Coronavirus: What is self-quarantine, social distancing? Should you be doing that?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday that as the COVID-19 virus spreads in the United States, gatherings of 50 people or more should be suspended for the next eight weeks.

The recommendation applies to such gatherings as festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, conferences and weddings.

“This recommendation is made in an attempt to reduce the introduction of the virus into new communities,” the CDC said in a press release “and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus.”

The recommendation does not apply to “the day to day operation of organizations such as schools, institutes of higher learning, or businesses.”

The virus is quickly changing the way we live and what we hear in the news reports. The terms “self-quarantine,” “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” are becoming commonplace in messages we are getting in media reports and from health officials.

What does it mean to self-quarantine and who should be doing it? How does social distancing even work? Here’s a look at few terms that are becoming more common in our lives.

What is a quarantine?

Quarantine is the separation of a person (or group of people) who is believed to have been exposed to a communicable disease, but who is not currently showing symptoms.

What is self-quarantine?

If you have been exposed to COVID-19, you may decide to self-quarantine, or voluntarily refrain from going out of your home. The CDC and other health officials recommend that if you self-quarantine, you do so for 14 days. If you have contracted COVID-19, you would show symptoms or will have had the opportunity for testing for the virus to know for sure if you are contagious.

If you self-quarantine, Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention for the Johns Hopkins Health Systems, recommends you:

  • Stay at home.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently.
  • Do not share anything – utensils, towels, food from the same bowl.
  • Do not have visitors.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others in the home.
  • Call the doctor first. If you do need to go to the doctor, call first so the doctor knows you are coming and take precautions to keep others from being infected.
  • Don’t snuggle with your pet. While the CDC says there’s no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 or be infected from humans, it is probably best to avoid “petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked and sharing food [during a coronavirus quarantine],” according to the CDC.
  • Have your own utensils, drinking glass, dishes, towels and bedding.
  • Wash your hands, sanitize surfaces and cough or sneeze into your elbows or a tissue that you immediately discard.

How do you know if you should self-quarantine?

  • The CDC has issued recommendations for travelers arriving from certain countries to self-quarantine for 14 days.
  • If someone at your work or school was definitely exposed, you may want to consider self-quarantine.
  • If you have a fever and a dry cough

If you are unsure if you should self-quarantine, Call your doctor and tell them why you think you may have been exposed to the virus and what you should do.

What is Isolation?

Isolation means that a person who has contracted a communicable disease is completely separated from others. According to the CDC, “Isolation for public health purposes may be voluntary or compelled by federal, state, or local public health order.” The person in isolation is kept away from everyone but health care providers, who will care for the person while wearing protective gear.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing means avoiding places where there are large numbers of people.

According to the CDC, social distancing includes “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”

The cancellation of sporting events and closings of schools, churches, restaurants and bars were social distancing measures – measures that keep people from being in large groups, thus increasing their chance of exposure to someone who may have been infected with COVID-19.

Examples of “congregate settings” the CDC warns about would be:

  • Crowded public places such as shopping centers, movie theaters or stadiums
  • Conferences
  • Classes
  • Mass transit
  • Sporting events

Maragakis suggest these ideas for social distancing that allow you to avoid larger crowds or close quarters:

  • Working from home instead of at the office
  • Closing schools or switching to online classes
  • Visiting loved ones by electronic devices instead of in person
  • Canceling or postponing conferences and large meetings

What is flattening the curve?

Flattening the curve refers to trying to spread out the cases of the new coronavirus by using social distancing and self-quarantines. The term comes from a graphic that illustrates how early preventative measures slow the spread of the virus so that the bulk of cases of infection do not hit all at one time, thus overwhelming the U.S. health care system.

Here is a graphic that shows the concept of flattening the curve.

Comments on this article