Got COVID and live in California? A guide to the confusing isolation guidelines – SFGate

If you tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus, you may be confused by the guidelines asking you to stay home.

How many days do you need to stay home — is it five or 10? Do you need a negative test to leave your house?

Things are changing fast and it’s confusing, especially in California where guidelines don’t line up exactly with those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We sorted through the regulations to make sense of it all for Californians, breaking it down by isolation guidelines for those who test positive and quarantine guidelines for when you have been exposed to the coronavirus and may or may not have COVID. 

California isolation guidelines for people who test positive for COVID-19


If you test positive, health officials ask that you isolate, even if you have no symptoms.

The California Department of Public Health‘s isolation guidelines fall in line with the CDC’s guidelines — with one big exception. 

Both agencies allow COVID-positive patients to end their isolation at five days, but the CDC doesn’t require a negative test, while the state of California is asking for a negative test. You can end your isolation if you test negative on day five, California health officials say

If you can’t get access to a test on day five or if you test positive on day five, the department guidelines ask that you quarantine until day 10. You don’t need to test negative on day 10 to end your quarantine. 

But what if you test negative on day seven?

UCSF infectious diseases expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong said that you can exit isolation if you test negative on days six, seven, eight or nine.

“Everyone is confused,” Chin-Hong said. “If you happen to get a test, you can exit it before 10 days if it’s negative. What if you test at seven and a half days and it’s negative? Then you don’t have to be isolated for the full 10 days.”

The California Department of Public Health recommends that you use an antigen test on day five. Antigen tests provide fast results and are offered at some testing sites and can be purchased at pharmacies or ordered online. While PCR tests are more accurate, they can give a positive result even if you’re no longer infectious.

“The antigen test gives us a better idea about transmissibility,” Chin-Hong said. “The PCR is good for [initial] diagnosis. But later in the disease, the PCR test is so sensitive that it can sometimes be falsely positive even in the absence of live transmissible virus because it picks up genetic material of the virus.”

The department also asks people who test positive for COVID to wear a well-fitted mask around others for 10 total days.

People who test positive for COVID can find complete guidelines on the California Department of Public Health’s website. If you leave the house for work, you should also consult your employer about any special guidelines for your work sector.

California quarantine guidelines for people exposed to COVID-19

If you are fully vaccinated and boosted or you’re vaccinated and not yet eligible for a booster, you do not need to stay at home and quarantine, but the state Department of Public Health asks that you still test on day five and wear a well-fitted mask around others for 10 days, especially in indoor settings. If you test positive, you should follow the isolation guidelines. If symptoms develop, you should test.

If you have been exposed to the virus and you are unvaccinated or you are vaccinated and booster-eligible but haven’t gotten your booster yet, you should quarantine. The department asks that you stay home for at least five days. You can leave the house if you test negative on day five or later. “If unable to test or choosing not to test, and symptoms are not present, quarantine can end after day 10,” the department says. If you test positive, the department asks that you refer to the isolation guidelines. If symptoms develop, testing is recommended.

Whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated, California’s health agency recommends that you wear a well-fitted mask around others, especially indoors, for a total of 10 days after exposure.

Those who are exposed to COVID can find complete quarantine guidelines on the California Department of Public Health’s website.

RELATED: Your questions about COVID-19 testing in the San Francisco Bay Area answered

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