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I’ve Been Quarantined for 14 Days What Now?
I’ve Been Quarantined for 14 Days, Can
I Hang Out With Friends & Family Now?
April 1, 2020
By Michael Bohl, MD, MPH
You’ve quarantined for 14 days, your friends or family have quarantined for 14 days, and none of you are showing symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Is it okay to hang out with each other? It’s a common question these days. The short answer is probably not — but there’s more than one reason why.
The “14-day” rule comes from recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both agencies suggest a 14-day quarantine for individuals who may have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. But the key here is that the organizations are talking about quarantine — not about social distancing. Quarantine is the practice of separating people who have been exposed to a disease from the rest of society, to see if they eventually develop the disease. Social distancing is more widespread and is a call from the federal government for everyone — not just those who have been exposed — to avoid groups of more than 10 and maintain physical distance from others. In addition to social distancing, at least 30 states plus the District of Columbia have issued stay-at-home orders, which involve limiting nonessential travel and encouraging or mandating people to stay home except in certain circumstances.
Unless you were exposed to the disease, if you have been staying home and avoiding interacting with others in person, chances are you have been following social distancing and stay-at-home rules — you have not been quarantining. If that is the case, for both legal purposes and public health purposes, you should avoid hanging out with others until the guidelines change — even if they last more than 14 days.
If, however, you’re in one of the states where movement is not restricted and you (or your friend or family member) have actually been quarantining because of exposure to the COVID-19 virus, there are a few things to consider after two weeks have passed.
As mentioned, the CDC and the WHO recommend a 14-day quarantine. This timeframe is based on the estimated incubation period for COVID-19. The incubation period of a disease is the time between when a person is initially infected with an organism and when they first show symptoms. For example, the average incubation period for the flu is two days, with a range of one to four days. This means that, after getting infected with the flu virus, the average person will start showing symptoms after two days (but some will show symptoms after just one day and some will show symptoms after four days).
Public health professionals base quarantine guidelines on the incubation period because, theoretically, if the incubation period has passed and you are not showing symptoms, it is very unlikely you were infected in the first place.
Early estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 were between two and 14 days. This came from some studies that showed the incubation period was likely in that range as well as the known incubation periods for SARS and MERS, diseases that are caused by genetically-similar viruses.
More recent research shows that this incubation period is true — for most people. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the average incubation period for COVID-19 was 5.1 days, meaning the average person shows symptoms 5.1 days after infection. The same study found that 97.5% of patients develop symptoms within 11.5 days, which falls well within the 14-day quarantine period.
However, that same study also found that over 1% of people develop symptoms after 14 days. And it’s not the only documentation of such a thing. On Feb. 22, 2020, Reuters reported about a man who developed symptoms 27 days after exposure. Other research has found that the incubation period ranges from 0 to 33 days (notably, this article has not been peer-reviewed). And a small study found that those who do have the disease may continue to have the virus up to eight days after symptoms end. This falls within the 14 days, but it leaves open the possibility that someone could have mild symptoms (as nearly 81% of people do) followed by eight asymptomatic days, which, in total, may stretch longer than 14 days.
This is a lot of numbers at once, but the takeaway is this: The chance of an asymptomatic person who has been quarantined for 14 days passing the virus on to somebody else is definitely low, but it is not zero.
Whether or not you decide to see others after a 14-day quarantine depends on the level of risk you (or they) are willing to assume. COVID-19 is a fatal disease, so this is especially important to consider if you or your friends/family fall into one of the categories considered to be at higher risk for developing severe illness. These include individuals over the age of 65, individuals living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, and individuals with certain chronic conditions.
So, What Can You Do In the Meantime?
If you’re just getting stir-crazy and need a change of scenery, it is still safe for you to go outside. If you’re careful what you touch and remember to practice social distancing, you most likely won’t catch COVID-19 from a jog in the park.
If you need mental stimulation, institutions like Yale are providing certain courses online for free, which you can enroll in and discuss with your friends.
If you want to spend some quality time with others — or maybe you’re thinking of upcoming holidays like Easter and Passover — luckily, we live in the world of technology. Companies like Jackbox Games make it possible to play games with others from the comfort (and safety) of your own home, while companies like Zoom make it possible to video chat with several (or even hundreds) of people at once.
Social distancing does not have to equal social isolation. But managing this virus does require cooperation by everyone. If you live in an area with stay-at-home orders, follow them until they are lifted. If you have been quarantining but do not live in one of these areas, before you see your friends and family, keep in mind that most — but not all — people experience symptoms within 14 days. And either way, continue to follow social distancing guidelines until the federal recommendations change.
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