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Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 exposure, quarantining, and testing

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HONOLULU (KITV4) – As COVID-19 continues to appear in new mutations, the understanding of its effects and how to safely navigate a world impacted by the coronavirus continues to evolve as well.

Recent months have brought numerous updates and changes to both state and national guidelines on when to quarantine, get tested, and return to work or school.

Here are some frequently asked questions about the updated rules and guidelines surrounding COVID-19:

Q: What does it mean to be “exposed” to someone who has COVID-19?

A: Hawaiʻi Department of Health (DOH) defines “exposure” as close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19. Close contact is defined on the DOH website as “within 6 feet of an infected person over a 24-hour period for a combined total of 15 minutes or more.”

Q: If I was exposed to someone infected with COVID-19, do I need to stay home?

A: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements for staying home after being exposed depend on your individual vaccination status.

The CDC recommends that any individual who is NOT “fully vaccinated” or has not had a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the past 90 days and has come in contact with someone who has COVID-19 should stay home and quarantine themselves for 5 days.

If you are fully vaccinated or have had COVID-19 in the past 90 days, and have been exposed to COVID-19, then you do NOT need to quarantine, according to the CDC and the DOH. However, if you live in a group setting or have symptoms after being exposed to COVID-19, the DOH advises that you should quarantine regardless of vaccination status or prior infection.

The CDC also recommends that ANYONE exposed to someone with COVID-19 should get tested for the virus five days after their last known exposure. Employers and organizations may also make their own guidelines for handling a COVID-19 exposure.

Q: How should I quarantine and for how long?

A: If you meet the criteria for quarantining, the CDC recommends you stay at home for five days, starting the day after your exposure to the person with COVID-19.

Avoid others who may live in your house. If you must be around others in your home, the CDC recommends wearing a mask. If at any point during your quarantine you begin experiencing symptoms or test positive, then one should follow the CDC’s isolation guidelines. If not experiencing symptoms or testing positive after the initial five days of quarantine, you may end quarantine.

However, you must still wear a tight-fitting mask when around others and take precautions for an additional five days.

Avoid traveling, monitor symptoms, and do not go places where you cannot wear your mask during this second set of five days.

Q: If I test negative, do I not have to quarantine?

A: According to the DOH, testing negative means that you do not have the virus at the time of the test. However, you should wait for five days after your exposure to ensure an accurate test result. Therefore, the test date should coincide with the end of your initial five-day quarantine period following exposure.

Even after a negative test, the CDC advises you to continue wearing a mask and taking precautions for the recommended ten days from last known exposure.

Q: What do I do if I test positive?

A: If you test positive for COVID-19, the CDC and DOH recommend you isolate yourself, regardless of vaccination status. A description of isolation measures may be found in the answer to the question “When should I “isolate”?” located below.

Q: When should I “isolate”?

A: The CDC instructs anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 or develops symptoms to isolate themselves. According to the CDC, isolation measures involve staying at home for five days and avoiding contact with and wearing a mask near others in your household (similar to quarantine).

Day 1 of the isolation period is the first full day after symptoms develop or your specimen tests positive. Isolation may be ended after five full days if you are fever-free without the use of fever-reducing medications and other symptoms are showing improvement.

If you are asymptomatic, you may end isolation five full days after your positive test result. If you become severely ill with COVID-19, isolate for at least 10 days and consult your doctor before ending isolation. As with quarantining, continue to wear a tight-fitting mask when around others and take precautions for an additional five days after ending your isolation.

Avoid traveling, monitor symptoms, and do not go places where you cannot wear your mask during this second set of five days.

Q: What is the difference between quarantining and isolating?

A: The CDC uses the term "quarantine" for measures taken if you are exposed to COVID-19, but you have not yet tested positive for the virus or are not yet experiencing symptoms.

The CDC uses the term isolation for anyone who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for the virus.

The protocols for quarantining and isolating look relatively similar. Quarantine involves staying home and away from others for a full five days beginning the day after last known exposure to COVID-19, then wearing a mask and taking precautions (described in the answer to "How should I quarantine and for how long?") for an another five days.

Isolating involves the same measures; staying home and away from others for five days, followed by another five days of mask wearing and precautions.

However, there are two main differences between the guidelines for quarantining and isolating; the first being that the stay at home and mask wearing/precautionary periods for isolation measures begin a full day after you begin to experience symptoms or test positive (for more information please see the answer to "When should I "isolate?").

The second major difference is that "quarantine" measures do not need to be taken by individuals who get exposed if they are fully vaccinated OR have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the past 90 days. However, anyone who tests positive for the virus or experiences symptoms is instructed to take "isolation" measures, regardless of vaccination status or prior illness.

Q: When should I get tested?

A: The DOH recommends testing for anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, is experiencing symptoms of the virus, has been referred to get tested by a DOH member or healthcare provider, or has been in a high-risk setting, such as traveling or attending a concert or large indoor event.

Q: When am I considered “full vaccinated?”

A: According to the DOH, individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have received either two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

However, in Maui County, individuals will need to have received a booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated starting on Jan. 24, 2022.

Q: Who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine or booster?

A: The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of five receive the initial and appropriate doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are interchangeably recommended for anyone 18 and older.

Additionally, the CDC recommends anyone 12 and older receive a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine five months after the last dose in their primary series of shots. Those 18 and older may instead receive a Moderna booster shot (regardless of which company manufactured their initial series of vaccines) or, in some cases, even a Johnson and Johnson booster shot.

For more information about COVID-19 guidelines, managing exposures, preventing infection, and vaccinations, please visit the DOH website available at Disease Outbreak Control Division | COVID-19 | COVID-19 FAQs (hawaii.gov) or the CDC website available at COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation | CDC.

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