The Difference Between Self-Quarantine, Self-Isolation, and Other COVID-19 Related Terms
Social distancing, self-quarantine, self-isolation, quarantine, isolation – you’ve seen these words everywhere lately, but how do they differ and which one should you be practicing? We’ve been told that social distancing can help slow the spread of COVID-19, which will reduce the number of those who need medical attention. This will help to make sure hospitals aren’t overwhelmed. But with so many different terms, it can be hard to know what the right course of action is. Here we break down these methods and hopefully you’ll be able to identify which one is necessary for you and your loved ones.
Self-quarantine or self-monitoring?
Both of these methods help keep people who have been exposed or may have been exposed away from others for a period of time.
The incubation period of COVID-19 is considered to be 14 days, and even though symptoms could appear earlier, this is the amount of time people should stay away from others. The big difference between self-monitoring and self-quarantine is determined by how your encounter with the infected occurred.
If you go to an event and listen to a speaker who is later diagnosed with the coronavirus, you are not considered at risk. Self-monitoring would be the best course of action for you.
To self-monitor, you would regularly check your temperature and watch for any signs of the respiratory illness, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also involves limiting interaction with others.
If you were to find yourself face-to-face with this speaker, who tested positive, then you would need to self-quarantine. If you have a long conversation with this person, or perhaps they coughed on you, you were in much closer contact to them than if you were just in a crowd around them.
Self-quarantine is when you stay home and away from people for 14 days. This is a bit more intense than self-monitoring because the person doing it has more of a chance of getting infected. If you don’t live alone, try to find a space separate from others. Don’t leave your house, socialize, go shopping, or go out to get food. Try to use your own bed and toilet if you can. Any dishes you use should go right into the dishwasher.
If you are practicing either of these methods, and develop symptoms, call your doctor, local hospital, or public health department to find out what to do. If your symptoms are mild, you will most likely be told to stay home and treat your symptoms with over the counter fever reducers or other treatments. If your symptoms are more serious, or you are considered high risk, you may be directed to seek medical care. You may also be directed to a place where you can get tested.
What does isolation mean?
Isolation means that when you are sick, either at home or in a hospital, you always have a mask on when moving from place to place, as do any medical staff who are treating you. This helps contain any droplets from spreading the virus during any times of travel, such as to and from the hospital or from your hospital room to another. In this situation, you will most likely have a room to yourself to prevent others from being contaminated.
What about quarantine?
Quarantine is when, under state or federal law, you or a group of people, are on lockdown. For example, those who traveled on a cruise ship with a passenger who had been infected were required to stay at a military base for 14 days to see if they contracted the disease.
When should you practice social distancing?
To social distance, you should not shake hands, and you should avoid crowds, stand six feet away from people, and stay home any time you feel sick. By separating yourself from others we can cut the line of transmission of the virus. During these times of uncertainty, everyone should be social distancing.
If you’re not worried about getting sick, why should you care?
While you may find these practices inconvenient, remember that public health is about the public. These practices can help the population as a whole, and each individual’s actions matter. It only takes one person who doesn’t even know they’re sick to pass on the virus. Everyone’s immune system is different, so while you may not even feel sick, despite potential exposure, you can still pass it on to someone who may end up in the hospital.
As Joshua Sharfstein, Vice dean for public health practice & community engagement at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Puiblic Health in Baltimore pointed out, “This is a condition that may not pose a threat to the individual but a threat to the community.”
This isn’t about you – it’s about us.