Quarantine, isolation, and social distancing – What do they all mean and why are they so important to stop the spread of COVID-19?

Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19) is dominating the news and social media sites. If you’re struggling to keep up with it all or to know what’s most important, the healthcare team at Medical Associates has released the following advisory:

The best thing you can do to stay healthy and to help your community stay healthy is to stay home! But with key terms like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing, what does that exactly mean?

Why are these three terms so important?

In the U.S., testing got off to a slow start, limiting efforts to isolate those with the COVID-19 disease. Public health experts now say the most important goal is to slow the spread of the coronavirus so that the number of people who require medical attention doesn't overwhelm hospitals.

If evidence holds true from countries further along in the outbreak, most people who contract this virus will not require hospitalization. Still, the data from abroad indicate that 10 percent to 20 percent could end up in more serious condition. That means if tens of millions of Americans come down with COVID-19, potentially hundreds of thousands may need hospital care.

No one wants that to happen. That could stress our health system. It is critically important to slow the spread so our healthcare facilities can provide the best care possible for all.

What does quarantine mean?

The word quarantine doesn’t have to be a scary thing. It is an effective way to protect the public. Governments use quarantines to stop the spread of contagious diseases. Quarantines are for people or groups who don’t have symptoms but were exposed to the sickness. A quarantine keeps them away from others so they don’t unknowingly infect anyone. This is contrasted with “isolation” which is reserved for individuals who are contagious (see below).

What exactly does it mean to be “exposed” to coronavirus (COVID-19)?

For anyone who has close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus, it is important that you listen to instructions from your local health department. Close contact is defined as being within approximately 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time. That includes if you are living with, visiting or sharing a healthcare waiting area or room with someone with COVID-19, or if you have been coughed or sneezed on by someone with the disease.

Health departments identify close contacts through what’s called contact tracing. They will notify you if they think you have been exposed to a known case and provide you with instructions for next steps. If you are unsure if you qualify as having been in close contact, reach out to your local health department.

What happens when you are quarantined?

While not all quarantines are the same, look to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for how best to do your part. Currently, the CDC recommends:

Make it a staycation: Avoid leaving the house unless absolutely necessary. That means no work, school, or church and saying no to your cousin’s baby shower.

Call ahead: While your local or state health department will most likely keep tabs on your health, you may need to see your doctor, too. Please call ahead BEFORE you visit any of our clinics so that we can take steps to prevent others from getting infected.

Worried about Fido? At this time, the CDC says there’s no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19. But it may still be good to use caution. If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, one should avoid petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food with your pet during a coronavirus quarantine.

Have your own stuff: Don’t swap unwashed dishes, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.

Wash, rinse, repeat: Hygiene is an integral part of this, even at home. Hand washing should be your first line of defense when under quarantine. And don’t forget to cough or sneeze into your elbows or a tissue that you then immediately throw away.

What’s the difference between isolation and quarantine?

While the term isolation serves the same purpose as quarantine, it’s reserved for those who are already sick. Staying in isolation keeps infected people away from healthy people to prevent the sickness from spreading.

Social distancing:

We don’t normally think about all the ways we are interconnected throughout the day until we are asked to avoid people. Social distancing involves avoiding large gatherings. But how many people is too many to be a threat? Is it just events and mass gatherings you need to avoid? If you have to be around people, keep 6 feet between you when possible. Take steps to limit the number of people you come into close contact with. This will help to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Social distancing includes, but is not limited to:

• Talking to your supervisor, manager, or employer about the possibility of working from home where possible.

• Closing schools or switching to online classes.

• Avoiding visits to long-term care homes, retirement homes, supportive housing, hospices and other congregate care settings unless the visit is absolutely essential.

• Avoiding non-essential trips in the community.

• If possible, limit or consider canceling group gatherings.

• If you have meetings planned, consider doing them virtually instead of in person.

• Whenever possible, spend time outside and in settings where people can maintain a 6 foot distance from each other.

You can still go outside to take a walk, go to the park, or walk your dog. If you need groceries, go to the store. It's recommended that while outside you make sure to avoid crowds and maintain a distance of 6 feet from those around you.

Remember: While you may not feel sick, and while these measures can be inconvenient, be mindful of the members of your community who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others. We are all in this together.

Staying calm: While fear is normal, try to stay informed from reliable sources to counteract any anxiety you may have.

Cooperating with the authorities: Following quarantines, isolation, social distancing and other public health mandates will help slow — and eventually stop — the spread of contagious diseases.

Being cooped up inside may seem unbearable. But the time WILL pass, and your forced staycation might save lives.


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