This was written in January 2022. Top-of-mind topics and the amount we're learning is continuously changing, as you know. We like to leave these articles active for reference, but please review newer Kinsa articles for the most up-to-date information!
The number of people I personally knew who were quarantined or isolated around the same time as us, in addition to the increase in COVID memes circulating, was a glaring reflection of the shared confusion we were (/are) all experiencing. I thought it’d be helpful to share what I learned during quarantine in hopes it will help answer any questions you have.
How it Started
The Wednesday before Christmas, my husband was feeling nauseous most of the day. I tend to assume everything is mild and wasn’t worried at all. In the afternoon, he came into my office, looking really pale and complaining of some heartburn. Hm, okay, maybe this is a bit more than mild… I thought. He decided to lay down for a bit, napping for 2-3 hours and felt a little better when he woke up.
That evening, a friend texted me that she had just tested positive for COVID. Rapid tests were nearly impossible to find, but luckily, she had an extra to lend us. Within minutes of my husband taking the test, I could already see the positive line, bright and bold. My husband packed a bag and went to the basement.
Naturally, my first big question was, How are we going to avoid catching this? The girls and I were negative but it felt like a ticking time bomb. Could we actually avoid it after being exposed for days without knowing it?
I spoke with our amazing epidemiologist (hi, Danielle!), who told me that studies were showing that the incubation period for Omicron was shorter, often 3 days after exposure. By this point, Omicron had surpassed Delta as the dominant COVID strain in the U.S., so I felt I could safely assume that that's what we were dealing with.
For those first 3 days, I was hyper-aware that I could have it without knowing and end up giving it to one of the kids, or vice versa. While our house isn’t big enough for 4 people to stay entirely separated, my husband stayed in the basement and the girls and I kept our distance from one another upstairs and doubled down on hand-washing and disinfecting.
Our Quarantine Set-Up
Our basement set-up is great - there’s a bedroom, bathroom and living space down there, with a door to the outside and a door that closes it off from the upstairs.
Was this good enough? We didn’t know. Initially, one of our biggest questions was “what about the central heat?” We have a return vent on the main level that pulls air up from the basement. This felt like a fasttrack to breathing in COVID air. No, thank you. So we decided to shut the heat off.
Was it even necessary to shut the main heat off? We didn’t know. After reviewing more info from the CDC, the best things you can do to improve the ventilation in this situation is:
- Open doors or windows (this wasn’t an option for us because it was close to zero degrees outside, but I mention it for those of you in warmer climates).
- Turn on fans, pointing them away from people. Turn on ceiling fans as well.
- Turn on exhaust fans in bathrooms and the kitchen.
- If using central heat, use your thermostat to turn the fan to “on” instead of “auto.”
- Ensure your furnace has new, pleated filters (this is a good one to check before you’re all in quarantine-mode).
- Use a portable air cleaner.
After reviewing all this, I realized that shutting our heat off was probably not the right thing to do. The goal is to break up the concentration of air particles by keeping the air moving.
Our Quarantine Groceries / Food Situation
Initially, we placed a grocery order online and picked it up. A few days into the quarantine, as the girls and I remained asymptomatic and negative, I decided quick trips into the store were okay. I don’t have an upgraded mask, like an N95, so I chose to double mask and use the self-checkout.
- According to the CDC, if you choose to double mask, you should wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask, not 2 disposable masks.
Because Omicron is so contagious, CDC is stating that cloth masks are not as effective and you should upgrade to either an N95, KN95 or KF94. It can be hard to know which mask to get and find any in stock, especially for kids. I’ve kicked off your google search by finding these Powecom KN95 masks for kids - in stock and with great reviews. (You can find adult masks there too. And nope, we aren’t affiliated in any way, just trying to be helpful.)
I know some people are still concerned with food transmission, especially if the food is made by someone who is COVID-positive. Research shows this isn’t a primary method of transmission. My husband never came into the kitchen, but he used the grill and smoker outside. I would prep food and hand it off to him (we were always masked), along with whatever utensils he needed. I made sure to wash everything really well, including my hands, after every interaction.
Activities We Chose To Do or Not Do
First, a caveat: these were simply our choices, as a family. Again, I’m sharing them with you in the hopes that they’re helpful, not because they’re the gold standard for the right choices. Going through this experience really highlighted the fact that we all live in different situations and have to do what feels best to us.
A few examples of our choices:
- Our daughter wanted to meet up with a friend to run a day after this all began. We decided not to let her. It still felt too new and we weren’t sure if we were positive without knowing. I knew they wouldn’t run with masks on and teenagers aren’t generally good at giving each other personal space, so we decided it was best to hold off.
- We did, however, meet up with some neighbors and go for a walk (7 of us in total). They all knew my husband had COVID and I told them to pretend I did as well. My husband and I wore masks on the walk and stayed a good distance away from the group (and from each other) - well over 6 feet apart.
- The 4 of us also spent time on the deck together. Again, we kept our masks on unless we were on opposite sides of the deck. We moved our Christmas tree and presents out there and celebrated Christmas morning outside together. Weird? Maybe. Cold? Yes. Memory building? Definitely.
- New Year’s Eve was definitely the hardest. Our oldest daughter had plans to go to a friend’s house with 10 other friends. NYE was day 9, she had remained asymptomatic and negative the entire time, and I genuinely believed she wasn’t going to pass anything to anyone at that point.
Plus, this was after the new guidelines had come out, stating you could be out of quarantine by day 5 but had to remain masked through day 10 (more on this below). However, this was a sleepover. How was she going to eat or sleep with a mask on? It just wasn’t going to happen.
With that many families involved, my husband and I ultimately decided it wasn’t right for us to make this decision on behalf of other people and we didn’t let her go. 😔
The New Guidelines
I’ll be the first to admit - the CDC’s new quarantine and isolation guidelines are confusing! As a clinician, here’s what I’d advise doing, so there’s little room for error / another household member getting sick:
When can someone with a confirmed positive case end isolation?
- You may end isolation after day 5 if you are fever-free for at least 24 hours without the help of medication and symptoms are improving. Then you must continue wearing a quality mask for 5 additional days.
- If, after the initial 5 days, you still have a fever or your symptoms are not improving, stay in isolation until you meet those guidelines.
- After you end isolation, avoid places where you cannot remain masked (like restaurants). You should remain masked around those in your household. For us, this meant we had some masked game time on New Year’s Eve, but my husband went back to his quarantine corner (the basement!) for dinner and bedtime.
- If you’re able to take an at-home antigen test, take it on day 5 or once you are fever-free with improving symptoms for 24 hours. If it’s positive, remain in isolation through day 10. While the CDC doesn't explicitly say you should take another test, another positive result means you're still shedding the virus, which means you can still pass it to that older neighbor down the street. Extra caution is the best policy here!
What if we decide not to quarantine? Assume the risk / hope to catch it all at once?
I really considered this, you guys. I know some people who didn’t separate within the household (and remained healthy!). Honestly, my thoughts were twofold:
- We’ve already been exposed and probably have it, so is this pointless?
- The way it’s spreading right now, we’re all likely going to get it anyway. Wouldn’t it be easier if all 4 of us got it at the same time so we could carry on within the house like normal?
I thought heavily on that 2nd thought throughout the entire quarantine because I was so worried the girls or I would catch it on day 8 or something, and we’d have to start all over! At the end of the day, we decided to stay separate from my husband (obviously….I assume you picked up on that if you’re paying attention 😆) because I didn’t feel like being sick and we still don’t know enough about the long-term effects of COVID, but I can understand families making a different choice.
If you decide not to separate, I believe you should consider yourself a higher risk of exposure and stay in isolation with your loved one.
If we decide to stay separate from our sick family member, do we all need to quarantine in the home?
No. This depends on vaccination status.
You should follow the same quarantine guidelines as your positive family member if:
- You are unvaccinated
- You are 18 or older and have gotten the initial 2 doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine but it’s been over 5 months and you haven’t gotten the booster
- You are 18 or older and have gotten the 1 dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine but it’s been over 2 months and you haven’t gotten the booster
You don’t need to quarantine if:
- You are 18 or older, you’ve gotten the initial vaccines AND the booster
- You’re between 5-17 years old and you’ve gotten the initial vaccines
- You had a confirmed COVID diagnosis in the last 90 days
If you fall into this bucket, you should still remain masked for 10 days.
The major consensus, especially from many younger, healthy people, is that we’re all going to get it at some point so restricting our daily life this much doesn’t feel worth it. I can empathize with this thought process and I understand the frustration. I’m not afraid to get COVID but in general, I have no interest in being sick with anything and I certainly have no interest in getting other people sick. I will continue taking measures to stop the spread and encourage you to do the same. Strength in numbers, my friend! We will get through this eventually.
Cheers to a healthy and happy New Year!