How to Isolate or Quarantine

Update: April 2, 2021

It's helpful to understand the difference between isolation and quarantine. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on isolation and quarantine:

  • Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.
  • Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

Individuals in isolation or quarantine must stay home and restrict their interactions with others, only leaving for emergencies or to obtain medical care. Food, medication, and other necessities should be arranged to be delivered during the isolation or quarantine period—do not use public transportation or leave your home to go to the grocery store, walk your dog, etc.

You cannot reduce the length of your isolation period, even if you later test negative for COVID-19. 



People who have a confirmed positive diagnostic test for COVID-19 must isolate for at least 10 days before returning to work or class. You must be cleared to return to work or class by a health care provider, and your isolation period may extend depending on your symptoms. 

People who have been determined to be a close contact of someone who was infectious with COVID-19 will be directed to quarantine for at least 10 days before returning to work or class in alignment with updated quarantine recommendations from the CDC and New York State Department of Health unless they meet the criteria for quarantine exemption. Quarantine exemptions are granted only after the contact tracing process is completed. 

 Through day 14, close contacts must:

•  Continue daily symptom monitoring and follow strict adherence to all public health recommendations, including social distancing, handwashing, and the use of face coverings.
•  Self-isolate immediately if any symptoms develop and make a telehealth appointment with Medical Services for evaluation to determine next steps. 

You must isolate if:

  •  You've been diagnosed with COVID-19.

  •  You are awaiting test results to determine if you are positive for COVID-19. 

You must quarantine if:

  •  You've been determined through contact tracing to be a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and you do not meet quarantine exemption criteria. 

  •  You've recently returned from a destination with high prevalence of COVID-19 and have been asked to quarantine based on state, local, or Columbia University travel guidance.

Who is Considered a Close Contact?

Close contacts are defined as someone who has been within 6 feet for at least 10 consecutive minutes OR within 6 feet for at least 15 cumulative minutes over a 24 hour period of someone positive for COVID-19 during the time that the individual was infectious (2 days prior to symptom onset or 2 days prior to testing if they have no symptoms). These contacts are identified by interviewing the person who tested positive through a process known as contact tracing. 

If you are a close contact of a Columbia affiliate that has tested positive for COVID-19, you will be notified by the Contact Tracing Team that you have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19 (without revealing the identity of that individual) and provided with guidance on quarantine and testing.

For questions regarding COVID-19-related incidents, including potential exposures or concerns that you may be a close contact, please e-mail at Depending on the incident, the Contact Tracing Team will conduct an assessment to determine the appropriate response. 

Read About the Latest Updates from Columbia University's Contact Tracing Program

Support from Columbia

If you've been directed to isolate or quarantine, Columbia University is here to support you.

Student Health Medical Services

CUIMC students should reach out to Student Health Medical Services to make a telehealth appointment through the Student Health portal if:

  • You have symptoms consistent with COVID-19
  • Have recieved notification that you have tested positive
  • Have recieved notification that you are a close contact of an individual who has tested positive.

Medical Services will connect CUIMC students to additional resources as needed to help you successfully isolate or quarantine.

Columbia Health COVID-19 Test and Trace

The Columbia University Test and Trace team of nurses and health educators can answer general questions from Columbia students, faculty, and staff on COVID-19, and provide guidance on testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine. For questions regarding COVID-19-related incidents, including potential exposures or concerns that you may be a close contact, please e-mail at Depending on the incident, the Contact Tracing Team will conduct an assessment to determine the appropriate response. 

Academic Support from Your School or Program

Please reach out to your school or program leadership to help you plan for how to navigate your academic and research obligations during isolation or quarantine.

What to Do if You've been Asked to Isolate or Quarantine

Get Supplies

Some people may isolate or quarantine in their own room or residence; others may need to relocate. In either case, you will want to have the following personal items:

  • Enough clean clothes for at least 14 days
  • Pillow and blanket
  • Your cell phone, laptop, and any chargers
  • Self-care kit
  • toiletries you use
  • eyewear
  • any prescription and non-prescription medications.

Additional considerations:

  • If you have a pet, be sure to have supplies and care for them, too. Arrange for friends or professional services to walk your dog for you.
  • Arrange for groceries, items from a food pantry, or take-out food to be delivered to you.
  • Consider laundry and dry-cleaning services that have contact-less drop-off. 
  • If possible, seek out someone who can assist you with getting packages or other deliveries from the lobby.

Create a Self-Care Kit

Create a self-care kit for your isolation or quarantine that contains:

  • Digital thermometer (for daily use)
  • Hand sanitizer (for times you can’t wash)
  • Alcohol wipes (for cleaning, as needed)
  • Refillable water bottle (stay hydrated!)
  • Daily Temperature and Symptom Log

Remain in Your Home or Room 

Do not go out, except for emergencies or when recommended by a medical professional. If you must leave your home, try to do so during off-hours and avoid places where people are congregating.

If you MUST go outside:

  • Wear a face covering at all times
  • Maintain distance (~ 6 feet or 2 meters) from others

Watch for Symptoms

Keep track of any symptoms and watch for these symptoms in particular:

  • Fever (above 100.4°F)
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Monitor Your Symptoms

  • Please take your temperature twice daily and record your symptoms on the Daily Temperature and Symptom Log.
  • If you develop symptoms or need medical triage or help while in isolation, please call Student Health at 212-305-3400 (24/7). A nurse will determine if you should leave and where you are to seek medical attention.
  • A health care provider will check in with you frequently and let you know when you no longer need to remain in isolation or quarantine and are cleared to return to work or class.

Common Reactions to Being in Isolation or Quarantine

Although each person reacts differently to stressful situations that require changes in location or behavior, especially in isolation or quarantine, some common reactions include:

  • Anxiety, worry, or fear related to your health status or that of others
  • Anger or resentment at the inconvenience
  • Worry about not having your things with you or not doing your usual routine
  • Uncertainty or concern about how long you will need to remain in this situation
  • Relief at have some alone time to rest and catch up on reading
  • Loneliness or feeling cut off from life experiences
  • Boredom and frustration
  • Sadness or depression
  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

For support during this challenging time, please reach out to CUIMC Counseling Services 24/7 at 212-305-3400. Our full range of services, including individual and group sessions, are offered virtually to all CUIMC students in isolation or quarantine.