Quarantine & Isolation
While both quarantine and isolation refer to methods of preventing the spread of illness, they do not mean the same thing. Quarantine refers to separating a person without symptoms of a contagious disease like COVID-19 from others while they self-monitor for the development of symptoms. Isolation means separating someone with a contagious disease like COVID-19 away from others.
The Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) has guidance on both quarantine and isolation. Cornell Health has provided detailed information about the process of quarantining and isolating for COVID-19 for students in the Ithaca area, as well as answers to the questions most often asked by students in quarantine/isolation.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I quarantine?
Those who have been directed to quarantine must follow these guidelines:
- Do not leave your quarantine location for any non-essential reason. Even if you feel healthy or free of symptoms, you could still inadvertently pass the virus on to other people.
- Do wear a face covering, practice physical distancing, wash hands frequently and sanitize high-touch areas if you share a living space.
- Do not have visitors to your quarantine location, unless they have been approved by your health care provider.
- A negative result before the end of the 10-day quarantine period does not rule out possible infection or shorten your quarantine/isolation period.
- Those directed to quarantine are prohibited from using transportation options that may put them in close contact with others (e.g., public transit, ride sharing or taxis).
- Additional quarantine guidance and guidelines are available through the Tompkins County Health Department and Cornell Health. Cornell Health also provides answers to the questions most often asked by students in quarantine/isolation.
Students quarantining in their off-campus residence should arrange to have food and supplies delivered as needed. Students with roommates should be diligent in practicing physical distancing, wearing masks in shared spaces, washing hands often and sanitizing shared areas.
I have family members visiting the area. What testing is available for them?
I’m a faculty or staff member and someone in my household is under quarantine. What should I do?
Faculty and staff with someone in their household in quarantine are permitted to report to work, provided that they have not been directed by the health department to self-quarantine, are approved to be on campus, continue to complete the Daily Check health assessment prior to arriving on campus and comply with surveillance testing requirements. As a reminder, if directed by the health department to self-quarantine or isolate, please notify your local Human Resources representative immediately.
When is isolation required?
The purpose of isolation is to eliminate contagious disease exposure to others during the infectious period, which is the time period when a person can give the disease to others. If a student receives a positive tested for COVID-19, the Tompkins County Health Department will collaborate with Cornell Health to evaluate the patient's housing environment. If it is deemed necessary, the student will be moved into an isolation unit. Isolation is appropriate for:
- Students who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 (typically for 10 days)
- Symptomatic students who are waiting for diagnostic testing results (typically 24 hours)
What happens if I have to go into isolation?
Students living in university housing will be provided with isolation housing and meals.
Students living off campus will be assessed by the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) to determine whether they can self-isolate in their off-campus residence. If a student can’t self-isolate where they are, the TCHD will work with Cornell Health staff to arrange appropriate isolation housing. Those directed to isolate are prohibited from using transportation options that may put them in close contact with others (e.g., public transit, ride sharing or taxis).
All students in isolation will be contacted each day by a Cornell Health staff member who will monitor their symptoms, provide consultation and care management by phone, and work with the local hospital to identify conditions that might require hospitalization.
Additional isolation guidance and guidelines are available through the Tompkins County Health Department and Cornell Health. Cornell Health also provides answers to the questions most often asked by students in quarantine/isolation.
Should students in quarantine/isolation participate in COVID-19 surveillance testing?
No, students in quarantine/isolation are exempt from participating in the university's mandatory COVID-19 surveillance testing for the duration of their quarantine/isolation (however, please note that some students may be directed by a health care provider to receive diagnostic testing at Cornell Health). Students in quarantine/isolation should not receive reminders in their Daily Check to schedule a surveillance test. If you are in quarantine/isolation and have received a Daily Check reminder to schedule your surveillance test, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can I care for my mental health while in quarantine or isolation?
If your mental health and resilience feel taxed during quarantine or isolation, you are not alone. Reach out for support if you need it:
- Visit Cornell Health's Coping During COVID-19 webpage to find ideas, resources and services to support your well-being.
- Call Cornell Health 24/7 to speak with a licensed therapist (607-255-5155, #2).
- Attend a Let's Talk drop-in Zoom consultation with a CAPS counselor.
- Schedule a telehealth appointment with a Cornell Health provider.
- Connect with someone now through one of these recommended hotlines or textlines, including options especially for students of color and LGBTQ students.
What is the definition of a close contact?
For COVID-19, New York State Department of Health defines a close contact as any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 10 minutes in a 24-hour period starting from two days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, two days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.