What Is Self-Isolation vs. Quarantine?

Self-quarantine and isolation help prevent the spread of contagious diseases by separating sick people from non-sick people.

Key Takeaways

  • Quarantine separates people who have been exposed to an infectious disease from others. It is recommended to self-quarantine for 14 days from time of exposure.

  • Isolation separates people who already have the disease from others. The length of time varies depending on how symptoms progress.

What is Self Quarantine vs Isolation

What is the difference between Self-quarantine and Isolation?

Self-quarantine and isolation are public health measures used to prevent the spread of contagious diseases such as COVID-19. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but should actually be applied in different situations. 

According to the CDC, quarantine is used to keep someone who might have been in close contact with an infected person away from others. People that fall into this category tend to be asymptomatic at first, but could develop symptoms later on. 

Isolation is used to keep someone who is already infected with the disease away from others. People in this category have already tested positive for the disease and may or may not display symptoms. 

What counts as close contact?

Close contact includes being within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes, providing care to someone who is sick, sharing food or utensils, physical contact such as hugging or kissing, and being exposed to droplets from a cough or sneeze of someone with the infection. 

How to Self-quarantine

If a person knows or suspects that they’ve been in close contact with an infected person, they should:

  • Stay at home and refrain from being in public spaces, even if not feeling sick

  • Keep a distance of at least 6 feet if living in the same space as others

  • Wash their hands and disinfect surfaces regularly 

  • Monitor for fever and other signs of infection

  • If symptoms develop, get in touch with a healthcare provider

How to Self-isolate

If a person has tested positive for an infection, they should

  • Stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom if possible

  • Wear a mask if in the same room as others 

  • Wash their hands and disinfect surfaces regularly 

  • If symptoms become worse, call a doctor or go to the hospital

When is it Safe to Be Around Others?

It’s up to local public health authorities to set the guidelines. However, the CDC recommends that for COVID-19, people should self-quarantine for 14 days from the time of exposure. If two weeks go by with no symptoms developing, it is generally safe to be around others. 

People who are isolating can stop if, after 10 days since their first symptoms, their symptoms are improving AND they haven’t had a fever in over 24 hours. However, people who are severely ill or immunocompromised may need to isolate for longer. 


Outside the Huddle


Reviewed by Geetika Rao, MPH | Edited by Jared Dashevsky, M.Eng