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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?
Clayton T. Cowl, M.D., 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.
Dr. Cowl explains that quarantine also is appropriate for someone who has been near someone with known exposure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people should stay in quarantine for 14 days from the time of the exposure.
While in quarantine, Dr. Cowl suggests people take actions that include:
- Stay home, and do not travel to work, school or public areas.
- Stay at a distance of at least 6 feet from other people in the home.
- If possible, stay in a separate room.
- Wash hands regularly with soap and water. If that's not possible, use hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes.
- Wash surfaces regularly in the home.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Monitor daily for symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.
- If symptoms develop, call your health care provider or local hospital to see if you should be tested for COVID-19.
Isolation keeps someone who tested positive for COVID-19 with or without symptoms away from others, even in their own home.
"Sometimes you may not have another room to put them in, but if you can, stay outside of that 6-foot ring," says Dr. Cowl. "Don't breathe right in their face. If it's a partner or spouse, they shouldn't be sleeping together in the same bed during a time of isolation until they're taken out of that isolation period."
While in isolation, Dr. Cowl suggests people take actions that include:
- Stay in a separate room. If that's not possible maintain at least a 6-foot circle of space from others.
- Wear a mask when in the same room as others.
- Wear a mask when someone brings food or other necessities.
- Wash hands after interacting with others. Use soap and water. If that's not possible, use hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes.
- Wipe down surfaces such as door knobs, cellphones, countertops and other areas touched.
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, you may benefit from Mayo Clinic's Remote Patient Monitoring Program which provides patients comprehensive care at home.
By Mayo Clinic staff