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Your Healthy Family: Do you know the important difference between isolation and quarantine? I didn't

Posted at 10:41 AM, Nov 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 12:41:40-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — The COVID news in general is getting worse by the day. While the overall death rate isn't spiking like it did in the first wave back in the spring, and was even trending down recently, it's still critical to limit the spread of coronavirus because of its many potential impacts. The most effective ways we can do that is through social distancing, mask wearing, frequent hand washing, and quarantine or isolation when appropriate.

In October, after a member of my household had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and another member of the family was having symptoms, KOAA informed me to work from home even though I was feeling fine.

The good news for me is I could keep working during my quarantine. My wife, who is a registered nurse, was not as lucky. As the pandemic has evolved, so has my remote studio at home. In the spring when the initial shutdown went into effect, it was a scramble just to get things together to do a live shot from my home. Now, more work has gone into making remote broadcasting more seamless in terms interacting in the newscast in real-time, and my remote studio has gotten some upgrades. I now have a green screen, so I can have that professional News5 look, even when I'm not in the studio.

The entire time I worked at home, I felt fine physically, and frankly a little silly, not going to work. Dr. Johnson, MD, MPH(c), FACEP is the Medical Director for the El Paso County Public Health Department and says feeling that way is normal - especially when you are not feeling sick.

Dr. Johnson says, “It’s a little counterculture, but we are asking people to quarantine, not for the symptoms which is truly the challenging part, but because you may be incubating the virus during this time.”

It's something Dr. Johnson told me she can relate to first-hand. “I had to quarantine early on in March, so I understand. We were starting (to deal) with the first cases and I had an exposure, so I was quarantined. It's an interesting thing and it was frustrating because we were just starting our telework at that time. There is a lot of challenges and still I would really like to have more human interaction than I am.”

Whie I was working from home, I kept telling people I was in precautionary isolation, which is *not correct, I was in quarantine. Dr. Johnson says it's important we all know the difference between quarantine and isolation. “Isolation is what we utilize when you actually are ill and have tested positive for the virus - or have symptoms. We want to isolate you because you are shedding the virus and considered infectious to others. Quarantine is reserved for those who are exposed to the virus, and we know that they've had enough of an exposure that they then could be incubating the virus, meaning converting to somebody who actually could then - shed the virus and become infectious.”

Dr. Johnson also says the number of days for isolation and quarantine are different. “The classic isolation, and there's a few new nuances around it, but the classic isolation is 10 days from the onset of symptoms. We know that you can shed the (COVID-19) virus for 10 days from the onset of symptoms that would still have enough life to it -- that it could infect someone else.”

And Dr. Johnson says, it’s 14 days for quarantine because of a suspected exposure whether you’re feeling fine or if you're having mild symptoms. “During quarantine you get quarantine for 14 days which seems excessive but that's the life cycle of the virus. We know that there are enough people who can convert to a positive case on that 14th day, which is why we extend quarantine for the full 14 days.”

And a COVID test while you are in quarantine can only safely do one thing, says Dr. Johnson. “There is no testing out of quarantine. If you're in quarantine - there are some recommendation to get tested at 7 days, but that wouldn't clear you from quarantine if you tested negative. If you tested positive, it would convert you to isolation. If on day five - you start having symptoms we would advise you either just start presumptive isolation for 10 days from the day you started having symptoms or go get tested. Many might ask, ‘Why would I do that, why would I go get tested if it's not going to spring me from quarantine?’ The reason is because it's going to help break the chain of spreading COVID-19. It’s a way we can all say, ‘You shall not pass’ and we are not allowing the virus to spread.”

In our next story, Dr. Johnson will talk about why these sacrifices, big and small, are so important especially as we are heading into the holidays, how to cope with emotions that come with them, and how long she thinks we need to be prepared to deal with this all.