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What’s the difference between isolation and quarantine?

March 31, 2020
Published in: COVID-19, Infectious Disease

Mother and child sitting on couch watching TV

Isolation and quarantine are two different terms that some are using interchangeably during the COVID outbreak. It's important to understand the difference.


Isolation refers to separating sick people with a contagious disease from those who are not sick. Hospitals use isolation for patients who have a known infectious disease that can be spread easily to others. A person, who finds themselves ill with COVID-19, needs to isolate themselves in a specific room away from other household members. Household members should use a separate bedroom and even a separate bathroom if possible. It is also recommended that the ill person should eat or be fed in their room away from other household members. Household items such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding, or other items should not be shared with the person infected with COVID-19. It is important to prohibit all visitors and non-essential people from being in the home.

According to the Central Shenandoah Health District, if a family member has COVID-19 symptoms and has been tested, but the results are pending, that family member should isolate as best as possible until the results are known. A separate bedroom and bathroom if possible, and definitely separate dishes, drinking glasses, eating utensils, towels and bedding.


Quarantine aims to separate and restrict the movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease to watch and see if they become sick. These people may have been exposed to a disease and do not know it, or they may have the disease but do not show symptoms. Quarantine helps to limit the spread of communicable disease.

Because of the current COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, many people have been told to quarantine. Quarantining means staying home and away from other people as much as possible for a 14-day period. This includes avoiding shopping, eating out, socializing, public places, and large crowds.