Social distancing, quarantine, isolation: Here’s the difference
Each measure is a heightened degree of separation
As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise, world leaders are asking people to practice social distancing or to self-quarantine. Patients who have tested positive are sometimes even put in isolation.
Needless to say, these degrees of separation are not the same and should not be used interchangeably. Here’s the difference.
Social distancing is a choice and often includes taking further precautions when interacting with individuals.
This could be limiting physical contact, opting for a wave instead of a handshake, and in the case of the coronavirus, putting 6 feet between you and the next person. This means not standing too close to the other person in line at the grocery store and avoiding crowds.
An example of social distancing is when businesses ask their employees to work from home or other businesses, like movie theaters and stadiums opting to shut their doors to reduce the temptation of public gatherings and support the practice of social distancing.
Currently, the population United States is in the social distancing stage in terms of the spread of the coronavirus.
[MAP: Spread of coronavirus across the globe]
This is usually after the less-discussed step of self-monitoring, a practice that tends to happen naturally among humanity.
Self-monitoring could include self check-ins, monitoring one’s temperature and watching intently for signs of symptoms. In the case of the coronavirus, this includes checking for fever, dry cough or shortness of breath.
Self-monitoring is often a medical suggestion after being exposed to someone who may have had an illness though the patient didn’t come into physical contact with that individual. It could have been at a speaking engagement, event or another large gathering that could have contributed to the exposure of an illness.
As a result, a person should self-monitor for at least 15 days for any symptoms or anything that may feel out of the ordinary.
Self-quarantine is a step up from self-monitoring as the individual knows they are at risk of illness and must go the extra mile to avoid exposure.
Self-quarantine means an individual has decided to stay at one location -- in most cases home -- and away from the general population as much as they can. This is typically practiced within a 14-day period but could be extended if the risk increases.
Note: self-quarantining is not the same as isolation.
Quarantine is a more drastic approach where state or national leaders force people to be under medical supervision or restrict access to everyday life due to exposure or fear of exposure. Those submitted to quarantine often do not have a choice in the matter.
This is when — under state or federal law — individuals or groups are essentially on lockdown. Recent examples include passengers from cruise ships where other passengers fell ill with COVID-19; those passengers who didn’t fall ill on the ship were then required to stay at military bases for 14 days to see if they developed the disease.
This is the most extreme degree of separation, usually triggered with a positive diagnosis.
In the case of the coronavirus, if someone were to test positive they would be isolated from the world and contained to have contact only with medical professionals. Those tapped to treat the patient will typically wear more protective gear and try to reduce the patient’s travel.
Typically, if one is submitted to isolation they would remain in a medical center or hospital until they are clear of a virus or illness.
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