Differences between quarantine, social distancing and isolation

With the advent of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and, during these days (March 2020), we very often hear these three terms: quarantine, social distancing and isolation. What does each term mean? These are three very similar concepts, but they have some differences.

What differences between midlife, social distancing and isolation can we find? In this article we talk about the four most important ones, although thanks to the initial definitions that we bring to you of each concept, we can better understand what these are.

    Fighting disease: what is each concept?

    Before we explain the differences between midlife, social distancing, and isolation, let’s see what each concept means. These are three medical measures used to prevent the spread or spread of a particular disease, usually infectious, in the population.

    These are widely used measures in the face of pandemics, such as the current coronavirus (which, in this case, has already been implemented in most countries to combat the disease).

    1. Quarantine

    Quarantine is a concept of medicine, which is used to refer to the isolation of people (at home), for a non-specific duration, following an illness. The purpose of quarantine is to reduce, prevent or eliminate the risk of the spread of this disease. That is to say, it looks for itself to avoid the contagion and to stop the propagation of the same.

    This action is used to segregate and restrict movement of healthy people or healthy people who may have been exposed to infected people. The quarantine, in the case of the coronavirus, by protocol lasts 14 days.

    Moreover, also in the case of the coronavirus, it is estimated that once infected with it, it took between 5 and 14 days, at the most, to manifest the symptoms. Therefore, after quarantine, you can see whether the person has shown symptoms or not (although there are infected people who never show symptoms).

    In quarantine, the population cannot go out (only in exceptional cases). In Spain, quarantine only means being able to leave home to work (with a permit), to buy, to take animals for walks, to accompany the elderly or minors, to throw away garbage, etc. Failure to follow these rules can result in a fine or even an arrest.

    2. Social distancing

    For its part, social distancing encompasses all infection control measures, which aim to stop (or slow) the spread of a contagious disease.

    For practical purposes, social distancing this implies not being able to be very close to the people with whom we meet or with whom we are (About two meters away), and avoid being in large groups (in Spain, for example, quarantine implies social distancing in supermarket queues, and also in the impossibility of going out in the street accompanied, unless it is a minor, a disabled person or an elderly person).

    3. Isolation

    Insulation is used for separate people who already have the contagious disease in question from healthy people, To prevent the first from spreading to the rest, thus reducing the risk of the disease spreading.

    This action is used by hospitals and various medical centers, with the necessary medical control. Concretely, it would be the same as quarantine, but in this case, it is only used in people who are already sick.

    4 Differences between quarantine, social distancing and isolation

    Now that we’re going to expand on the main differences between midlife, social distancing, and isolation, we’ll understand that and other concepts or metrics a bit better.

    As we see, the three phenomena explained, quarantine, social distancing and social isolation, they have the same goal, which is to prevent the spread and spread of a particular disease among the population. In turn, these are processes or actions that are used, especially in the face of pandemics.

    Pandemics are epidemic diseases that affect almost everyone in a given locality or spread too quickly in many countries. An example of a pandemic can be found in the current situation in which we are already living in up to 171 countries, due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

    As a result, the three mechanisms or actions that we explain in this article have been applied in most of these countries. We have seen how the purpose of these three concepts is the same; however, these differences present. We will see the main ones below.

    1. Nature of the term

    The first of the differences between midlife, social distancing, and isolation has to do with the nature or origin of each term; that is, with the domain from which they originate (note that we are not talking about etymology).

    In the case of quarantine, the term comes from medicine (In the sense that it is a medical term, widely used in this sector); with regard to social distancing, although it is also used in medicine, the concept would come from social psychology; finally, the isolation would also come from social psychology, although it is used later for medical situations such as pandemics.

    2. Target population

    Another difference between the three measures is the population to which each is addressed, as there are nuances in this regard.

    Quarantine is aimed at the entire population (healthy, healthy who have been exposed to infected and sick people), while social distancing is for healthy people who have not yet contracted the disease (People with the disease are directly isolated, although we could also ask them for social distancing), and finally, isolation is applied to people who have already contracted the disease, to prevent it from spreading to others.

      3. Degree or intensity of action

      Another of the differences between midlife, social distancing, and isolation is the degree of intensity of the action or the extent to which it interferes with the person’s life.

      Thus, while the isolation has a high intensity, in the sense that the person is directly isolated from his environment (he cannot see his friends, his family and, finally, no one), in quarantine the intensity one could say that ‘ it is moderate because the person can see other people and be in contact with them (even if they are locked in their homes and must apply the recommended security measures).

      Finally, social distancing would imply a lower degree of intensity, because in this case people can see each other, but not too close to each other.

      4. Period or duration

      Finally, the fourth of the differences between quarantine, social distancing and isolation concerns the duration of each action. Quarantine is the only measure that has a stipulated and specific period of time; the time is determined by the protocol of each disease or pandemic.

      Social distancing, on the other hand, does not usually have a stipulated time, it simply lasts as long as the state of alert for this disease. In the case of isolation, it ends when the person is no longer showing symptoms and is shown to be cured (although the safety measures in question must continue to be applied).

      Bibliographical references:

      • Delgado, RC, González, PA and Soler, AR (2009). Health system and triage in the face of an influenza pandemic: a public health approach. Emergencies, 21: 376-381.
      • Ledermann, W. (2003). Man and his epidemics throughout history. Chilean Journal of Infectology, anniversary edition: 13-17.
      • Royal Spanish Academy. (2001). Spanish language dictionary [Dictionary of the Spanish Language] (22nd ed.). Madrid, Spain: author.

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