Self-Quarantine vs. Self-Isolation

What do these terms mean? How can I help myself and others?

It has now become commonplace to talk about "self-quarantine" and "self-isolation" as ways to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Many people find these two terms confusing, thinking they may be the same thing. But, there is a big difference between their meanings. This guide will help you to understand the differences and how you can help yourself and those you love.

What do self-quarantine and self-isolation mean? Are they the same thing?

Quarantine: You may have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 but do not know if you are sick yet.

Self-quarantine means:

  • Separating yourself from others and restricting your environment. It's necessary when you believe you may have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, but you have no symptoms.
  • You stay at home for at least 14 days after your last known exposure to a person with COVID-19. The 14-day period is to be sure you do not develop the symptoms.
  • You cannot go out to spots, such as the grocery store, hairdresser, gym, etc.
  • You must stay at home. You can work from home if approved by your employer. If your doctor or employer tells you to self-quarantine, it's mandatory and enforceable by some state laws.

As the disease spreads across the country, you have an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. Over time, you may find yourself in the same spot as someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Examples of when self-quarantine is necessary:

  • You are home from traveling to another state or country (particularly those with a large number of people with COVID-19).
  • You have learned that someone you have seen in person has COVID-19.
  • Someone you work with (in the same building) has tested positive for COVID-19.

Isolation: You have or are suspected to have COVID-19 and need to protect others from getting sick by separating yourself from them.

Self-isolation means:

  • It's necessary because you have had symptoms, a diagnosis, or your doctor suspects that you have COVID-19, but you do not need to be in the hospital.
  • You stay home and limit your contact with others in your home to keep others safe from catching the disease.
  • The only time you can leave your home is to get medical care. Self-isolation also helps to stop the spread of the disease in your community.

Being in self-isolation means that:

  • Others in your home can give you the supplies and food/drink you need.
  • You should be in your bedroom and have a bathroom of your own to stay away from other people and pets. If you do not have a separate bedroom and bathroom, wear a mask when around others. Keep at least a six-foot distance from others at all times.
  • You should check your symptoms. Most people experience mild symptoms and find that it helps to stay rested and hydrated. You can also use over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen.
  • You should stay in touch with your doctor about your symptoms. Always call your doctor first before getting medical care. If you have trouble breathing or have any other emergency warning signs, go to your nearest emergency department or call 911. Emergency warning signs include:
    • Bluish lips or face
    • New confusion
    • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
    • Unable to wake up or stay awake
  • If you do need to seek medical care, you should avoid using public transportation, taxi, or ridesharing.
  • Others that live in your home should self-quarantine.

See also