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Quarantine and Isolation

Q: What is considered to be a close contact?

A: A close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of someone who has probable or confirmed COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

UpdatedQ: What steps should an agency take if an individual who is up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, or had confirmed COVID-19 within the last 90 days, has a known close contact with someone with COVID-19?

A: If an asymptomatic individual has a known close contact with someone with COVID-19, they do not need to quarantine if they are up to date with COVID-19 vaccines or if they had confirmed COVID-19 within the last 90 days (i.e., they tested positive using a viral test).

Pursuant to Executive Order 13991 and consistent with CDC guidance, agencies must instruct these individuals to watch for symptoms for 10 full days after they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19 (the date of last close contact is considered day 0 and day 1 is the first full day after they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19). Agencies also must instruct these individuals to take precautions when working onsite at an agency workplace or interacting with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities for 10 full days from the date they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19, including wearing a well-fitting mask when around others (see FAQs on mask-wearing), avoiding eating and drinking around others, avoiding environments such as dining facilities and gyms where they may be unmasked around others, avoiding people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease, and avoiding nursing homes and other high-risk settings. If an individual is unable to wear a mask, then they must not enter a Federal facility or interact with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities for 10 days.

As part of agency testing protocols, and pursuant to Executive Order 13991 and consistent with CDC guidance, agencies must require that such individuals working onsite at an agency workplace or interacting with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities be tested at least 5 full days after they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19 (unless they tested positive for COVID-19 with a viral test within the previous 90 days and subsequently recovered and remain without COVID-19 symptoms, in which case they do not need to get tested after close contact). If they test positive or if they at any time develop COVID-19 symptoms, they must follow agency protocols on isolation. If the individual is not working onsite at an agency workplace or interacting with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities within 10 days of the close contact, then the agency should not require them to be tested.

CDC’s setting-specific guidance provides additional recommendations for settings such as congregate settings and healthcare settings; where there is a conflict with more general guidance, agencies must follow the setting-specific guidance should be followed. CDC generally recommends a 10-day quarantine for certain congregate settings (including correctional or detention facilities) that have a high risk of secondary transmission. Decisions to shorten quarantine in these settings should be made in consultation with State, local, Tribal, or territorial health departments and should take into consideration the context and characteristics of the facility.

UpdatedQ: What steps should an agency take if an individual who is not up to date with COVID-19 vaccines has a known close contact with someone with COVID-19?

A: If an individual who is not up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, and has not had confirmed COVID-19 within the last 90 days, has a known close contact with someone with COVID-19, they must follow agency quarantine protocols and not enter a Federal facility or interact with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities for at least 5 full days after their last close contact with someone who has COVID-19 (the date of exposure is considered day 0, and day 1 is the first full day after they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19). If they are unable to wear a mask when around others, such as pursuant to a medical condition or disability for which they have received a reasonable accommodation from their agency, they must not enter a Federal facility or interact with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities for 10 full days.

During quarantine, agencies must, pursuant to Executive Order 13991 and consistent with CDC guidance, instruct an individual to watch for COVID-19 symptoms, and if they develop symptoms, to follow agency protocols for isolation. The agency also must instruct individuals who have quarantined to continue to take precautions when working onsite at an agency workplace or interacting with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities for 10 full days from the date they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19, including wearing a well-fitting mask when around others (see FAQs on mask-wearing), avoiding eating and drinking around others, avoiding environments such as dining facilities and gyms where they may be unmasked around others, avoiding people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease, and avoiding nursing homes and other high-risk settings.

As part of agency testing protocols and pursuant to Executive Order 13991 and consistent with CDC, agencies must require that these individuals be tested at least 5 full days after they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19. If they test negative, they can return to their workplace and interact with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities. If they test positive, they should follow CDC recommendations on isolation.

If the individual is unable to get a test 5 days after they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19, an agency may determine it will allow them to return to their workplace after day 5 if they have been without COVID-19 symptoms throughout the 5-day period. If the individual is not working onsite at an agency workplace or interacting with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities within 10 days of the close contact, then the agency should not require them to be tested.

CDC’s setting-specific guidance provides additional recommendations for settings such as congregate settings and healthcare settings; where there is a conflict with more general guidance, agencies must follow the setting-specific guidance, pursuant to Executive Order 13991. CDC generally recommends a 10-day quarantine for certain congregate settings (including correctional or detention facilities) that have a high risk of secondary transmission. Decisions to shorten quarantine in these settings should be made in consultation with State, local, Tribal, or territorial health departments and should take into consideration the context and characteristics of the facility.

UpdatedQ: Should agencies limit official travel for individuals who have had a known close contact with someone with COVID-19?

A: If an individual has had a known close contact with someone with COVID-19 and is recommended to quarantine for 5 days after the close contact, then pursuant to Executive Order 13991 and consistent with CDC guidance, agencies must not approve official travel for 5 days after the close contact. In addition, agencies should not approve official travel for such individuals during days 6-10 after the close contact unless the official travel is urgent, necessary, and mission-critical, given CDC guidance that it is best for these individuals to avoid travel for a full 10 days after the close contact.

In the rare circumstances in which the agency has an urgent, necessary, and mission-critical need for the individual who had a close contact and is recommended to quarantine to undertake official travel during that time period of 6-10 days after the close contact, the agency must ensure the individual is tested 5 days after the close contact. If the test result is negative and the individual remains without COVID-19 symptoms before traveling, the agency must instruct the individual to wear a well-fitting mask when around others for the duration of the travel that falls within the 10 days after the close contact. If either the test result is positive or the individual develops COVID-19 symptoms, the agency must not approve the official travel for the individual and must instruct the individual to follow agency protocols on isolation.

If an individual has had a known close contact with someone with COVID-19, is not recommended to quarantine due to being up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, and has not had confirmed COVID-19 within the previous 90 days, then agencies may approve only mission-critical official travel during days 1-5 after the close contact. The agency may approve any official travel after that period, consistent with the agency’s travel policy. Agencies must recommend to the individual that they be tested for current infection with a viral test as close to the time of departure as possible (no more than 1 day) before travel. If the test result is negative and the individual remains without COVID-19 symptoms before traveling, the agency must instruct the individual to wear a well-fitting mask when around others for the duration of the travel that falls within the 10 days after the last close contact. If either the test result is positive or the individual develops COVID-19 symptoms, the agency must not approve the official travel for the individual and must instruct the individual to follow agency protocols on isolation. Agencies must also require that such individuals be tested at least 5 full days after they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19.

If an individual has had a known close contact with someone with COVID-19, is not recommended to quarantine, and has had confirmed COVID-19 within the previous 90 days, then agencies may approve official travel, consistent with the agency’s travel policy. If the individual remains without COVID-19 symptoms before traveling, the agency must instruct the individual to wear a well-fitting mask when around others for the duration of the travel that falls within the 10 days after the close contact. If the individual develops COVID-19 symptoms, the agency must not approve the official travel for the individual and must instruct the individual to follow agency protocols on isolation and testing.

Q: What if agencies determine that an individual is unable to quarantine due to significant operational considerations, such as the nature of the employee’s work?

A: Should agencies identify certain limited functions or roles where individuals are absolutely unable to quarantine due to significant operational considerations, such as the nature of the employee’s work, the agency should consult with their COVID-19 Coordination Team and the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. Generally, in these rare instances, those employees who would otherwise quarantine would instead take other precautions for 10 full days from the date they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19, including wearing a well-fitting mask when around others (see FAQs on mask-wearing) and, to the extent possible, avoiding eating and drinking around others, avoiding environments such as dining facilities and gyms where they may be unmasked around others, avoiding people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease, and avoiding nursing homes and other high-risk settings.

If an individual has had a known close contact with someone with COVID-19 during official travel, is not recommended to quarantine, and has had confirmed COVID-19 within the previous 90 days, then agencies may approve official travel, consistent with the agency’s travel policy. If the individual remains without COVID-19 symptoms before traveling, the agency must instruct the individual to wear a well- fitting mask when around others for the duration of the travel that falls within the 10 days after the close contact. If the individual develops COVID-19 symptoms, the agency must not approve the official travel for the individual and must instruct the individual to follow agency protocols on  isolation and testing.

UpdatedQ: What should agencies instruct individuals with probable or confirmed COVID-19 to do?

A: Any individual with probable or confirmed COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status, must not enter a Federal facility or interact with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities, consistent with CDC guidance on isolation and the workplace safety protocols set forth by their agency, and monitor their symptoms.

This includes people who have a positive viral test for COVID-19, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms, and people with symptoms of COVID-19, including people who are awaiting test results or have not been tested. People working onsite at an agency workplace or interacting with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities who develop COVID-19 symptoms must isolate even if they do not know if they have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.

UpdatedQ: When should an agency allow an individual to return to a Federal workplace or interact with members of the public as part of their official duties after they have had COVID-19?

A: A tool to help determine how long you need to isolate, quarantine, or take other steps to prevent spreading COVID-19 may be found here. Individuals who had COVID-19 and had symptoms can end their isolation after 5 full days from the onset of symptoms if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication, their other symptoms have improved, and they have met any agency testing requirements. Note that loss of taste and smell may persist for weeks or months after recovery and need not delay the end of isolation​. Those individuals who end their isolation after 5 full days should continue to wear a mask around others for an additional 5 days when working onsite at an agency workplace or interacting with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities.

Individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and never developed symptoms can end isolation after 5 full days after their positive COVID-19 test, assuming they have not developed symptoms and comply with any agency testing requirements. Such an individual should continue to wear a mask around others for an additional 5 days after the end of their 5-day isolation period when working onsite at an agency workplace or interacting with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities. If they develop symptoms at any point, they should start a 5-day isolation period over, with day 0 being their first day of symptoms.

As part of agency testing protocols, agencies may require that an individual take a viral antigen test prior to returning to a Federal workplace or interacting with the public as part of their official duties after isolating. Individuals should only collect a test sample if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and their other symptoms have improved. If their test result is positive, they must continue to isolate until day 10. If their test result is negative and 5 full days have passed since they began their isolation, they can return to their workplace or begin to interact with the public as part of their official responsibilities. Such an individual must continue to wear a mask around others for 10 full days from when they began isolation. If the individual is not working onsite at an agency workplace or interacting with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities within 10 days of when they began isolation, then the agency should not require them to be tested.

As part of agency testing protocols, agencies may have employees take antigen tests twice over a three-day period with at least 24 hours and no more than 48 hours between tests, prior to returning to a Federal workplace or interacting with the public as part of their official duties after isolating. In determining whether to use a two-test approach, agencies should consider operational issues such as workforce availability, the nature of the individual’s work environment, as well as availability of funding to support diagnostic testing through the use of viral tests among isolating employees.

CDC’s setting-specific guidance provides additional recommendations for settings such as congregate settings and healthcare settings; where there is a conflict with more general guidance, setting-specific guidance must be followed. CDC generally recommends a 10-day isolation period for certain congregate settings (including correctional or detention facilities) that have a high risk of secondary transmission. Decisions to shorten isolation in these settings should be made in consultation with State, local, Tribal, or territorial health departments and should take into consideration the context and characteristics of the facility. The recommendations above do not apply to healthcare professionals.

Q: When should an individual who was severely ill with COVID-19 or has a weakened immune system end isolation?

A: People who are severely ill with COVID-19 (including those who were hospitalized or required intensive care or ventilation support) and people with compromised immune systems need to isolate for at least 10 days. Individuals should consult with their healthcare provider regarding when they should end isolation.

UpdatedQ: What should agencies instruct individuals to do after ending isolation?

A: Agencies must instruct individuals to continue to take precautions when working onsite at an agency workplace or interacting with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities even after ending isolation, for 10 full days after their first day of symptoms, or after the date of a positive viral test for asymptomatic individuals including wearing a well-fitting mask when around others (see FAQs on mask-wearing), avoiding eating and drinking around others, avoiding environments such as dining facilities and gyms where they may be unmasked around others, avoiding travel, avoiding people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease, and avoiding nursing homes and other high-risk settings.

Q: What if a Federal employee must undertake urgent mission-critical travel during days 6-10 after their first day of symptoms or the day of a positive viral test for an asymptomatic individual?

A: If an agency determines that an employee absolutely must undertake urgent mission-critical travel during days 6-10 after their first day of symptoms, or after the date of a positive test for an asymptomatic individual, the agency should instruct the employee to take other precautions for the entire duration of their travel, including wearing a well-fitting mask when around others (see FAQs on mask-wearing) and, to the extent possible, avoiding eating and drinking around others, avoiding environments such as dining facilities and gyms where they may be unmasked around others, avoiding people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease, and avoiding nursing homes and other high-risk settings.