To slow down the spread of coronaviruses, we are asked to "socially distance" ourselves, and to "self-quarantine" if it's possible that we have been in contact with the novel coronavirus. What do these terms mean, exactly? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control gives these definitions in an Interim US Guidance for Risk Assessment on March 7, 2020:
"Distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible."
Congregate settings are crowded public places where close contact with others may occur, such as shopping centers, movie theaters, stadiums.
Isolation means the separation of a person or group of people known or reasonably believed to be infected with a communicable disease and potentially infectious from those who are not infected to prevent spread of the communicable disease. Isolation for public health purposes may be voluntary or compelled by federal, state, or local public health order.
Quarantine in general means the separation of a person or group of people reasonably believed to have been exposed to a communicable disease but not yet symptomatic, from others who have not been so exposed, to prevent the possible spread of the communicable disease.
If I suspect I have been exposed, for how long should I stay isolated?
An analysis of people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and who had a known time of exposure found that 97% of those cases had an incubation period - the time between exposure and when symptoms appear - of 12 days or fewer. (On average, symptoms showed up around day 5.). Current recommendations for quarantine or isolation for people who suspect they could be infected is 14 days.
Wear a face mask or covering whenever you are in public. Face coverings are fairly effective at limiting how far we could spread the virus, and somewhat effective at limiting how much we are exposed to other people's viruses.
Infographic from University of Kansas Health System
There have been several different Orders and recommendations about face coverings since mid-March; to clear the confusion, on June 18 the California Department of Public Health issued an update that requires throughout the state wearing a covering over their mouth and nose when in public settings. Specifically,
Wear a face covering or mask when:
There are some exemptions, including:
See the text of the June 18 mandate for more details.
Note: Just wearing a face mask is not enough, not a substitute for other preventive measures. We still need to stay at least 6 feet away from other people, wash hands often, and disinfect surfaces. The CDC warns: "be sure to wash your hands, or use a hand sanitizer, before and after touching your face or face covering. Why? If you are infected you do not want to contaminate your hands. If you are not infected you do not want to inoculate yourself with contaminated hands."
Wearing nitrile gloves may be useful, but the outside surfaces of gloves can spread the coronavirus in the same ways that hands do. They are required in medical settings, and especially when caring for a sick person at home; and also for food preparation or distribution outside the home. Some work settings may also require them.
When you wear gloves, don't touch your face, and take them off carefully and dispose of them responsibly.
We've all heard the advice to "wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds". Some even have lists of songs that are at least 20 seconds long to use to in timing how long to wash.
If we cannot wash with soap and water, using hand sanitizer (sometimes called hand scrub) is second-best. To be effective against the novel coronavirus, though, the solution should be at least 60% alcohol ("anti-bacterial" ingredients will not do anything to virus). Use enough sanitizer that all hand surfaces are cleaned. To read about the science behind this advice, see:
But what about washing surfaces in our homes, schools, or offices? The most effective disinfectants against the novel coronavirus are solutions that use bleach or alcohol. (But remember not to mix bleach with other cleansers!)
As an alternative to ready-made disinfectants, these DIY solutions are recommended by reputable sources. (Note: disinfectant solutions intended for flood cleanup are also effective against coronavirus. Ignore the instructions to throw away porous objects, however, and ignore the instructions against mold or mildew.)
Until the time that coronavirus test kits are more widely available, it's recommended that people who have symptoms that fit the profile of COVID-19 disease
a) communicate with a doctor ASAP, if possible, to assess the severity of their symptoms;
b) self-quarantine for at least 14 days, and
c) clean and disinfect key areas of their home.
People who are at risk for severe disease if they should be infected are also advised to self-quarantine, cleaning and/or disinfecting daily. The people who live with them, or are in close contact with them, should practice isolation as well.
Isolation, quarantine, sheltering at home, and distancing restrictions are intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus to avoid overwhelming local healthcare providers until such time as a reliable vaccine against COVID-19 is widely available These avoidance restrictions are important, but they won't cure this disease.
The decision to loosen restrictions has to be based upon local conditions, to lower the chance that infectious local hot spots would cause a spike in new infections. Historical data, including the worldwide influenza epidemic of 100 years ago, shows us that's what is likely to happen if restrictions are released all at once, all over the country. That's why coordination between county, state, and regional health authorities is so important. The coordinated plans for the Bay Area are set up to release restrictions in stages, based on infection rates - and those rates are based on data from testing, screening, and contact tracing.
For more information on testing for COVID-19 in the Bay Area and on contact tracing, please see the box for Screening & Testing on the page in this guide for What to Do If... .
COVID-19 is pandemic; people are infected all over the world. Travel was - and is - the main way this disease is spread from community to community, from my town to your town, from country to county.
While public transit is a necessity in the traffic-congested Bay Area, there's also concern about possible spread of the novel coronavirus on buses and trains. Routes may be changed during the pandemic, and policies may change - check the websites relevant for you frequently.
To slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control publishes updates, recommendations for travelers, and news about travel restrictions.
Considering air travel? The FAA's resource page has useful information, and links to the coronavirus-related policies for major U.S. airlines (American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United).
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