Preventing the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 is key to slowing the pandemic. People who have symptoms or who have suspected or known exposure to the virus, should practice self-quarantine or self-isolation. But what do the terms mean, and which should you do?
Dr. Clayton T. Cowl, a pulmonologist and chair of Mayo Clinic's Division of Preventive, Occupational and Aerospace Medicine, says that the terms are different, and people should know which one is the best option for their situation.
"The terms 'quarantine' and 'isolation' both refer to the act of separating a person with illness from others," says Dr. Cowl. "But the terms are different. Quarantine is used for someone who has no symptoms, and isolation is used when someone has been confirmed to have the disease. Isolation is typically more acute than quarantine."
"Quarantine is when we take someone who is completely asymptomatic and keep them away from everyone else in the event that they might develop the disease," says Dr. Cowl. "Usually, there's some reason why we do that. In other words, they've traveled to an area that has a very high prevalence of a disease or a condition."
Dr. Cowl says quarantine is also appropriate for someone who has been near someone with known exposure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people should stay in quarantine for 14 days from the time of the exposure if they have traveled to geographic areas where there is a large number of COVID-19 cases.
While in quarantine, Dr. Cowl suggests people take actions that include:
Stay at a distance of at least 6 feet from other people in the home.
If possible, stay in a separate room.