14 days? 10 days? Seven days plus a test?

By Jeremy Peplow - December 14, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised guidelines for COVID-19 quarantine exposure and decreased the amount of time you need to stay at home. Again.

In its third revision to quarantine exposure guidelines, the CDC now says new data and research are helping to better guide the process of creating these recommendations.

“After reviewing and analyzing new research and modeling data, the CDC has identified two acceptable alternative quarantine periods,” said Dr. Henry Walke of the CDC. “Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier for people to take this critical public health action by reducing the economic hardship associated with a longer period.”

The CDC explained that under the new guidelines, a quarantine can end:

  • after 10 days without a test if the person has reported no symptoms
  • after seven days with a negative test result if the person has reported no symptoms

The CDC said a 14-day quarantine, in which people stay home and avoid interacting with others, is still the safest option if they come into close contact — within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes — with someone who has COVID-19.

portrait of blockquote author

"Most people likely can cut their quarantine time short without posing a risk to others."

- Dr. John Greene

But do the new guidelines increase risk?

“The incubation period is now believed to be skewed toward the shorter end of that 14-day window,”  said Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Department at Moffitt Cancer Center. “So most people likely can cut their quarantine time short without posing a risk to others.”

The CDC indicated in the revised guidance that while reducing the isolation period is not ideal, “economic hardship” and “stress on the public health system” should be weighed as factors in quarantining.

“The CDC, like other leaders in infection prevention, realize there has to be a reasonable balance between reducing the risk of infection spread and overzealous restrictions,” said Greene. “Restrictions can have a great detriment to the mental, financial, emotional and social health of those restricted.”


Figure. Modeled estimates of post-quarantine transmission risk quarantine duration. The light blue bars indicate the daily post-quarantine transmission risk if there is no clinical evidence of COVID-19 elicited during daily symptom monitoring. The dark blue bars indicate the post-quarantine transmission risk with the addition of a negative RT-PCR result from a specimen collected 24-48 hours prior.


Should You Quarantine?

According to the CDC, you should follow quarantine guidelines if:

  • You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more
  • You provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19
  • You had direct physical contact with the person (hugged or kissed them)
  • You shared eating or drinking utensils
  • They sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on you


Note: The CDC has separate interim guidance that is intended to assist with the assessment of risk and application of work restrictions for asymptomatic health care personnel with potential exposure to patients, visitors, or other health care workers with confirmed COVID-19. 

Contact the Author

Jeremy Peplow Interactive Media Manager More Articles


Most Popular