For Your Health: Timing is key to effective quarantine and isolation


The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging to navigate for everyone. There are often new guidelines announced before we can become familiar with the previous ones.

However, there are many things we have learned. We know the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently and wear a face covering.

Cases in our area are on the rise. From Aug. 18 to Oct. 23, cases in Wadena County have increased from 30 to 215. In Otter Tail, it’s 227 to 818. Todd went from 436 to 769.

This pandemic has been challenging for everybody. Kids want to be in school. Parents want to get back to work. Grandparents want to see their friends and family.

To achieve all these things, we need to continue to abide by the mitigation efforts listed above. Another route to slowing the spread is to follow strict guidelines after either testing positive for COVID-19 or coming in close contact with someone who has. The virus spreads most often when a person is symptomatic, but it’s important to quarantine or isolate even when no symptoms are present after testing positive or being around someone who has.


Close contact is considered:

  • Being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more (includes riding in vehicles)
  • Providing care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19
  • Having direct physical contact with the person (like hugs and kisses)
  • Shared eating or drinking utensils
  • Sneezed, coughed or somehow got respiratory droplets on you

To quarantine and isolate are two different things. Quarantine keeps someone who might
have been exposed to the virus away from others. Isolation keeps someone who is infected with the virus away from others, even in their own household.

All members need to quarantine when there is a positive test in the household. That means avoiding public places like the grocery store, hardware store, schools and work.

One guideline that can be confusing involves when to start and end quarantine. You should stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19. Even if you test negative for COVID-19 or feel healthy, it’s important to stay home because symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control lays out common scenarios to help with this guideline.

Scenario 1: Close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and will not have further contact. Quarantine: 14 days from the date of last close contact.

Scenario 2: Close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and lives with the person but can avoid further close contact. Quarantine: If that person has isolated, your last day of quarantine is 14 days from when the person with COVID-19 began home isolation.

Scenario 3: Under quarantine and had additional close contact with someone who has COVID-19. This situation includes when another


household member gets sick with COVID- 19. Quarantine: This requires those with close contact with COVID-19 to restart the 14-day

quarantine period.

Scenario 4: Living with someone who has COVID-19 and cannot avoid continued close contact. This scenario is common for those who must provide direct care to the sick person, don’t have a separate bedroom to isolate, or live in close quarters where they’re unable to maintain a physical distance of 6 feet. Quarantine: Avoid contact with others outside the home while the person is sick and then quarantine for 14 days after the person who has COVID-19 meets the criteria to end home isolation.

Again, these are guidelines of high importance that regard the public health of our communities. It continues to be a challenge, but we urge everyone to take steps to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19. Wash hands regularly, stay at least 6 feet away from others, wear your mask and properly quarantine or isolate.

Rachel Redig, M.D. is the Emergency Department Director, Trauma and Stroke Director and an ER doctor at Tri-County Health Care. She attended medical school at University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences and completed her residency at Grand Rapids Medical Education Partners in Michigan, and is board-certified in Emergency Medicine. Outside of work, Dr. Redig and her husband, Dan, have their time filled with busy young twins.

Email questions for Dr. Redig to

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