“The most important thing is to keep on top of what the CDC is saying.”
Just as in countries throughout the world, the United States has seen rates of COVID-19 grow exponentially. After all, early statistics suggest that each person infected with this novel coronavirus ends up infecting two to three more people, on average.
One way to help slow the spread of COVID-19 is by separating yourself from others through either isolation, quarantine, or social distancing. You may hear these terms used interchangeably, and most people will generally know what you mean, but here are the actual definitions of these three terms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Isolation refers to separating sick people who are infected with COVID-19 away from others who are not sick.
Quarantine means separating and restricting the movement of people who have been exposed to COVID-19 (or an area where COVID-19 is circulating). It can take up to 14 days after infection to show symptoms of COVID-19, so that’s typically the recommended time of quarantine for coronavirus.
Social distancing refers to a community practice of keeping distance between yourself and others during an outbreak. You do not have to be infected or exposed to someone who was infected to practice social distancing. Learn more about social distancing practices here.
Who Should Isolate?
The guidelines for who should be quarantining and social distancing are a little more clear-cut. Social distancing is simply recommended for everyone during an outbreak.
“If you can, I would limit travel, work from home, avoid going to large gatherings or any events where you would be around a lot of different people,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital and Chief Medical Officer at HealthiNation.
As for quarantining, you will be told to do so, usually from your local government. This might be because someone in your workspace tested positive for COVID-19, or perhaps because you visited a town with a high rate of COVID-19.
For isolation, it can be a bit more tricky. “Isolate if you have COVID-19” is fairly simple advice, but testing kits are limited and not everyone who feels sick can know if they actually have COVID-19 or not.
“If you feel any symptoms, make sure you call your doctor right away,” says Dr. Parikh. Even if your doctor recommends not coming to the hospital or urgent care, they might suggest isolation until your symptoms go away. If your symptoms are severe, such as difficulty breathing, they might direct you to the emergency room.
“The most important thing is to keep on top of what the CDC is saying, [as well as] what your local government and department of health is recommending,” says Dr. Parikh.
Preeti Parikh, MD serves as the Chief Medical Officer of HealthiNation. She is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at Westside Pediatrics, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and is an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and has completed post-graduate training at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
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With the number of cases of coronavirus increasing,
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what does that mean to everyone?
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Does it mean we should be isolating ourselves?
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So it really also depends on your individual situation.
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If you can, I would limit travel,
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work from home,
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avoid going to large gatherings
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or any events where you would be around a lot
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of different people,
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and if you feel any symptoms, make sure you call
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your doctor right away.
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For everyone, the most important thing is to keep
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on top of what the CDC is saying, what your local government
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and Department of Health is recommending.
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And if you have any questions, to make sure you call
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your healthcare provider, your doctor to find out
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what’s best for you.
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About quarantine and isolation. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. (Accessed on March 20, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/quarantineisolation.html.)
Quarantine and isolation. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. (Accessed on March 20, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/index.html.)