Roommates of positive COVID-19 cases expected to quarantine for up to 24 days

Longstanding CDC guidelines surface as off-campus households have members test positive.


Emily Gonçalves

Coronavirus research has been taking place at Vanderbilt Medical Center. (Former Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

Robert Gottschalk, Staff Writer

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said that household contacts are tested on day 18, however, “asymptomatic close contacts” are tested on day 8.

Students living off-campus with a positive COVID-19 roommate, seen as household contacts, are required to quarantine for up to 24 days, a university spokesperson said in an Aug. 30 email to The Hustler.

 A household contact is described by the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) in their Releasing Cases And Contacts From Isolation and Quarantine Guidelines as individuals who share any living spaces with a case (including bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, kitchens).

These 24-day guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the TDH stem from two periods of time. The first is an infectious period, and the second is the subsequent symptom monitoring period, per Dr. David Aronoff, director for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). 

“For people who have COVID-19, it appears that they are contagious for up to 10 days from the time their symptoms start,” Aronoff said. 

Once the infected roommate exits the infectious period, the CDC’s guidance on a 14-day quarantine for exposed individuals will begin. 

The second period concerns the symptom onset for household contacts, since “on average people develop symptoms at about day five after infection,” with the possibility of “persons [developing] symptoms as far out as 12 to 14 days after infection,” Aronoff said.

“Your two-week clock doesn’t start for 10 days,” Aronoff said. 

Screenshot of VPHCCC email
Anonymized email sent to a roommate of a positive COVID-19 case from the Vanderbilt Public Health Central Command Center Staff, a contact tracing and coordinating center. (Screenshot by Hustler Staff/Robert Gottschalk on Sept. 5)

This comes as an off-campus student who was tested on Monday, Aug. 31 received their positive results on Friday Sept. 4. In response, their roommates were contacted by university contact tracers, per the anonymous student. 

These individuals were granted anonymity given the health-related information provided to The Hustler. Their health note specifying a roommate’s negative test and the subsequent 24-day quarantine policy was provided to The Hustler and is included below. 

“Your COVID result was negative, no sign of infection. Since your roommate tested positive and you are continuing to live together, your minimum quarantine time will be at least 24 days as we initially discussed,” the note reads. “This will include [redacted] 10-day quarantine, which you mentioned ended 9/11, plus your 14 days; this places your earliest date off of quarantine at 9/26.”