As the new coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, an increasing number of people have been told to self-quarantine. While some have tested positive for the virus, others have simply been exposed to it and have been advised to self-quarantine as a precaution.
Not everyone, however, is taking self-quarantine seriously. Last Friday, a New Hampshire man who tested positive for the virus attended an event despite being told to self-quarantine, putting several people’s health at risk.
Patients who have tested positive for coronavirus have reported flu-like symptoms including fever, a dry cough, and difficulty breathing, with some developing pneumonia. In more severe instances, patients have suffered organ failure. Currently, there is no drug against coronavirus.
While health officials continue to advise patients to “self-quarantine,” there’s a widespread lack of clarity on what it really entails. Ensuring that people self-quarantine properly, however, is crucial in preventing further spread of the virus.
When should someone self-quarantine?
If someone has traveled to an area affected by coronavirus, been in proximity to someone suspected of having the virus or develops symptoms, they are advised to self-quarantine.
The virus has already spread to more than 80 countries, with more than 95,000 cases. Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases include Mainland China, where the virus originated, followed by Italy, South Korea and Iran.
You do not need to have traveled to a high-risk region, however, to be at risk of the virus. People who have been within 6 feet of someone infected are at risk and should self-quarantine as a precaution.
What does a self-quarantine entail?
Self-quarantine involves staying at home for 14 days and avoiding contact with other people or animals. This means not going to work, taking public transport, running errands or having visitors stop by your home.
While friends and family can drop off essential items, they should not come into contact with the infected person. Food can be delivered but should be left on doorstep.
People should also monitor their symptoms while in self-quarantine. The Centers for Disease for Control and Prevention (CDC) advises to “seek prompt medical attention” if symptoms worsen.
Home quarantine should only be discontinued when the “risk of secondary transmission to others is thought to be low,” the CDC says, adding that the decision to end self-quarantine should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider as well as state and local health departments.
How does it affect other people in your home and family?
If an infected person shares a home with others, they should separate themselves from people and animals living on the property.
The CDC advises that infected people wear a mask when entering communal spaces, covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning hands frequently, avoiding sharing household items and regularly cleaning all “high-touch” surfaces.
How should someone seek medical attention while self-quarantining?
If someone suspects they have coronavirus, they should call a healthcare provider to notify them of their symptoms. Patients should not show up unannounced at healthcare facilities as this risks exposing others to the virus.
Is it illegal to break self-quarantine?
The CDC says police have a right to enforce isolation or quarantine and that “in most states, breaking a quarantine order is a criminal misdemeanor.”
In the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) can make an official order for self-quarantine. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as the U.S. Coast Guard also have the right to enforce federally-mandated quarantines.
Why is it important to self-quarantine?
Self-quarantine can help stop the spread of the new coronavirus. As of March 3, COVID-19 has a 3.4% death rate according to the World Health Organization, with elderly populations or patients with preexisting conditions most affected. Self-quarantine not only prevents others from getting sick. It can save people’s lives.
While health officials have identified some of the ways the virus can spread, they still do not know all the ways it can be passed from person to person, making self-quarantine all the more important.
“The big problem is that the transmissibility of this virus is still not understood,” David Heymann, a professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene, told TIME. “It’s understood how it is passed from person to person—social contact, a sneeze, a cough, face-to-face, and in hospital settings where there is not adequate infection prevention and control—but how easily this spreads in other circumstances is not known at present.”
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Contributor: Mélissa Godin