COVID-19: What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?

April 13, 2020

There is a difference between quarantine and isolation when dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic.


A quarantine is for those people who are NOT ill with COVID-19 but may have significant exposure to a person who was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Health authorities require a 14-day quarantine because COVID-19 symptoms are not apparent immediately and can take up to 14 days to develop.

Bottom line: Quarantine = minimize contact with all except those in household.


Isolation is for those who have COVID-19 that have been diagnosed either through a positive test result or based on symptoms.

Health authorities require 7 days of isolation if ill. Most people who develop COVID-19 recover and are no longer contagious within 7 days of onset of symptoms.  A person can leave isolation by meeting these three criteria:

  1. 7 days since symptoms began
  2. No fever for 72 hours (with no meds to reduce fever)
  3. Cough and shortness-of-breath are improving

Bottom line: Self-isolation = minimize contact with all people INCLUDING those in household

Quarantine and Isolation guidelines for households with COVID-19 diagnosis

For family members who have been in the same household with a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, there is another set of rules to follow.

The family members not ill with COVID-19 start their 14-day quarantine period when either:

  1. the infected person is able to successfully isolate and thus family members have no contact.

  2. if continued exposure to the infected person occurs then when the person to whom they have been exposed meets the 3 criteria for removal from isolation, ie. after a minimum of 10 days.

Thus,  in the second case one could remain in quarantine for 21 days if an infected family member is unable to isolate. Examples of this might be very young children  or those who require significant assistance with activities of daily living. A 14-day quarantine may reset each time another household member gets ill with COVID-19. If at any point you show symptoms, your quarantine period ends to be replaced by one of isolation.

Texas MedClinic was established in 1982 by Dr. Bernard T. Swift, Jr., as a group medical practice that specializes in urgent care and occupational medicine. Texas MedClinic has grown to 13 locations in San Antonio, two in New Braunfels, two in Austin, one in Round Rock and one in Bulverde/Spring Branch. Texas MedClinic is staffed with 82 medical providers including physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners and over 450 employees.

Not a primary care practice, Texas MedClinic is not intended to replace a patient’s primary care physician. The privately-owned clinics offer patients who have urgent medical problems an alternative to the long waiting times at hospital ER’s, the new free-standing emergency rooms, and traditional family doctor offices when appointment times may be filled.

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