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Quarantine and Self-Isolation

Quarantine and self-isolation are two methods of preventing the spread of COVID-19 by separating a person away from others. 

Quarantine is used to keep those exposed to COVID-19 away from others. Quarantine helps prevent spread of disease that can occur before a person knows they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. People in quarantine should stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from your provider, Northwestern, and/or local public health departments.

Isolation is used to separate people infected with the virus (those who are sick with COVID-19 and those with no symptoms) from people who are not infected.

Learn more about both below.


When do I need to quarantine?

Fully vaccinated individuals or those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past three months who are identified via contract tracing are not required to quarantine. Any individuals who are identified via contact tracing who develop symptoms are asked to test for COVID-19 at specific intervals to rule out the presence of a COVID-19 infection.

What do I do when I am in quarantine?

Unvaccinated individuals must quarantine if they are identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Quarantine means staying in your home or assigned on-campus quarantine housing — not going to work, classes, athletic events or other social gatherings. During quarantine, individuals should limit contact with others— including other residents of your home — at all times. While in quarantine, you should:

  • Stay at home or in your assigned on-campus quarantine housing
  • Watch for fever (100.4◦F), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19
  • Stay away from others, especially people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19

How long do I need to stay in quarantine?

In accordance with CDC guidelines, Northwestern recommends a 14-day quarantine for unvaccinated individuals following your last contact with a person who has COVID-19. However, there are options to reduce quarantine length if you remain asymptomatic and test negative for COVID-19 during your quarantine. Of note, quarantine duration may be increased if you develop symptoms or if your last date of known exposure is updated.

The CDC provides helpful guidance for determining when to start and end quarantine.

What about interactions that are not “close contacts”?

Quarantine is required only for unvaccinated individuals in the event of close contacts. However, if you are unsure of your level of exposure, badge yourself red using the Symptom Tracker app, and a contact tracer or case manager can assess your interaction to see if it is deemed a true close contact per CDC guidelines.


When do I need to self-isolate?

Regardless of your vaccination status, you need to self-isolate if you:

  • Have tested positive for COVID-19.

What do I do when I am in self-isolation?

Isolation means staying in your home or assigned on-campus isolation housing — not going to work, classes, athletic events or other social gatherings. People who are in isolation should stay home until it’s safe for them to be around others. In the home, anyone sick or infected should separate themselves from others by staying in a specific “sick room” or area and using a separate bathroom (if available).

If you are in self-isolation, you need to stay home (except to get medical care) and:

  • Monitor your symptoms. If you have an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing), seek emergency medical care immediately.
  • Stay in a separate room from other household members
  • Use a separate bathroom
  • Avoid contact with other members of the household and pets.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items, like cups, towels, and utensils.

How long do I need to self-isolate?

If you are positive with COVID-19 and had symptoms, you need to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days after your symptoms first appeared. Isolation duration may be increased depending on the status of your symptoms during isolation.

If you are positive with COVID-19 but never had any symptoms, you need to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days after your positive test date.

Please refer to the CDC guidance on self-isolation.

Student Quarantine and Isolation

  • Students in on-campus housing will quarantine or self-isolate in designated space in campus facilities. A dedicated team of staff will serve as liaisons to students in these spaces, coordinating move-in and move-out as well as access to food, and assisting with health and wellness needs that arise.
  • Students who do not live in campus housing will be required to self-isolate or quarantine in their off-campus housing or another location. The University will provide health monitoring to off-campus students in isolation or quarantine, but will not provide housing or dining for those purposes.