Health director clears confusion on quarantining, isolation and social distancing

March 20, 2020 | Payton North

EAST LONGMEADOW – In recent weeks due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) discussions have been heavily focused on social distancing, quarantining and isolation. With that said, many of these terms are being used without a full understanding of what they mean.

In an effort to clear up confusion and inform residents in our various communities, Reminder Publishing reached out to East Longmeadow Director of Public Health Aimee Petrosky to do a question-and-answer interview on the differences between quarantine, social distancing and isolation, as well as the restrictions and incubation periods that are being discussed in today's climate.

Reminder Publishing (RP): What exactly does it “mean” to be quarantined, and how does that differ from isolation or social distancing?

Petrosky: There are a lot of words floating around right now to describe the different ways in which we are separating ourselves from one another. Often these words are used interchangeably and it causes confusion.

Quarantine is when we separate ourselves from other people because we have been exposed or possibly exposed to COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

Isolation is when we have symptoms of Covid-19 and we need to separate ourselves from others because we have been diagnosed as a confirmed case of COVID-19 or because you had a high-risk exposure to someone with COVID-19. Simply put isolation separates sick people (or people who are likely to be sick) with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. Quarantine separates people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

Social Distancing is to avoid being exposed, or exposing other people. To do this you must keep yourself at least six feet away from other people, but ideally this means staying home as much as possible. We now know the virus can spread from people who  are not showing signs of illness, and the more we can eliminate or slow additional infections, the better we are able to protect those around us, and the better chance we have of keeping the medical demands of our hospital and medical facilities within their capabilities.

RP: Why are the quarantines that are being discussed right now set at 14 days?

Petrosky: Quarantines are set at 14 days because the incubation period is between two and 14 days. The most common incubation period is five days.

RP: Why are some people self-quarantining?

Petrosky: The term self quarantining is being used in two ways. First- is when people voluntarily remove themselves from social situations due to notification that they had a chance of exposure. These are not requested, or monitored by the Department of Public Health or the local Health Department. The term is also being used to describe people’s choice to social distance by not leaving their home.

RP: What are the restrictions for someone who is quarantined?

Petrosky: When someone is quarantined the guidance is to stay inside your home or in your yard always maintaining six foot distance between you and other people.

RP: At the end of a 14–day quarantine, how does someone know if it’s safe for them to end the quarantine?

Petrosky: During a quarantine a public health nurse will call you twice daily to monitor your temp and any symptoms that may arise. During these conversations the nurse will let you know when it is safe for you to end your quarantine. Releasing someone from isolation is currently made on a case by case basis and includes the following: The patient is free from fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, the patient is no longer showing symptoms, including cough, and the patient has tested negative on at least two consecutive specimens collected at least 24 hours apart.

We realize there may be people who are sick with traditional Covid-19 symptoms but are not in need of medical help, or are unable to get tested right now. If you are in this category please feel free to use 2-1-1 for guidance about what steps you should take. Traditional rule of thumb is you should not resume activities where exposure is possible for 72 hours after symptoms end.

We are in a very stressful time readers should know there is a the Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster, including disease outbreaks like COVID-19. Residents with COVID-19 related questions should call our hotline at 486-9000.

Readers please note that this is a rapidly evolving situation and that the information in this interview is accurate as of March 19, 2020 and may change prior or following publication.

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