From Lee Health Coconut Point
Quarantine, isolation, and social distancing: They’ve become buzzwords as U.S. health officials grapple with containing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States.
As scary as these words are, they offer a lot of potential for helping us get through the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Stephanie Stovall, infection prevention medical director for Lee Health, explains what the terms mean and how they help protect us.
“Specific to the coronavirus outbreak, quarantine and isolation both prevent exposure to people who have or may have COVID-19, the infection caused by this coronavirus,” Dr. Stovall says. “Isolation separates sick people with COVID-19 from people who are not sick. Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to the coronavirus to see if they get sick.”
Here is a rundown of terms you may be hearing lately and how they might affect you:
People who are isolated may be cared for in hospitals, other healthcare facilities and in their own homes. In most cases isolation is voluntary, but the CDC, empowered by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, has the authority to require the isolation (and quarantine) of sick people to protect the general public’s health.
When a person is placed in quarantine, they are also separated from others. Other quarantine measures include restricting travel for those who have been exposed to a contagious disease, and restrictions on people coming or going into a specific area.
States have the power to enforce quarantines within their borders, a rarely used power. The last time a large-scale isolation and quarantine was enforced was during the influenza (“Spanish Flu”) pandemic in 1918–1919. In recent history, only a few public health events have prompted federal isolation or quarantine orders.
Did you know that the United States has long practiced quarantine measures as a public health service?
Officials established our nation’s comprehensive quarantine system to safeguard against infectious diseases from entering our country and to prevent their spread. U.S. quarantine stations currently operate at 20 ports of entry and land-border crossings where international travelers arrive.
Health officers decide whether ill people can enter the country and what measures should be taken to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
To slow the rate at which the virus may be expanding into new communities and to slow its spread in communities already affected by the virus, the CDC recommends Americans practice “social distancing.”
“Social distancing is a public health practice that aims to restrict when and where people can gather to stop or slow the spread of an infectious disease,” Dr. Stovall says. “This could include limiting large groups of people coming together, closing buildings, and canceling events.”
Dr. Stovall says social distancing also aims to lower the risk of infection among vulnerable populations, and reduce the burden on health care systems and workers.
“Slowing the spread of the disease can provide our national, state, and local public health care resources with the valuable time to prepare better and respond as appropriate,” she says.