Quarantining and Isolation: When Do You Do It, and Why?
Elemental explains how to protect yourself — and others — from Covid-19
For the vast majority of Americans, chances are still slim that you’ll be exposed to the new coronavirus. But as Covid-19 continues to spread through the U.S., particularly in major metropolitan areas like Seattle, New York, and the Bay Area, it’s good to know what the protocol is, just in case.
What happens if I’m potentially exposed to the virus? Do I need to be quarantined? What does that even mean?
First, some quick definitions: Quarantine is for people who have been exposed to the virus but haven’t gotten sick. Isolation is for people who are ill and infectious.
“If you are ill, you would go into isolation. If you’re exposed to someone who’s ill, you go into quarantine,” explains George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.
The general rule of thumb seems to be that the quarantine lasts for 14 days, which is twice as long as the incubation period from exposure to the virus to onset of disease.
You should quarantine yourself if you’ve had close personal contact with someone who is symptomatic or tested positive for the virus. That doesn’t mean just being in the same grocery store, office building, or bus as someone who’s infected — it means being within three to six feet of them so that if they coughed viral particles, these could potentially land on and infect you.
With a quarantine, you shouldn’t go out in public or go near anybody else. Don’t go to work, don’t go to school, don’t go to the store, don’t use public transportation or a ride-share. Do call your doctor to let them know you’ve potentially been exposed. Your doctor can then inform the state health department to help keep track of the spread of Covid-19. The general rule of thumb seems to be that the quarantine lasts for 14 days, which is twice as long…