Facts on Social Distancing, Self-Quarantine, and Isolation to Avert Coronavirus Spread

There are many things we can do to prevent the spread of SARS CoV 2 the virus that causes COVID-19. This includes washing our hands, coughing into our elbows, avoiding touching our faces, staying home if we’re feeling sick and social distancing.

What does social distancing mean?
Social distancing is the practice of purposefully reducing close contact between people. This includes: remaining out of “congregate settings” as much as possible, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining a distance of about 3 feet from others when possible. So actually it is physical distancing and using other means to continue social contact. There are many ways you can connect with friends: phone calls, text messages, emails, and video chats are all great virtual options. While physical social distancing is important for our health, so is social interaction – trying alternative ways to stay connected is a good way to take care of your emotional health.

How important is social distancing in averting the spread of COVID-19?
Social distancing is crucial for preventing the spread of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19. This virus can spread by coughing, sneezing and close contact. By minimizing the amount of close contact we have with others, we reduce our chances of catching the virus and spreading it to our loved ones and within our community.

Social distancing is important for all of us, but those of us who are at a higher risk of serious complications caused by COVID-19 should be especially cautious about social distancing. People who are at high risk of complications include adults greater than 65 years of age, people, who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease. If there are high surges in the number of COVID-19 cases all at once, health care systems and resources could potentially become overwhelmed. Efforts that help stop COVID-19 from spreading rapidly – like social distancing – help keep the number of people who are sick at one time as low as possible. 

What is the best time to practice social distancing?
The best time to begin social distancing is before an illness like COVID-19 becomes widespread throughout your community. At the workplace when possible, keeping about 3 feet of distance between yourself and others is key. It’s also important to practice other preventative measures such as washing hands, avoiding touching your face, coughing into your elbow and staying home if you feel sick. Depending on your job and your community’s situation, working from home may be an option.

How long should those exposed to the virus self-quarantine?
People who have been exposed to the SARS CoV 2 and who are at risk for coming down with COVID-19 might practice self-quarantine. Self-quarantine lasts 14 days. Two weeks provides enough time for them to know whether or not they will become ill and be contagious to other people.

You might be asked to practice self-quarantine if you have recently returned from traveling to a part of the country or the world where COVID-19 is spreading rapidly, or if you have knowingly been exposed to an infected person.

What does self-quarantine involve?

  • Using standard hygiene and washing hands frequently
  • Not sharing things like towels and utensils
  • Staying at home
  • Not having visitors
  • Staying at least 3 feet away from other people in your household

Who should be isolated?

For people who are confirmed to have COVID-19, isolation is appropriate. Isolation is a health care term that means keeping people who are infected with a contagious illness away from those who are not infected. Isolation can take place at home or at a hospital or care facility. Special personal protective equipment will be used to care for these patients in health care settings. If a patient has mild symptoms they will be asked to put on a mask and self-isolate at home. If the symptoms require hospital admission then they will be isolated at a designated health care facility.

The writer is the Associate Professor and Infectious Disease Specialist at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi

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