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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?

Individuals are expected to quarantine if they were in close contact with individuals who tested positive for COVID-19. Generally, the guidance from the CDC defines a “close contact” as:

  • Being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for at least 15 cumulative minutes over a 24-hour period.
  • Having direct physical contact with someone who has COVID-19 (touched, hugged, or kissed them)

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

Aside 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 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 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 only required in the event of close contacts. However, if you are unsure of your level of exposure, badge yourself red using the SymptomTracker 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?

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.