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Does the 14-Day Quarantine Restart Every Time You Leave the House?

The two-week requirement doesn’t apply to everyone, but obviously you should still stay the hell inside

I’ve been quarantined for three weeks. Or, maybe two days — I went for a walk around the block the other day, and I’m not sure if that counts against me. 

Most of us are effectively in quarantine, regardless of whether we’ve had any known contact with someone carrying the coronavirus. But unlike true quarantine, the kind where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandates individuals to stay inside for 14 days, we’re still technically able to leave our homes and procure our own groceries or fulfill other essential tasks. 

Does this mean that we’re breaking quarantine each time, though? Does our 14-day quarantine counter re-start every time we return back through the front door? Does any of that matter? 

Well, it depends on who and where you are. While we might feel quarantined, few of us are actually quarantined in the official sense. When the virus was more contained, people who were exposed to it or had recently returned from high-exposure regions were required to be in an official quarantine monitored by the CDC. Though some quarantined in their homes, others were placed in designated facilities. In this style of quarantine, food, medicine and other survival requirements would be brought to you. Based on what we know about the virus’ incubation period, people are considered safe and non-contagious after 14 days. 

Since true containment is no longer achievable, some areas are trying to manage the spread on a regional level through self-quarantine requirements. People arriving in the U.S. are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days, but actual enforcement varies. Travelers entering Hawaii are required to quarantine themselves for 14 days and are only able to leave for medical treatment. All food must be delivered to them, and they may not receive visitors. This will allegedly be enforced through random checks and phone calls. Those who fail to meet these requirements could face a $5,000 fine or up to a year in jail. Texas, Florida, Kentucky and 14 other states have similar requirements for travelers arriving from specific regions of the country, though the actual enforcement, rules and penalties differ

Technically, then, the rest of us are just self-isolating or social distancing. We can leave our houses at will, though we’re supposed to stay home as much as possible. Going to the grocery store would count as breaking quarantine, but we’re not actually quarantined to begin with. 

Now, does that mean we’re breaking self-isolation? 

That depends. 

If you know you’ve been exposed to someone who is sick, you should isolate yourself for two weeks even if no authorities have required you to do so. If you don’t think you’ve been exposed, your state might still require you to shelter-in-place or stay at home. These essentially mean the same thing: Don’t go out in public unless you have to. States with these rulings in place have shut down non-essential businesses, and are breaking up larger groups or issuing fines in scenarios considered to be a threat to public health

That said, grocery shopping is still allowed, although you should definitely still isolate yourself to the best of your ability when shopping, and the CDC has even changed its recommendations to state that people should wear cloth coverings over their faces when outside. Basically, apply your social-distancing techniques if you have to leave the home, and be careful about disinfecting objects you bring into the home and washing your hands. 

If you fail to do all of this then, yeah, you might say you’ve broken your self-isolation. 

That’s still up to you, though: Part of what’s so confusing about this pandemic is that it seems like the rules are constantly shifting, or that we’re required to make them up ourselves. Generally, if nobody is directly telling you what to do, you don’t need to worry about that 14-day count. Just use common sense, stay inside as much as you can and do what you have to do to get by.

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