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Here’s what to do if someone you live with tests positive for COVID-19

People waited in line for COVID-19 testing at the Anna M. Cole Community Center in Boston on Sunday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

With COVID-19 cases soaring in Massachusetts, thousands of residents across the state could — if they haven’t yet — find themselves quarantining from other members of their household.

Last week, Massachusetts broke the record for most COVID-19 cases reported in a single day for multiple days in a row. The 21,397 confirmed cases reported on Friday were the most that have been reported in one day since the start of the pandemic.

In apartments and small spaces, quarantining from family members and roommates can be no easy feat.

Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are the best practices to keep people as safe as possible from COVID when someone in the home is infected.


The person who has tested positive should isolate

The member of the household who is infected with COVID-19 should stay in a specific “sick room” or area.

The CDC last week shortened the recommended isolation time from 10 days to five, citing data that show that the majority of COVID transmission happens in the first one to two days before symptoms begin and in the two to three days after.

For those who are asymptomatic or whose symptoms are alleviating, the CDC recommends they isolate for five days but wear a mask for the following five days when they’re around other people to reduce the risk of infecting others.

If possible, the person infected with COVID-19 should also use a separate bathroom, the CDC says. If the person needs to be around other people or animals, they should wear a mask.

The CDC notes that if the separation of the person with COVID from others in the home isn’t possible, “the other members of the household will have ongoing exposure, meaning they will be repeatedly exposed until that person is no longer able to spread the virus to other people.”


Sharing a bathroom

While the CDC recommends the infected person isolate by themselves with their own bathroom, that’s not an option for many. But there are a number of suggestions for limiting the risk of spreading the virus while sharing.

According to the CDC, others in the home should wait as long as possible before using the bathroom after a person with COVID has used it.

They should also wear a mask, and clean and disinfect surfaces when using the bathroom after a person with COVID.

Keeping distance

The person who has tested positive for COVID should avoid close contact with others and if possible, and keep 6 feet of distance from others in the home.

When to wear a mask

If the person who is sick has to be around other people or pets, the CDC suggests wearing a mask.

The person who is sick doesn’t need to wear a mask when they are alone.

Wash hands

The person who is sick with COVID should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Washing hands is particularly important after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing, going to the bathroom, and before eating or preparing food. The sick person should avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Don’t share personal household items

The CDC recommends a person sick with COVID-19 avoids sharing household items like dishes, drinking glasses, cups, utensils, towels, or bedding with other people in the home.

After the infected person uses those items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water or put in the dishwasher or washing machine.


Clean and disinfect surfaces

The person who is sick should clean and disinfect the high-touch surfaces in their isolated area and bathroom every day, and wear disposable gloves while doing it.

“High-touch surfaces” include phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables, according to the CDC.

If the person who is sick is sharing spaces with others, they should disinfect surfaces and items after each use, the CDC says.

The CDC suggests using a designated, lined trash can for the person who is sick. The person handling the trash should use gloves when handling it and then wash their hands once they’re done.

What if a sick person needs a caretaker?

If the sick person needs help, only one person should take care of them to limit the number of people who come into contact with the infected person. For those who are taking care of the person infected with COVID, the CDC suggests they and the sick person put a mask on before entering the room, wear disposable gloves, clean and disinfect the area the sick person is in only if it’s necessary, and open windows or doors or use fans to increase air circulation.

The person who is cleaning the space should wait as long as possible after the person who is sick has used the bathroom before coming in to clean and use the bathroom.

What those who are exposed should do

The CDC recommends quarantine for certain people who are in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. A “close contact” is defined as having been within 6 feet of someone for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.


If a person who has been exposed to COVID has received a booster shot, is within six months of their second dose of an mRNA vaccine, or is in within two months of receiving a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they don’t need to quarantine. The CDC recommends they wear a mask around others for 10 days and get tested for COVID on the fifth day, if possible. If they develop symptoms, they should get tested and stay home.

For those who received their second shot of an mRNA vaccine more than six months ago and are not boosted, received the Johnson & Johnson shot more than two months ago and are not boosted, or are unvaccinated, the recommended procedures are different. The CDC suggests anyone who falls into one of those categories stays home for five days and get tested on the fifth day, if possible. After those five days, they should continue to wear a mask around others for five additional days.

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Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her @amandakauf1.