Massachusetts Medical Society: Exposure, Isolation, Quarantine and Clearance

Exposure, Isolation, Quarantine and Clearance

What steps can health care workers take to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The CDC recommends specific safety measures that health care professionals can take to minimize exposure to PUI and confirmed COVID-19 cases and prevent the spread of infection within health care facilities. Read the full interim infection prevention and control recommendations.

What should physicians/health care professionals do when they have been exposed to COVID-19?
All health care professionals are at some risk for exposure to COVID-19, whether in the workplace or in the community. If you develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (fever, cough, or difficulty breathing), do not report to work. If you have an unprotected exposure (i.e., not wearing recommended PPE) to a confirmed or possible COVID-19 patient, contact your supervisor or occupational health immediately. The CDC has outlined risk exposure categories with monitoring recommendations based on the risk category. For more information, see the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Healthcare Personnel with Potential Exposure in a Healthcare Setting to Patients with Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).

What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?
Isolation and quarantine are different. These two terms are not interchangeable. Isolation refers to the separation of sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. Quarantine refers to the separation of asymptomatic people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become ill. People who are have symptoms or are sick with possible or confirmed COVID-19 need to self-isolate at home: If you are sick, stay home.

When can health care professionals who have had an exposure to a patient with COVID-19 return to work?
Information and guidance on return to work has been updated. Read the latest CDC Guidance and the latest DPH Guidance.

When can physicians and health care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 return to work?
Once cleared by the local board of health to return to work, health care workers who return to work should follow the CDC guidance. After returning to work, HCP should:

  • Wear a facemask at all times while in the healthcare facility until all symptoms are completely resolved or until 14 days after illness onset, whichever is longer (an N95 is not required, a standard surgical mask is appropriate)
  • Be restricted from contact with severely immunocompromised patients (e.g., transplant, hematology-oncology) until 14 days after illness onset
  • Adhere to hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and cough etiquette in CDC’s interim infection control guidance (e.g., cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, dispose of tissues in waste receptacles)
  • Self-monitor for symptoms, and seek re-evaluation from occupational health if respiratory symptoms recur or worsen

What is the recommended period of self-isolation for symptomatic patients who are not directed to come in for testing?What is the timeframe for when it is safe come out of self-isolation for patients after testing positive for COVID-19?
DPH’s recommendations are aligned with the CDC recommendations around clearance for people who are symptomatic. These recommendations are the same as for those who have tested positive for COVID-19. Individuals who have respiratory illness are advised to self-isolate and can leave self- isolation after these three things have happened: At least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery defined as: resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications AND improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); AND at least ten days have passed since symptoms first appeared. Read the full CDC guidance here.

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