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Self Isolation vs. Social Distancing: What’s the Difference?

With the arrival of coronavirus disease 2019, the terms “isolate,” “social distancing” and “quarantine” have become part of our regular vocabulary. You likely have a lot of questions, so let’s start by clarifying the difference between each. According to Aarikha D'Souza, Arizona community division regional infection prevention director at Banner Health, “it’s important to understand what each concept means as we all work to keep ourselves, our families and our communities healthy.”

Here we’ll answer some common questions regarding these concepts and which might be the best option for you and your family during this time of COVID-19.

Q: What is the difference between self-isolation and social distancing?

A: Self-isolation means to separate yourself if you are experiencing symptoms of a contagious disease or have tested positive for a contagious disease. The goal is to stay separate from others who are well to prevent the illness from spreading. Social distancing is a strategy in which people remain out of congregate settings, avoid mass gatherings, and maintain a recommended distance of at least 6 feet from other people, in order to protect themselves and prevent the spread of coronavirus in their communities.

Q: I’m not sick and neither is anyone in my family. Should I still practice social distancing?

A: Everyone who is able should practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. This means avoiding mass gatherings; working from home if you can; only making essential trips out of the house; and when you are near people, maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others. Because COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets from sneezing and coughing, keeping your distance from others helps stop or slow the spread of the disease between people.

Q: How do I self-isolate if I believe I’m sick?

A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is showing symptoms of the virus should self-isolate and stay home. This means staying inside your home, except to get medical care. If you need to see a doctor, call ahead. Do not visit public places and avoid public transportation. Within your home, separate yourself from others who are well by keeping to one specific room, using a different bathroom, if possible, and avoiding sharing any household items.

Q: I am caring for a family member with symptoms of COVID-19. How can I keep myself safe?

A: The CDC recommends basic strategies to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as practicing proper hand washing; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; and routinely cleaning/disinfecting high-touch surfaces like counters, tabletops and doorknobs. Have the ill family member self-isolate in a separate room, away from others as much as possible, and avoid having unnecessary visitors. Provide care for their symptoms by giving them over-the counter medicines and ensuring they get a lot of rest and stay hydrated.

Q: My sick family member has been home isolating. How do I know when it’s safe for her to stop?

A: According to the CDC, home isolating is when you physically separate yourself from others because you are sick. There are three criteria for discontinuing home isolation, according to the CDC, and all three should be met to discontinue isolation: Be fever free for at least 72 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medication; see an improvement in your symptoms (for example, cough and shortness of breath have improved); and when it has been at least seven days since when your symptoms first appeared.

Q: I keep hearing the word “quarantine” used in relation to COVID-19. Isn’t this the same as isolation?

A: While similar, the two words have different meanings. Isolation is when sick people with a contagious disease are separated from people who are not sick. Quarantine refers to when people are separated, and their movement is restricted because they have been exposed to a contagious disease and are likely to become sick. In the current situation with COVID-19, “the CDC recommends individuals self-isolate if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19 infection,” said D’souza.

For more information on COVID-19 and how you can stay well, visit here.

COVID-19 Infectious Disease Wellness Safety