CDC Launches New COVID Quarantine and Isolation Calculator: How it Works

The new tool is meant to help users determine how long to isolate and quarantine, and offers additional steps to prevent spreading COVID-19.

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There's now an online calculator to help users determine exactly how long they should quarantine or isolate after exposure to COVID-19 or after personally contracting the virus.

The new tool, launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday, uses a series of guided questions to deliver its recommendations and also offers additional tips to help prevent spreading the virus.

"This tool helps people know what to do if they have COVID-19 or have come into close contact with someone with COVID-19," the CDC website states.

How the Calculator Works

The calculator is really intended for two groups of users: those who have tested positive for COVID or have COVID-19 symptoms, and those who have come in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

For people who have mild COVID-19 symptoms or have tested positive, the calculator offers specific guidance about how long they should stay home and away from other people (isolate).

Similarly, the calculator provides a recommended course of action for those who have come in close contact with someone who has COVID-19—detailing whether you need to stay home, and for how long, as well as whether you should get tested and on what specific date the test should be conducted. It even offers a specific timeline regarding how long you should wear a mask around other people if you've been exposed to the virus.

"The calculator provides an additional option to follow CDC guidance on isolation after infection, or quarantine after exposure," Dean Blumberg, MD, the top COVID-19 expert at UC Davis Health and chief of pediatric infectious diseases told "It's the same information provided on their website, but some people may have difficulty interpreting the tables [on the website.] The calculator is just as reliable as the information on the website."

The new calculator also provides definitions of what constitutes close contact—should users be unsure—as well as information about COVID-19 symptoms.

According to the CDC, close contact generally involves having been less than 6 feet away from someone with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, regardless of whether the person was wearing a mask properly. COVID-19 symptoms identified by the calculator include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Calculator users who are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines will receive different recommendations than those who are not up to date or who have not received the vaccine. Additionally, the calculator's guidance is not intended for those who are "moderately or severely ill or immunocompromised," according to the CDC website.

The CDC defines "moderately ill" as people experiencing symptoms that impact the lungs, such as shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Severely ill covers those who require hospitalization or are in intensive care units or on ventilation support.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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