L.A. County ends quarantines for asymptomatic people exposed to coronavirus

Los Angeles County on Friday ended its order to quarantine asymptomatic people exposed to the coronavirus.

The rule change means anyone — even someone not vaccinated for COVID-19 or up-to-date with a booster shot — who is exposed to an infected person no longer needs to stay home for at least five days to see whether they will test positive or become sick, provided they remain symptom-free.

But unlike the California Department of Public Health, which universally relaxed its quarantine recommendations for the public earlier this month, L.A. County has established a few conditions for waiving the waiting period.

The county will require, not merely recommend, that people who were in close contact with an infected person “wear a highly protective mask around others, especially indoors, for a total of 10 days after the last contact with a person infected” with the coronavirus, and get tested within three to five days after their last exposure to the infected person.

Anyone who lives or works in L.A. County is subject to that masking order.

Someone is considered exposed to the coronavirus if they share the same indoor airspace — like a home, clinic waiting room or airplane — with an infected person during his or her contagious period for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period.

Previously, the county defined an exposure as someone being within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. But that definition is now outdated, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday, because it “didn’t really acknowledge the emerging science that this virus is airborne.”

Quarantine rules remain in place for residents of certain high-risk settings — like nursing homes, jails and homeless shelters — who are exposed to the coronavirus but have not completed their primary vaccination series and have not been infected over the prior 90 days.

Quarantines are intended to keep people exposed to the virus at home until enough time has passed to see if they test positive or become sick. If someone under quarantine ends up testing positive or showing symptoms, they go into isolation, and the county’s isolation rule remains unchanged.

L.A. County requires everyone who tests positive or shows COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of vaccination status, to isolate and stay home for at least five days following the onset of illness or after the date of the first positive test.

L.A. County says residents can end isolation after the fifth day, so long as they have either no symptoms or their symptoms are improving, and they test negative on or after the fifth day. (A rapid antigen test is preferred for this purpose, as lab-based PCR tests are so sensitive that they can still show a positive result weeks after the contagious period has ended.)

People should still stay home if they have a fever, and stay there at least 24 hours after the fever has ended. Isolation can end after the 10th day, without the need for a negative rapid test result, as long as symptoms are improving and there has been no fever for at least a day.

“I do suggest we stay with the isolation requirements. We don’t really want people who are capable of getting other people infected out and about,” Ferrer said.

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