COVID-19 (coronavirus) quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing

Learn the difference between quarantine and self-isolation amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic — and why it matters.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You've read about people self-quarantining, social distancing, or isolating themselves during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. You may be confused about the various terms and wonder what you should be doing.

These terms describe approaches for limiting the spread of disease during epidemics and pandemics:

  • Social distancing. Keeping space between yourself and other people outside your household to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Quarantine. Separating people and limiting movement of people who have or may have been exposed to the disease to see if they become ill.
  • Isolation. Separating people who are ill from others to keep the disease from spreading.

Social distancing

You're likely practicing social distancing if there's ongoing community spread of COVID-19 where you live. For example, you're likely keeping social distance by staying at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from others outside your home and avoiding large groups. Follow specific social distancing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and your local health department.

Quarantine

Doctors or local health departments may ask or require people to go into quarantine who've recently had close contact with someone with COVID-19, who might have been exposed to COVID-19, or who've recently traveled from a place with ongoing community spread. Quarantine can mean staying at a specific facility or staying at home. People who don't develop symptoms of COVID-19 after the quarantine period ends are released.

If you're quarantining at home because you might have been exposed to COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you monitor yourself as follows:

  • Watch for common signs and symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath.
  • Keep distance (6 feet, or 2 meters) between yourself and others.
  • If you develop symptoms, check your temperature.
  • Isolate yourself at home if you feel ill.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms worsen.

In addition to these measures, if you've recently had close contact with someone with COVID-19, or recently traveled from or lived in an area with ongoing community spread of COVID-19, the CDC has these quarantine recommendations:

  • Check your temperature two times a day.
  • Stay home for 14 days.
  • Stay away from other people as much as possible, especially people at high risk of serious illness.

Isolation

Doctors or local health departments may take special isolation precautions for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), asking or requiring people who have or think they might have COVID-19 to go into isolation. Hospitals have isolation units for this purpose for very ill people. But doctors may advise many people with mild symptoms of COVID-19 to isolate at home.

During home isolation, you'll need to stay away from family members to keep them from getting the infection. Avoid sharing dishes, glasses, bedding and other household items. Use a separate bedroom and bathroom if possible. If your symptoms get worse, contact your doctor for medical advice. Follow recommendations from your doctor and local health department about when you can end isolation. These measures can help limit the spread of COVID-19.

April 18, 2020 See more In-depth