and quarantine requirements.

How do I know who my close contacts are so that I can tell them they may have been exposed?

Your close contacts include anyone who has been within 6 feet of you for more than 15 minutes while indoors for the 2 days before you got sick or the two days before your positive test was taken if you don’t have symptoms. By telling your close contacts they may have been exposed, you are helping to protect everyone.

  • Make a list of everyone you know who was a close contact. Ask yourself questions to better remember who you might have had close contact with.
    • Where did you go and who were you in contact with in the two days before you had symptoms or tested positive?
    • Did you go to school, work or participate in social or recreational activities? Who was sitting near you during classes, meetings or meals?
    • Did you meet up with friends, go to an exercise class or a place of worship?
    • Did you have any appointments or attend any events?
  • Reach out to individuals you know directly. If you do not know their contact information, you may attempt to inform them through other channels such as notifying the school, gym, church or other location and letting them know you have tested positive, with details about when and where you may have exposed others.
  • Report your positive test on MassNotify, if you have it enabled. If you choose to share your result, other MassNotify users you have been near recently will be alerted that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. These alerts will not include any information about you. The more people who share their codes, the better we will be able to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Where can I find out more about isolation and quarantine?

If you need additional help or information, here are some online resources that are available to you.

Last updated: May 25, 2022
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