Quarantines are preventative measures for people who are believed to have been exposed, but who don’t yet have symptoms.
Isolation is the separation of someone who is believed to be infected and spreading the virus. This might mean you are showing symptoms, or have tested positive for the virus.
In practice, they both mean separating yourself from larger society to prevent the spread of the virus. The only difference is that isolation means we think you’re infected, and quarantine means we think you’re exposed. Those terms are being used interchangeably right now.
There’s still a lot to learn about the Coronavirus, but there are a few things we do know.
According to a new study from Johns Hopkins University (JHU), which looked at publicly available data on the coronavirus, people start to show symptoms an average of 5.1 days after being exposed to the virus. Most people who will develop symptoms at all (97.5%) will show symptoms within the first 11.5 days of exposure, according to JHU.
A 14 day quarantine is a bit longer than that to be sure. The study showed that for every 10,000 people who quarantined for 14 days, only about 101 would develop symptoms after being released from quarantine. That’s pretty good by epidemiological standards, and we don’t want to keep folks who aren’t sick in quarantine for much longer than that.
Anyone who experiences symptoms during their quarantine should contact a healthcare provider to get further instructions. They may be instructed to self-isolate for longer, usually a few days after their symptoms have completely disappeared.
If you have reason to believe you were exposed because you had close and prolonged physical contact with someone who was confirmed to have the virus, or has symptoms and is being tested (like living with them), you should likely self-quarantine.
If you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, cough, abdominal cramps, and/or shortness of breath, you should self-isolate. Don’t go into work, call your healthcare provider (or ER or local health department) before going in-person to get instructions on how to get tested and treated without infecting others, and wear a mask when you go.