With coronavirus at the top of everyone’s mind, what we need to do in order to slow the spread, or “flatten the curve”, is a trending topic of conversation. Quarantine, isolation, and social distancing are all terms being thrown around, but what does that actually mean for how you should be modifying your routine right now? As part of our goal to keep our patients informed, we’ll be explaining why distancing, quarantine and isolation are important, and what to do if you find yourself having to isolate.
How Coronavirus is Spread
Unfortunately, this virus has been spreading easily and sustainably through affected areas and is particularly prone to community spreading. This is why social distancing and self-quarantine is important at the moment, especially if you have been exposed to coronavirus or are showing symptoms.
It is believed that coronavirus is largely spread from person-to-person, when someone is within close proximity (less than 6 feet) of someone with the virus, or by being exposed to respiratory droplets created when an infected person coughs or sneezes. When these droplets are formed, they can easily be inhaled into the lungs, or land in the mouths or noses of people nearby.
People are also considered to be most contagious when they are showing symptoms. It’s possible that people may be able to spread the virus before showing symptoms, but that is not believed to be the main way that coronavirus is spread. This is why it’s important to be aware of symptoms, even if mild. Touching objects contaminated by the virus is also another way that it can potentially be spread, but again, this is not considered to be the main source of spread. It is much more likely to be spread by direct, face-to-face contact with someone that is infected.
Of course, in order to monitor yourself for symptoms of the virus, it’s important to know what you should be looking for.
Symptoms of Coronavirus
If you have even mild symptoms of coronavirus, it’s important that you limit your interaction with the public as much as possible. We all need to be vigilant and monitor ourselves for symptoms in order to protect our own selves and our community.
The main symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. These symptoms are believed to begin showing within 2-14 days of exposure, based on prior cases of the virus and the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses.
There are also emergency warning signs of coronavirus infection, and if you or anyone you know begin showing these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately. These emergency warning signs include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in chest
- New confusion or ability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
Remaining aware of how you’re feeling and taking any signs of trouble seriously will help in making sure that both you and your community stay safe.
Considering that even reputable sources like the CDC do not have a comprehensive guide of what to do in order to successfully practice social distancing, it’s understandable that there is confusion on the subject. Fortunately, public health experts have weighed in on the topic.
Even if you are symptom-free and not part of a high-risk group, you should avoid gathering in public spaces. However, if you do venture out, make an effort to go out when you know that fewer people will be out, and try to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and others. You should work at home if that is an option for you, but if you must be at work, try to drive yourself or use a ridesharing service to avoid being around others. If neither of those is an option, remember to keep a distance between yourself and others when riding public transportation, and practice good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
If you have relatives that are part of a high-risk group, it’s important to make an effort to limit face-to-face interaction with them as much as possible. Even if you feel fine, or only mildly sick, there’s still potential for the virus to be spread to them. However, virtual interaction is always an option and one that may be useful as a way to stay in touch without putting them at risk.
In the situation that you do contract symptoms are advised to go into quarantine, you should not leave your home or go into crowded public spaces for the duration of the quarantine. However, Carolyn Cannuscio, director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania states, “For people who live in areas that are not densely populated, walking around in their yard is probably safe. The idea is that they should not come into contact with any other people. They need to be strict about it. We are not going to defeat this and halt transmission if people loosely interpret what it means to self-quarantine or self-isolate.”
How to Self-Quarantine
Before we get into how to self-quarantine and self-isolate, it’s important to understand the difference between isolation and quarantine. According to the CDC, isolation “separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick,” while quarantine “separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.”
If you do need to quarantine, health officials are recommending that you remain in quarantine for a full 14 days, to be sure that you do not spread coronavirus. One study of people who had contracted COVID-19 showed that 98% of people showed symptoms by day 12 of contracting the virus. Before beginning isolation or quarantine, you should be sure to notify your healthcare provider in order for them to recommend tips on how to best protect yourself and the people around you, and for any warning signs you will need to monitor that may indicate your need to see a doctor in person or go to a hospital.
If you do not live alone, keep a distance from them for the duration of your isolation. If possible, remain in a separate room from other members of your household and use a separate bathroom. You should also keep a distance from your pets as much as possible, and have someone else care for them while you are in quarantine. It’s also important you avoid sharing personal items and thoroughly wash any dishes, utensils, bedding, etc. with soap and water and using them. Make sure high touch areas are cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis and remember to practice good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. It is also important to wear a face mask when around caregivers or healthcare providers.
Coming Out of Isolation
It is important to remain in isolation until instructed to leave if you are confirmed to have coronavirus, as this will lower your risk of transmitting the virus to others. The decision to end isolation will be made on a case-by-case basis, as everyone will react differently to the virus, so make sure to maintain communication with your healthcare provider(s) and local health departments.
As Dr. Nancy Gin, medical director of quality and clinical analysis for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California said, “We need to respect this coronavirus, but not fear it.” The best thing we can all do at the moment is to take preventive steps and stay informed by following trustworthy sources, including the WHO, CDC, and FDA.