With so much information whizzing by us these days because of the COVID-19 crisis, and with so many people posting pictures of themselves in #quarantine or #selfisolation, or talking about social distancing and then physical distancing, trying to keep straight what it all means is becoming increasingly difficult and confusing . In this article, we’ll try to provide some navigation.
Self-Quarantine Versus Self-Isolation in Canada
Understanding these terms can sometimes come down to what country you live in. For example, quarantining and self-isolation in Canada mean the same but differ from isolation.
You go into quarantine (self-isolation) for 14 days if you have no symptoms and if any of the following conditions apply to you:
- you’ve just returned to Canada,
- you’ve been in close contact with someone who has or is suspected to have COVID-19, or
- a public health authority has told you may have been exposed and need to quarantine.
On the other hand, you must isolate if any of the following conditions apply to you:
- you have been tested for/diagnosed with COVID-19,
- have symptoms of COVID-19 (even mild ones),
- have come into contact with someone who may or does have COVID-19,
- have been told by public health authorities that you may have been exposed to the virus, or
- you’ve returned to the country (isolation is now mandatory).
As you can see, there’s some overlap. However, quarantining refers to three basic steps:
- Stay at home and monitor all symptoms.
- Avoid contact with others.
- Practice physical distancing in your home.
On the other hand, if you must go into isolation, the list of instructions from Health Canada is much longer and involves guidelines on how to properly disinfect surfaces daily, care for yourself, and keep your hands clean. You’ll also find a list of supplies you may need someone to deliver to your doorstep for you.
Quarantining Versus Isolation in the United States
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines isolation as separating “sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick” and quarantine as separating and restricting “the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.”
The CDC asks you to do the following:
- Self-monitor if you or someone in your home may have been exposed to COVID-19.
- Self-quarantine if you have recently had close contact with someone with COVID-19 or recently returned to the US.
- Self-isolate if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are awaiting test results, or have symptoms of COVID-19, such as shortness of breath, fever or a cough.
In the United States, self-quarantining means to take your temperature twice a day and monitor symptoms while staying home for 14 days. You should also stay away from anyone who has a high risk of becoming very ill with COVID-19.
Contrary to Canada’s definition, “self-isolation” in the US means completely separating yourself from anyone in your home and caring for yourself unless your symptoms worsen.
Physical Versus Social Distancing
These terms mean the same thing: staying 2m (6 ft) away from everyone. However, some people prefer to use “physical distancing” because they feel it describes exactly what we’re all supposed to do: stay physically separated from one another. People support “physical” distancing over “social” distancing because it doesn’t sound like we’re supposed to avoid each other socially, i.e., not call or email or text one another. Withdrawing socially can have an impact on mental health.
How Does All of This Make You Feel?
Whatever terminology you use, our main weapon to fight COVID-19 is staying physically distant from one another. This is creating a global mental health crisis. How are you coping? Let us know by filling out a short survey. We’re collecting answers and will share that information (all anonymous) with leaders around the world so they can see the full picture of the damage COVID-19 is doing to our society.
While they put all their resources into finding treatments, cures and vaccines—which we fully support—we want to make sure that leaders are better equipped to support the mental health of people in communities all over the world, too. As we navigate our way through the myriad of information and the somewhat complicated maze of directions that public health, politicians and media are providing, remember that only you can exercise common sense. As emotions run high whenever there is any type of crisis, including a pandemic such as this one, we should be comfortable with letting ourselves express our feelings. We can only focus on what we know, not on what we don’t know. Stay healthy—and stay connected! Fill out the survey and help the world better understand how COVID-19, isolation and quarantine, and physical distancing are affecting your mental health.