How to Self-Quarantine

Woman holding coffee cup looking out her window during self-quarantine.
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The coronavirus pandemic of 2019-2020 has swept across the nation and the world. Many people who have contracted the virus have experienced mild symptoms and fully recovered. Unfortunately, though, COVID-19 has been fatal to thousands. To mitigate the virus’s spread, public health officials strongly encourage or require people to self-quarantine.

Self-quarantine can help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and other potentially fatal diseases that are often infectious before symptoms arise. This proactive measure is for people who think that they have been exposed to the coronavirus, even if they’ve not experienced any symptoms. It can reduce the risk of inadvertently exposing others to the virus. Get all your questions answered about self-quarantining and how to do it below.

Is Self-Quarantine Different From Self-Isolation?

Both quarantine and isolation involve separating people to protect public health. They may be implemented voluntarily or by governmental mandate. Both practices can help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. During a self-quarantine, a person who might have been exposed to the virus or another contagion stays away from others.

On the other hand, people who are already infected should self-isolate, whether they are sick or asymptomatic. This includes staying in a separate “sick room” of the house and not sharing a bathroom if possible.

How Do I Know If I Need to Self-Quarantine?

If you have recently had close contact with a person infected with the coronavirus, stay home until 14 days past your last exposure. As much as possible, avoid contact with people who are at a higher risk of developing severe health complications from the virus.

Woman marking 14 days on a calendar for best self-quarantining practices.
Woman marking 14 days on a calendar for best self-quarantining practices.

If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 but have not been tested for the virus, contact your family doctor and stay in self-quarantine until your symptoms subside. Doctors suggest making sure you don’t have a fever for three days, then count another seven days before leaving quarantine.

Why Should I Self-Quarantine for 14 Days?

According to the World Health Organization, the incubation period for the coronavirus ranges from one to 14 days. This is the estimated time between contracting the virus and manifesting symptoms. Since it is possible to spread the virus before showing symptoms, recommended self-quarantine time frames intend to cover how long a person could be contagious with COVID-19.

Is Self-Quarantine the Same As Shelter-In-Place?

Governmental mandates or recommendations to “shelter in place” apply to all citizens in an effort to stem the tide of the coronavirus. To shelter-in-place means to stay at home except for urgent errands and needs.

It is a preventative measure to lower the risk of exposure to the virus and reduce its spread. In this sense, sheltering-in-place is similar to self-quarantining; the difference is that officials urge self-quarantine when a person knows or believes they’ve been around someone who has the virus.

How Can the Government Mandate Quarantine for COVID-19?

In the U.S., the executive branch can authorize federal quarantine for certain communicable diseases, including respiratory syndromes such as COVID-19. In the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 42 covers public health and details the reach of governmental authority regarding quarantine in Chapter 6, Part G – Quarantine and Inspection. Federal quarantine is extremely rare. It was last enforced during the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919.

States and tribes also have police power authority and laws in place to enforce quarantines within their borders. Local health officials work with state authorities to implement such laws in some states; in other states, that enforcement can be overseen from either the state or local departments.

Do I Have to Self-Quarantine After Traveling?

If you travel out of the country, you may be subject to entry screening upon your return. The CDC recommends staying home and social distancing for 14 days after returning. As the virus’s progress continues to evolve, some state and local governments may require people who have recently traveled beyond their community to self-quarantine.

How Do I Self-Quarantine?

The CDC has recommendations on the best practices when self-quarantining. In essence, they are:

  1. Stay Put
  2. Stock Up
  3. Wash Up
  4. Stay Active
  5. Watch for Symptoms
  6. Keep Your Distance
Some best practices for self-quarantining based on CDC recommendations: Stay put, stock up, wash up, watch for symptoms, keep your distance.
Some best practices for self-quarantining based on CDC recommendations: Stay put, stock up, wash up, watch for symptoms, keep your distance.

Stay Put

Stay home except for medical care. Do not go to work, school or shops. Avoid public transportation and ride-sharing. Use grocery or meal services that drop items off at your door.

Stock Up

Make sure you have at least two weeks’ worth of essential items at home. Stash away plenty of canned foods, household cleaners, medications and pet supplies. You might need extras of special items for babies, elderly or sick family members. Remember to keep plenty of bottled water on hand for watering plants, nasal rinses, and drinking, for you and your pets.

Wash Up

Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Do not share towels, dishes, utensils or other personal items with others in your household. Thoroughly wash these items with soap and water after each use. Disinfect countertops, toilets, doorknobs and other high-contact surfaces frequently.

Stay Active

Self-quarantine calls for curtailing many activities, but it doesn’t stop you from moving altogether. Exercise can help you maintain and improve your physical and mental health during and after your stay at home. It is a proven weight management tool and stress reliever. Check out free workout videos on YouTube, walk around your yard or have your own dance party.

Watch for Symptoms

People with COVID-19 have reported symptoms ranging from mild to severe illness. Symptoms may present itself 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. If you develop COVID-19 symptoms but don’t need immediate medical attention, the CDC advises self-monitoring at home. If you have a family doctor, however, we recommend contacting them for guidance.

Common symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle pain
  • New loss of smell or taste

Less common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If you exhibit these emergency warning signs, call your local emergency facility immediately.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent chest pressure or pain
  • New confusion
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Inability to stay awake

Keep Your Distance

Social distancing is a practice of limiting or avoiding close physical contact with people to avoid transmitting the coronavirus. Health experts recommend staying at least six feet away from others to reduce the chance of catching or spreading the virus. This is especially important if anyone in your household has a higher risk of getting sick from the coronavirus.

Do I need personal protective equipment during self-quarantine?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) are generally disposable products that act as barriers to inhibit the spread of infectious microbes. Germs, viruses and communicable diseases can be transmitted through the air, in the form of droplets, direct physical contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces and objects. In conjunction with infection control practices such as washing hands and surfaces, PPEs can minimize the risk of further infection.

A healthcare provider may advise caregivers to use PPE when attending to a sick person at home. These items include gloves, respirators, face masks, goggles and head covers. They are intended for one-time use and must be removed and discarded properly to avoid exposing others to the virus.

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