OTTAWA — The rules for isolation and quarantine after an exposure to coronavirus are constantly changing, thanks to the availability of vaccines and at-home rapid tests. But one thing hasn’t changed: You should stay home if you are sick, even if you’re vaccinated or still waiting for your test results.
“If you suspect at all that it might be COVID-19, (you should) be staying home,” said Sherri Recker, nursing director for the Putnam County Health Department.
At-home rapid tests are the easiest way to learn your status: Results are available within 20 minutes, no appointment required, while laboratory testing can take anywhere from several hours to several days for results to come back.
The tests are available at pharmacies, grocery stores and even the Lima Public Library, which has been partnering with the Ohio Department of Health to distribute free rapid testing kits to the public.
But those results are only shared with health departments when users complete the recommended telehealth appointment or contact their local health department directly, which can complicate contact tracing efforts now that more people are turning to rapid tests to avoid delays.
Don’t wait for a call
The Putnam County Health Department last week reminded residents to stay home while waiting for their COVID-19 test results and to begin isolation immediately if the results are positive, rather than wait for a contact tracer to call and initiate the isolation process.
The issue: High demand for COVID-19 testing means some labs are taking several days to report results, and it can take another two to three days before contact tracers call due to the high volume of coronavirus cases reported each day.
Cases are likely to continue increasing for the foreseeable future due to the combination of the holidays and the region’s low vaccination rates. But delays in testing and contact tracing mean some won’t learn of their exposure right away and may not be able to quarantine from work until they receive an official notice from a health department.
The timing of a COVID-19 test is also important: It’s best to wait five to seven days after being exposed to the virus to get tested because it can take a few days for a person to become symptomatic or have enough virus in their system to be detected by a nasal swab, Recker said.
Who needs to quarantine
If you’re vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s latest guidelines say you don’t need to quarantine after an exposure unless you develop symptoms. But you should still get tested and wear a mask until your results are back in case you have a breakthrough infection.
Kids don’t have to quarantine from school either so long as they wear a mask and monitor their symptoms.
But if you’re not vaccinated, quarantine guidelines are a bit more rigid: The CDC recommends staying home and monitoring your symptoms for 14 days after your last exposure to the virus, although you may leave quarantine after one week with a negative test result or after 10 days if you never develop symptoms.
If you test positive, isolation should last for at least 10 days or until symptoms improve.