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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 their 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?

Guidance for fully vaccinated individuals: Following updated CDC public health guidance, those who are fully vaccinated or who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past three months who are identified via contract tracing are not required to quarantine.

Individuals should get tested five days after their exposure. You can test at either the Jacobs Center or 345 Superior St. in Chicago. You do not need to contact the COVID Response Team – they will contact you if you test positive. You should continue to wear a mask in all indoor settings. 

Guidance for unvaccinated individuals: Those who are unvaccinated and who are exposed to COVID-19 are required to quarantine for five days. If you are unvaccinated and exposed, you need to notify the COVID Response Team by badging red using your SymptomTracker. The Response Team will assist with coordinating a test on Day 5 following your exposure. If this test is negative and you have no symptoms, you will be released from quarantine, but you will still need to continue masking as required on campus.

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 their home — at all times. Individuals in quarantine should:

  • Stay at home or in your assigned on-campus quarantine housing
  • Take a COVID-19 test five days after your exposure
  • 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 requires a five-day quarantine for unvaccinated individuals following last contact with a person who has COVID-19. Of note, quarantine duration may be increased for individuals who develop symptoms or if the 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”?

Given the changes related to the omicron variant, the definition of a “close contact” is less clear – a shorter exposure may still result in transmission. For that reason, if you are unvaccinated and have more than incidental exposure to someone who is positive with COVID-19, the University recommends following the quarantine process. Quarantine is required only for unvaccinated individuals.


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 are required to self-isolate for no less than five days following your first positive test (Day 0). This will be based on the first test you have recorded with the University. 

If you are asymptomatic on Day 5, you may receive an onsite, medically supervised rapid antigen test on campus. If that test is negative, you will be released from isolation.

If your Day 5 test is positive, you are required to complete the remainder of your 10 day isolation period.

If you still have symptoms on Day 5, you are not eligible for a release test. You should complete your early release test when your symptoms cease.

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 on-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.