The difference between self-quarantining and self-monitoring
Before we tackle the three ways we mentioned earlier, let us first determine the difference between self-quarantine and self-monitoring. There's a bit of overlap but both strategies have one goal: to keep people who have been exposed, or who might have been exposed, away from others as much as possible for at least 14 days. Fourteen days is considered the incubation period of COVID-19, although symptoms can appear within a few days of exposure.
Self-monitoring might include regularly checking your temperature and watching for signs of a respiratory illness, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also involves limiting interaction with others.
Self-quarantine is a step up from self-monitoring because the person at risk of infection — even though the person still doesn't have symptoms ― had a higher chance of exposure.
Quarantining means staying home and away from other people as much as possible for that 14-day period. People in this circumstance who don't live alone should do their best to retreat to their room or find a separate area in their home, and they shouldn't go out shopping, eating or socializing.
What does Isolation mean?
A diagnosis of COVID-19 triggers isolation.
"Isolation is when you are sick, either at home or in the hospital," says Benjamin. "Infectious disease precautions are then much more rigid than in self-quarantine."
Medical staff, for example, wear gear that is more protective. In addition, the person in isolation would be asked to wear a mask when leaving their room or traveling from home to a medical facility — to try to prevent spreading droplets that might contain the virus.
What is a quarantine?
This is when — under state or federal law — individuals or groups are essentially on lockdown. Recent examples include passengers from cruise ships where other passengers fell ill with COVID-19; those passengers who didn't fall ill on the ship were then required to stay at military bases for 14 days to see if they developed the disease.
The U.S. hasn't closed off entire areas — such as towns or cities — since the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. But the federal government and the states do have the power to do so.
In New Rochelle, N.Y., officials have established a "containment zone" because of a high number of COVID-19 cases in the region. School and houses of worship are closed and large gatherings barred. But it is not considered a quarantine because people can come and go.
What is social distancing?
This is a broad category. It means not shaking hands, avoiding crowds, standing several feet from other people and, most important, staying home if you feel sick.
Businesses are doing it when they ask employees to work from home or stagger work hours. Governments are doing it when they close schools. We're seeing it in the sports world, with no-spectator games or the postponement of sporting events. Museums, theaters and concert halls where large groups of people gather are closing their doors.
It means trying to find the least-crowded train car or possibly driving instead of taking mass transit.
"It's about taking stock, how closely you interact with people in day-to-day life," says Christopher Mores, a professor in the department of global health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. "Increase distances. Cut out handshakes. The idea is to try to empower people to break the lines of transmission."