Sullivan County Public Health Services clarifies when to quarantine, isolate as COVID-19 cases rise

The Disease Control (Epidemiology) team at Sullivan County Public Health Services is urging local residents who have come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 to quarantine for the recommended 14 days. The renewed urgency comes as cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus have spiked sharply both locally and statewide in recent weeks.

On Nov. 16, a total of 25 new positive cases were reported, up from 100 active cases on Friday Nov. 13, and up from 35 active cases just over a month ago.

“This is indicative of an increase in community wide transmission,” said Nancy McGraw, Sullivan County Public Health Director. “The best tools we have to contain additional outbreaks is prevention – consistent mask wearing, hand-washing or hand sanitizer use, limiting time in groups, and that people understand the importance of quarantine and isolation.”

When to quarantine

Health Department staff remind residents that quarantine is used to keep someone who has been exposed to the virus (and who might be contagious even without symptoms) from spreading it to others.

Quarantine is for people who been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 and requires staying at home for at least 14 days while monitoring symptoms. During this time period an individual could develop active infection and become contagious. The average incubation period is 5 to 7 days, but it could take up to the 14th day.

A “close contact” means that you were within six feet of a COVID-19 positive patient for more than 15 minutes, provided care to someone with COVID-19, had direct physical contact, shared utensils or cups, or were directly sneezed or coughed on by someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

If you become symptomatic and get tested you should be on quarantine until those results come back. That includes if you have had a rapid COVID-19 test and a PCR.  Individuals must wait for both results to come back prior to resuming normal activities. A negative rapid test does not mean you are cleared; both tests must come back negative.

When to isolate

Isolation is for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and requires people to stay in their homes for at least 10 days while monitoring symptoms.

“People in quarantine should stay home, separate themselves from others, and monitor their health,” said Ms. McGraw.  “Please note that if you get tested during quarantine, you will still need to complete the full period even with a negative COVID test result.”

Testing

There are two types of tests for COVID-19. Viral tests tell you if you have a current infection, and antibody tests tell you if you’ve been previously infected.

Antibody tests should not be used to diagnose a current COVID-19 infection. An antibody test may not show if you have a current COVID-19 infection because it can take 1–3 weeks after infection for your body to make antibodies. It is a “snapshot” in time and will not give you lasting immunity to COVID-19 either, which many people falsely believe is true.

We do not know how much protection (immunity) antibodies to the virus might provide against getting infected again. Confirmed and suspected cases of reinfection have been reported, although not common.

In general, these tests aren’t reliable enough for individuals to act based on the results.

An analysis of publicly available data on infections from the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, yielded an estimate of 5.1 days for the median disease incubation period, according to a new study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This median time from exposure to onset of symptoms suggests that the 14-day quarantine period used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for individuals with likely exposure to the coronavirus continues to the most predictable.

Source: Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. (2020, March 10). New study on COVID-19 estimates 5.1 days for incubation period: Median time from exposure to symptoms affirms earlier estimates and supports CDC’s current 14-day quarantine period. Science Daily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200310164744.htm