As we progress through the COVID-19 pandemic, we hear authorities use words that seem similar but have very different clinical meanings and implications.
Isolation vs. Quarantine
Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who aren’t sick. The duration of a COVID-19 virus can vary from person to person. So the decision of when to release someone from isolation is made on a case-by-case basis using these requirements:
- The patient is free of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
- The patient is no longer showing symptoms, including cough.
- The patient has tested negative on at least two consecutive respiratory specimens collected at least 24 hours apart.
Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who may have been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. In the case of COVID-19, the quarantine period is typically 14 days, the longest-known incubation period for similar coronaviruses.
Self-Quarantine—When, How and Why?
If you believe you have, or may have, been in contact with the COVID-19 virus, you should quarantine yourself for 14 days from your last potential exposure.
Here are some basic guidelines for self-quarantine:
- Stay home or another location away from other people, if possible. At home, it’s best to stay to yourself and interact with as few people as possible.
- Take your temperature twice each day; be aware of a cough or difficulty breathing.
- Stay home from school or work. Discuss your work situation with your employer before returning to work.
- Avoid public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares.
- Avoid crowded places (such as shopping centers and movie theaters) and limit activities outside your home.
- Keep your distance from others, six feet or more.
- If you notice a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, contact your local health department or physician immediately.
- If you need to obtain other medical care, such as dialysis, call ahead to your doctor and tell them about your possible exposure to COVID-19.
Don’t let the fear of exposure prevent you from getting the care you need.
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U.S. Department of Health & Human Services