Updated May 1, 2020.
As health authorities look to contain the spread of COVID-19, more and more people are being asked to self-quarantine or self-isolate each day. And if you're a parent or caretaker of elderly parents, you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed just at the thought of these measures. While these words may trigger sci-fi images of hazmat suits or cushioned solitary cells, the reality is far less terrifying. Here’s what you need to know if you or someone you know has been told to self-quarantine.
What’s the difference between quarantine and isolation?
According to the CDC, quarantines are meant to restrict the movement of people who may have been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. These individuals are asymptomatic but have either traveled to an area with an active outbreak of the virus, or have had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19. Self-quarantining allows health officials to closely monitor the development of symptoms, if any, while preventing further transmission of the virus. Those who are asked to self-quarantine will be told to stay home and avoid contact with others for 14 days.
Isolation, meanwhile, refers to separating those who are already sick from the rest of the population. Self-isolation provides individuals the opportunity to recover from the virus without spreading it to others. Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 should self-isolate until the following:
- At least 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared
- They have had no fever for at least 72 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication
- Other respiratory symptoms have improved
- At least 10 days have passed since they first tested positive assuming they have not developed symptoms within that time
The decision to stop home isolation should be left to healthcare providers and local health authorities.
How are these different from social distancing?
Given concerns about the spread of COVID-19, many are choosing to proactively avoid public places even if they are not sick. This is what the CDC defines as “social distancing’ or the act of avoiding locations or situations where close contact with others may occur. Unlike those who have self-quarantined or self-isolated, these individuals have not been exposed to the virus and are simply attempting to reduce risk of infection.
What should I do if I’ve been told to self-quarantine or self-isolate?
While it may be scary being told to self-quarantine or self-isolate, it’s important to keep in mind that the vast majority of people who have contracted COVID-19 thus far have experienced mild symptoms similar to the common cold or flu, and have recovered fully. That being said, the virus can be fatal for those who are considered high-risk. That’s why it’s very important we take the necessary steps to prevent the virus from spreading. Here’s how you can protect yourself and others during your quarantine or isolation:
Limit your out-of-home activity to medical care and do not go into school or work. You should also avoid public transportation, ride-sharing, and taxis. If you need groceries, try using a meal or grocery delivery service where your food can be dropped off right outside your door.
The CDC recommends keeping to one room as much as possible if you live with roommates or family members. You should also use a separate bathroom if possible.
Wear a mask
If you are sick and must go in public or be around other people, it’s important to wear a face mask to prevent spreading the virus. Remember to also put a facemask on before entering the doctor’s office or when traveling to and from your doctor’s appointments. If you don’t have one upon arriving, your provider should provide one for you that you can keep on-hand for transportation home and future use.
Stay away from pets
In the last month, two cats in New York became the first household pets in the U.S. to test positive for COVID-19. This is believed to be the result of close contact with infected humans. While there have not been any confirmed reports of pets transmitting COVID-19 to humans, it appears the virus can pass from people to animals. It is recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If you must care for a pet while you are sick, make sure to wear a face mask and wash your hands before and after interacting with your pet.
Do not share personal items
To avoid spreading germs, do not share dishes, utensils, towels, or other personal items with other people in your household. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
Wash your hands
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently
Wipe down “high-touch” surfaces like countertops, doorknobs, toilets, phones, and keyboards, using household cleaners and wipes.
Staying active will keep you both mentally and physically healthy during your quarantine. Exercise can help reduce elevated cortisol levels, as well as trigger the release of endorphins, boosting your overall mood and happiness. If you are feeling well enough and don’t have active symptoms, try at an-home workout to avoid physical contact with others. Even walking up a few flights of stairs, or having a dance party in your room can be helpful.
Stay in contact with friends and family
Research shows that quality time with people you care about can boost your happiness level. If you are self-quarantined, try to still connect with your friends and family through video chat or phone calls.
Monitor your symptoms
If you find your symptoms worsening, contact your primary care provider or reach out to our 24/7 virtual care team. Please avoid coming to a One Medical office or other healthcare facility unless directed to do so by your healthcare provider. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911.
Even if you are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, it’s important to follow these measures for the full quarantine or isolation period. If you are not sure whether to discontinue your isolation, please contact your healthcare provider.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.