Knowing when and how to isolate or quarantine can help stop the spread of COVID 19. However, isolation and quarantine are not the same thing. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses the two terms for different circumstances.
"There's a distinction between quarantine and isolation. Quarantine is for people who have been exposed to the virus and have not yet developed symptoms and also do not know if they have it," explains Dr Bhaskar Baruah from Guwahati. "Isolation is for people who are suspected to have COVID 19 or had COVID19, or who have tested positive irrespective of symptoms."
Dr Baruah observes, "I do not think everybody quite appreciates that isolation and quarantine are terms specific to two distinct situations." According to updated CDC guidelines, isolation is used to separate those infected with COVID 19 from those who are not infected. Those in isolation need to stay home for at least 10 days after their symptoms begin and until these (symptoms) have improved and they have been without fever for at least 24 hours (without fever reducing medications).
At home, those in isolation should try and stay away from other members of the household. "The idea is that you minimize contact with anyone else to limit the spread of disease," Dr. Baruah observes. "So, stay at home during the isolation period, preferably in a separate bedroom, use a separate bathroom if possible and avoid all contact with other household members and pets.Don't share personal items like dishes or glasses. The only reason to leave the house is if you need to get medical care. In that case wear a face covering if you can to avoid spread to others," he added.
The guidance surrounding quarantine is slightly different. "Quarantine is meant to keep someone who has had close contact with someone who has COVID19 away from others," Dr. Baruah informed Fit Northeast. "You should stay home for the 14 day quarantine period while also monitoring for symptoms," he advises.
Not everyone appreciates that isolation and quarantine are terms specific to two distinct situationsAccording to the CDC guidelines, any person who has been in close contact with someone who has COVID19 needs to quarantine.So what qualifies for close (vulnerable) contact? "Being within 6 feet of someone with COVID19 for at least 15 minutes. Providing care for someone with COVID19 at home, direct physical contact such as kissing or hugging with someone who has COVID 19, sharing of utensils and being exposed to droplets via coughing or sneezing from someone with COVID 19 are all part of close contact, according to Dr Bhaskar Baruah.
While those in isolation need to stay home for 10 days and wait until fever and symptoms have passed, those in quarantine must stay home for 14 days after the last contact with a person who has COVID19. Experts say quarantine can help stop the virus spreading from people who do not yet know they are sick or infected."We put people in quarantine after they have been exposed simply because they may develop the infection. Moreover, we know that the incubation period is before that infection develops. In other words, that is before a test becomes positive or a person develops symptoms," explained Dr Shruti Malik, who practices medicine in New Delhi.
So what needs to be done after getting tested? For those awaiting COVID 19 test results, Dr Malik says the advice is slightly different depending on the reason for testing. "If a person got tested because they are symptomatic, they need to isolate until test results are known. If someone got tested because they were a close contact of a known COVID case, they need to continue the quarantine for 14 days," she said.
Earlier in the year, some people were tested for COVID-19 multiple times. Some of those people consistently returned a positive result. However, experts say repeat testing may not be indicative of infection. "Early on in the pandemic, we would keep such people in isolation because we were concerned that those prolonged positive tests correlated with infectiousness. But we have now discovered that this is not the case. You are not infectious after ten days and if you should be tested thereafter and come back positive, that just represents fragments of the virus, not the whole virus," Dr Malik revealed.
When it comes to the rules governing what's allowed in isolation and quarantine, experts say it's actually quite simple. In either isolation or quarantine, people need to stay home at all times."Neither group of people should be out in the community and receiving visitors without a lot of proper protective equipment. The safest situation is to not be in contact with others," Dr Baruah said.