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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 someone who might have been 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 doctor, Northwestern, or public health.

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?

Individuals are expected to quarantine if they are in close contact with individuals who test positive for COVID-19. Generally, the guidance from the CDC describes that contact as:

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

What do I do if I cannot come onto campus, but my role is not suitable for remote work?

AsiAside from the health and safety of our students, staff, and faculty, one of the University's priorities during this crisis is to minimize the possibility of income disruption to our workforce, especially those most vulnerable.

If you are not in a group that is authorized to return to campus based on the University’s Phased Return to Campus or you are stuck abroad and your job is not suitable for remote work, you may use your accrued, unused vacation, personal floating holidays, and/or incidental sick time to continue receiving pay while you are unable to work.

If you are unable to work due to personal illness, you should use available sick time.  If your available sick time has already been exhausted, you should contact a Benefits Counselor at to discuss available leave options.

Beginning September 1, 2020, if you are required by the University to quarantine or isolate as a result of a suspected or confirmed COVID exposure and you are unable to work from home, you may be paid for the quarantine or isolation time without having to use vacation, personal floating holidays, or sick time.  In order to be eligible for this paid time, (1) your exposure must have occurred in the workplace, (2) your exposure must have been identified through the University’s contact tracing process, and (3) you must have followed all of the University’s COVID-related policies and processes.

For more information on returning to your workspace, please visit the University’s Return to Campus Policy webpage.

What do I do when I am in quarantine?

Quarantine means staying in your home — not going to work, classes, athletic events or other social gatherings — for 14 days. During this period, individuals should limit contact as much as possible, maintaining six feet of social distance from other individuals — including other residents of your home — at all times. While in quarantine, you should:

  • Stay home
  • Watch for fever (100.4◦F), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19
  • If possible, stay away others, especially people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19

How long do I need to stay in quarantine?

Individuals in quarantine should stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19.  In some cases, even if you test negative for COVID-19 or feel healthy, you should stay home since symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

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

What about interactions that are not “close contacts?”

Quarantine is only required in the event of close contacts. However, in certain cases, you may be concerned that you had more than incidental contact that didn’t rise to the level of a close contact. Or, you may have been in contact with someone who was in contact with someone who tested positive with COVID-19. In these cases, you should voluntarily quarantine until a medical provider has determined the significance of the contact, or you continue on symptom-free for 14 days.


When do I need to self-isolate?

You need to self-isolate if you:

  • You have no symptoms (are asymptomatic) but have tested positive for COVID-19.

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

Isolation means staying in your home — 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, if possible.
  • Use a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Avoid contact with other members of the household and pets.
  • Don’t share personal household items, like cups, towels, and utensils.
  • Wear a cloth face covering when around other people, if able.

How long do I need to self-isolate?

If you are positive with COVID-19 and had symptoms, you need to self-isolate until:

  • You have 3 days with no fever and
  • Your respiratory symptoms have improved and
  • It has been 10 days since symptoms first appeared

If you are positive with COVID-19 but never had any symptoms, you need to self-isolate until:

  • 10 days have passed since your positive test

Depending on the availability of testing, you might get tested to see if you still have COVID-19. If you will be tested, you can be around others when you have no fever, respiratory symptoms have improved, and you receive two negative test results in a row, at least 24 hours apart.

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.