Social distancing, quarantine, isolation – terms heard all too often as it relates to the ongoing battle against COVID-19, but what do they really mean?
After the recent rounds of testing for COVID-19 had increased the total number of active cases in Scotland County to six, the terms isolation and quarantine returned to the forefront.
“They are two terms associated with positive test results,” explained Dr. Randall Williams, Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. “Basically when an individual tests positive for the disease, they are asked to isolate. Anyone who has had close contact with these individuals in turn is asked to quarantine.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines quarantine as being “used to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others.”
The CDC states “isolation is used to separate people infected with the virus (those who are sick with COVID-19 and those with no symptoms) from people who are not infected.”
Health officials note that anyone with the disease should stay home until it’s safe for them to be around others, remaining in isolation until the danger to others has passed.
This means that anyone sick or infected should separate themselves from others, ideally by identifying a specific room or area as off limits to all others, and using a separate bathroom
The second part of that equation is quarantine, which helps prevent the spread of disease. This involves those who had close contact with a positive COVID-19 case, and often occurs before a person knows they are sick, but also can include those infected with the virus that show no visual symptoms.
Dr. Williams explained that for the recent positive test cases in Scotland County, just like those across the state, the local health officials are responsible for interviewing the patient.
“We are tasked with determining who the patient had contact with once they became symptomatic,” he stated. “Then we contact all of these people to inform them of their potential exposure and advise them to quarantine until they can be tested.”
Similar to isolation, people in quarantine are advised to stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from their state or local health department.
Williams explained that during both the isolation and quarantine processes, the local health department officials seek to monitor the patient’s status daily to ensure their health as well as public safety.
“Health officials have the legal authority to order isolation and quarantine status,” said Williams. “However we have no enforcement authority. That involves law enforcement and the court system, which is also available for anyone that wishes to appeal any health order.”
Throughout the process, health officials make every effort to ensure the privacy of the patients.
“We do not release the names of those that have tested positive,” said Dr. Williams. “Of course we do not pretend that the privacy procedures are full proof as we are also tasked with doing the right thing to keep people safe, which means contact tracing and notifying anyone who was potentially exposed.”
He explained that while contacts are not told who has the disease, they are informed when and where they may have been exposed.
Anyone who has been exposed to an active case of COVID-19 is asked to quarantine, to stay home for 14 days after the last exposure. During that time it is suggested you take your temperature at least twice a day to check for fever while also monitoring for other symptoms such as a cough or shortness of breath.
Williams stressed that the high costs of quarantining are the best argument for social distancing.
“Obviously I feel like it is very important for me to be at work right now,” he said. “I don’t believe I can afford to be quarantined. The only way to totally prevent that is by simply never being a contact, never being within six feet of anyone that potentially could have the virus.”