Quarantine rules become more nuanced

EL CENTRO – The quarantine rules for persons who have been exposed to COVID-19 became much more complicated Monday with the introduction of a new county health order that takes into account vaccination history, previous illness from the virus and several other considerations.

For the better part of the past year, guidelines regarding COVID-19 exposure and self-isolation have been pretty straightforward: Persons who had been exposed to someone who had contracted the virus were expected to stay at home and away from non-infected people for a minimum of 14 days.

Although the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health still advocate this strategy in principle, both have begun carving out exceptions as more people have become immune – either naturally or through vaccination – and as more is understood about the disease.

Updates to the county’s quarantine rules include separate guidance for individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  Someone is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccination series, or two weeks after receiving one dose of a single-dose vaccination series.

In general, persons who have been fully vaccinated against COVID no longer than three months prior to exposure to COVID-19 do not have to quarantine, so long as they do not develop symptoms within the 14-day exposure period.

The same is true for persons who have recovered from COVID-19 within the previous three months. They also, for the most part, are exempt from quarantine.

Members of the general public who have been exposed to COVID and are asymptomatic may discontinue quarantine 10 days after date of exposure if they are not experiencing symptoms. This is true regardless of whether they receive a COVID test. However, they must continue to monitor themselves for symptoms for the full 14 days and wear a face covering at all times when not in quarantine. If symptoms do develop over those last few days, they should isolate immediately.

Nothing has changed for hospital patients and persons in congregate living facilities, such as nursing homes and jails. These patients must quarantine for 14 days after exposure regardless of vaccination or previous recovery from COVID.

The health department defines COVID-19 exposure as close contact with household members, intimate partners, caregivers or others who have either been diagnosed with the disease or who are likely have contracted it.

Close contact with a COVID-positive person is seen as being within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes (cumulatively) over a 24-hour period,  or having unprotected contact with that person’s bodily fluids  (such as being coughed on or sneezed on, sharing utensils, or drinking out of the same container). This would have happened 48 hours before the COVID-positive patient’s symptoms began until that person is no longer required to be isolated. In the event the positive person is asymptomatic, close contact would be within 48 hours of a positive COVID test until the end of the person’s isolation.

There are separate quarantine rules for health care professionals (HCPs) and congregate setting employees. In cases where either is vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 within the previous three months, the rules are the same as they are for the general public: In the absence of symptoms, no quarantine is necessary.

After that, the rules become more nuanced. For instance, an HCP who has not been vaccinated or who has recently recovered from COVID-19 may follow the same guidelines as the general public: 10 days of quarantine, followed by four more days of extra mindfulness.

But if the HCPs work in a hospital and that hospital is experiencing a critical staffing shortage, then those employees may return to work after seven days so long as they have received a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result from a specimen collected at least five days from the date of last exposure to a COVID-positive person. They will still be required take extra care and self-monitor for the full 14-day exposure period, however.

As mentioned earlier, congregate setting employees can’t dodge a 14-day quarantine at all … unless their employer is running short on staff. In that case, they can get a pass with the previously explained 10-days of self-isolation (without symptoms) or seven days with a PCR test.

To review the county order in its entirety, go to https://www.icphd.org/media/managed/0covid19orders/Amended_Health_Officer_Order_Non_Immunocompromised_7_23_20.pdf

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