The difference between social distancing, self isolating, and quarantining during the coronavirus outbreak

  • City governments, health organizations, and private citizens are using social distancing tactics — or measures that limit human contact — as an attempt to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. 
  • Social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak allows for solitary walks, but self-isolating and quarantines are more solitary.
  • Insider compiled the primary differences between social distancing, self-isolating, and quarantine. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

City governments, international health organizations, and even music festivals like Coachella are taking action to limit person-to-person contact as much as possible to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus — which has infected 175,00 people and killed 6,700 worldwide. 

Suddenly, there is plenty of talk about social distancing, quarantining, and self-isolation — most of which are new concepts to the general public. 

As it can sometimes be difficult to understand the differences between the three, Insider has compiled a guide explaining when you should practice social distancing, self-isolation, or quarantine, and what each of those terms entail. 

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'Social distancing' involves limiting human contact as much as possible 

Closing schools, working from home, and canceling gatherings of over 50 people fall under the umbrella of "social distancing" — a public health strategy used to limit human interaction in order to prevent the spread of infectious illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People who are practicing social distancing can still engage in activities, like taking a walk, gardening, or going for a hike. You can spend time with roommates or family members you live with, but should not mingle with anyone beyond that, avoid contact with vulnerable people, and cancel all unnecessary in-person social engagements.

Governments around the world are recommending social isolation, which experts believe played a key role in stemming the spread in China.

Studies have shown people with no symptoms can spread the virus, staying away from crowded spaces with many people who may be unknowingly carrying coronavirus is highly recommended by the CDC. A recent study showed that social distancing measures are required to control a pandemic of this proportion.  

People who are sick or might be sick will be told to 'self-isolate' — stay at home for at least 7 days, and stay 6 feet away from others

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If you believe you have the virus, it is recommended that you self-isolate rather than simply socially distancing to prevent spreading the virus, according to the CDC.

Unlike social distancing, people who are self-isolating should not leave their house — even for a solitary walk. The CDc recommends the only reason anyone who is self-isolating with the virus should leave their place of isolation is for emergencies.  

According to the UK government's guidance, people who are self-isolating should not leave their house for at least seven days from when symptoms have started, "however mild." 

Rather than leaving to get supplies, order your goods online or ask friends or family to come by your home and drop them off. When they are leaving them, be sure to not come in contact with whoever is delivering them. 

If you have roommates, you should stay at least six feet away from them to ensure they don't become infected as well. If you typically share a bed or bedroom, consider sleeping alone and relocating your shared roommate to sleep in a different room if possible. 

One of the most important steps to spread the coronavirus aside from physical space from people is also washing your hands consistently and thoroughly.

If you don't have symptoms but you have come into contact with the coronavirus, a 14-day quarantine is the recommend

If you have recently traveled to a country with widespread coronavirus, or you suspect for another reason that you have come into contact with the novel coronavirus, it is recommended that you undergo a 14-day quarantine to see if symptoms develop.

Unlike social distancing, a quarantine means you should not go outside or even have contact with those living in your home, according to the CDC. People under quarantine should maintain six feet of distance from anyone. 

If possible, it's best for the person in quarantine to stay in one room of the house alone if they live with other people and stay in there for the two-week period. 

Disinfecting anything the quarantined person might have touched or surfaces they may have briefly used in shared spaces like the bathroom or kitchen is also extremely important to limit exposure of the virus to others in the house.

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