As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, people who have been exposed to the virus or to sick patients have been asked to go into self-isolation.
But what exactly does that mean?
A former chief medical officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains to DailyMail.com what self-isolation is and what you should be doing while cooped up at home.
IS SELF-ISOLATION THE SAME AS BEING IN QUARANTINE?
In a word: no. Those who undergo self-isolation do so voluntarily and have to make arrangements themselves while they’re at home.
While quarantines are typically voluntary, sometimes they can be mandatory, such as the federal quarantine for US citizens evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
People under quarantine are not sick, but they are are separated fro the general public to see if they become sick.
Both self-isolation and quarantine differ from isolation, which separates those who are sick from the general public until they are cured or treated.
WHO NEEDS TO SELF-ISOLATE?
‘People who should go into self-isolation are not sick but they’ve had a credible exposure,’ said Dr Robert Amler, former chief medical officer for the CDC and dean of New York Medical College.
‘There’s reason to believe they may have been exposed. And we wait for the incubation period, in this case about 14 days, to see if they become sick.’
This includes a few groups of people such as anyone awaiting CDC test results or anyone who has been in contact with someone waiting for test results.
Anyone who has traveled to a foreign country where the outbreak is rampant such as China, Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran.
WHAT DO I DO IN SELF-ISOLATION?
People under self-isolation are expected to stay home and not go to work or school, or take their children to school.
Dr Amler says that people should try to do as much of their normal activities as they can – such as working from home or doing school work – without physically contacting anyone else.
‘That means staying in your room, trying to have your own bathroom facility if possible, and not sharing plates or utensils with other household members,’ he said.
However, being in self-isolation doesn’t mean that you can’t have contact with the outside world.
‘You can use your TV, your stereo, your phone, FaceTime, go on social media,’ Dr Amler said.
‘Just anything that does not allow you to get [possibly infected] droplets everywhere else.’
CAN I GO OUTSIDE TO GET FOOD, TOILETRIES OR OTHER SUPPLIES?
People under self-isolation are not allowed to leave the premises under any circumstances.
One option is to have family or friends drop off supplies you need. Alternatively, you can use grocers or online retailers to deliver packages.
Dr Amler offers two suggestions, either wear a mask when the person drops off items or wait until they leave before retrieving them.
He says the latter is more ideal because ‘because the person delivering items not enter the air space.’
WHAT DO I DO WITH MY GARBAGE?
Dr Amler says that most people don’t produce huge amounts of garbage by themselves so, if you can wait to take it out, that’s the best option.
‘If there’s no harm in keeping it, that’s the most protective way,’ he said. ‘That way nothing going out your room.’
If that’s not possible, Dr Amler recommends depositing outside of your doorstep until the 14-day isolation period is up.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I FEEL UNWELL WHILE IN SELF-ISOLATION?
The most important thing is to not visit a doctor’s office, a hospital or any other healthcare setting, otherwise you risk infecting others.
Stay home and immediately call your healthcare provider and ask them for advice on what you should do.
‘Alert the authorities so you can be transferred to a hospital to be monitored, and undergo testing,’ Dr Amler said.