With COVID-19 cases rising in Massachusetts and most of the state now considered high risk for community transmission, it may be time to revisit quarantine guidance.
What should you do if you test positive for COVID-19?
The latest virus quarantine guidance, as posted on the Massachusetts Department of Public Health website, is primarily based on two factors - how long since your positive test result, and whether or not the activity you want to do allows you to wear a mask.
If you test positive, you should stay home and isolate for at least the first five days. If you never experienced symptoms, or your symptoms are improving, you can resume most normal activities that you can do wearing a mask on day 6. You should wear a mask around others for a full 10 days, including the people you live with.
If you cannot wear a mask, or the activity you want to do doesn't allow for a mask, you should stay home and isolate for 10 days. If you've never had symptoms or your symptoms are improving, you can resume normal activities on day 11. You are still encouraged to wear a mask around others in your household for 10 days.
This guidance is the same whether you are vaccinated against COVID-19 or not.
How do I count days to isolate?
- Day 0 of isolation should be your first day of symptoms OR the day your positive test was taken, whichever is earlier.
- Days 1-4 are strict isolation days, unless you're going out to receive medical care.
- Day 5 is the last full day of isolation if you were asymptomatic or if symptoms have been improving.
- Day 6 is when you can leave isolation, if wearing a mask.
- Day 11 is when you can leave isolation without a mask.
Mass. DPH notes that there may be circumstances where individuals may be allowed to return to child care, school or a health care job sooner under certain conditions. More on that here.
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What if I was exposed to someone with COVID-19?
Here is where the guidance differs depending on your vaccination status. If you are a close contact of someone who tested positive for the virus, and you are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, you do not need to quarantine, but you should wear a mask around others for 10 days, including at home. You should also take a rapid antigen or PCR test on day 5, or if you develop symptoms. If you test positive, follow the isolation guidance. If you are not able to mask, you should quarantine for 10 days after the exposure, and follow the same testing guidelines as above.
If you are a close contact and you are not up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations or unvaccinated, it is recommended you quarantine for five days after exposure, wearing a mask around others, including at home. It is also recommended that you wear a mask around others for an additional five days after that quarantine period, including at home. If you cannot wear a mask, extend that quarantine to 10 days. You should test on day 5, or if symptoms develop. If you do not take a test on day 5, you should quarantine for a full 10 days.
When should I seek emergency medical attention?
The CDC recommends you look out for the following emergency warning signs* for COVID-19:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
*This list is not all possible symptoms. Please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.
When should I get tested?
The CDC outlines several scenarios for getting tested -- if you are experiencing symptoms, if you've been exposed to someone with COVID-19 (as outlined above) or if you are going to an indoor event or large gathering. The last one is especially important if attending a gathering with high-risk individuals, older adults, anyone who is immunocompromised, or anyone who is not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, including young children who cannot be vaccinated yet.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 can manifest in a variety of ways. Here are the most commonly reported symptoms. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Massachusetts' latest COVID-19 data
All but three of Massachusetts' 14 counties are now considered high risk for COVID-19, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Massachusetts' COVID metrics, tracked on the Department of Public Health's interactive coronavirus dashboard, have declined since the omicron surge, but case counts and hospitalizations are starting to increase once again.
State health officials reported 5,576 new COVID-19 cases Thursday. The last time there were over 5,000 new cases reported in a single day was at the end of January. The state's seven-day average positivity rate increased to 8.24% Thursday, compared to 7.89% on Wednesday. The number of new COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts schools has also shot up significantly, rising 62.6% in the past week.
What about the rest of New England?
In New Hampshire, the entire state is now considered either high or medium risk. Grafton, Rockingham and Sullivan counties are designated as high risk, while the rest of the state is medium risk.
In Vermont, only Essex County remains low risk. Addison, Bennington, Chittenden, Franklin, Orange, Rutland Washington and Windsor are high risk, with Caledonia, Grand Isle, Lamoille, Orleans and Windham counties at medium risk.
Four Maine counties -- Aroostook, Hancock, Penobscot and Piscatiquis -- are considered high risk, with the remainder of the state in the medium risk category.
In Connecticut, Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, Tolland and Windham counties are all high risk, with Fairfield and New London in the medium risk category.
All of Rhode Island remains in the medium risk category for the second straight week.
Residents in counties with a high risk are urged to wear masks indoors in public and on public transportation, to stay up to date with vaccines and to get tested if they have symptoms, according to the CDC.
Residents in areas with medium risk are encouraged to wear a mask if they have symptoms, a positive test or exposure to someone with COVID-19. Anyone at high risk for severe illness should also consider wearing a mask indoors in public and taking additional precautions, the CDC says.
The majority of cases in New England right now are still being attributed to the "stealth" omicron variant BA.2, although cases of the BA.2.12.1 subvariant are on the rise. Increases in cases in South Africa and other countries are raising concerns that the U.S. could soon experience another COVID-19 wave.
Despite the rising cases here, Massachusetts and the other New England states have yet to take any steps to bring back mask mandates or any other COVID-related restrictions that were relaxed following January's omicron-fueled surge.