‘Self-Quarantine’: What Does It Mean—and How to Get It Right

Self-Quarantine. It’s one of those terms we’re seeing and hearing constantly during this time of COVID-19. But what does it actually mean—and how do you get it right? 

For starters, quarantining doesn’t mean you are infected with coronavirus—it means you’re taking smart steps to monitor yourself and protect others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) quarantine and isolation help protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease.

In other words, staying in one place and not venturing outside near others or in public.

In the case of COVID-19, the recommended quarantine is 14 days, based on what researchers know about the time it takes for symptoms to develop. You might be wondering about how self-quarantine is supposed to work for two full weeks, especially if you live with others, and what you’ll need to create a safe and smooth experience for all. 

Does self-quarantine mean I can’t live with others?

No, but it does mean keeping a healthy distance from others and avoiding common spaces and resources as much as possible—and prohibiting any unnecessary visitors.

The CDC recommends staying in your own bedroom and using a separate bathroom, taking care not to share towels and bedding, as well as dishes, utensils or other household items. If you do need to share anything, take care to wash it thoroughly with soap and water. This goes for all high-tough surfaces, as well, using a household cleaner to wipe down counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, bedside tables and more.

It’s also recommended to wear a facemask and remain at least six feet away from others at all times. Restricted contact goes for pets, too, as it remains unknown whether animals can contract the virus from us. If limiting your interaction isn’t an option, keep your face mask on and wash your hands before and after handling your pets.

And as always, exercise good hygiene. Regular showering or bathing, hand-washing and covering your face when you sneeze or cough—throwing your tissues away immediately after use.

What do I need to have for a self-quarantine?

If you have to spend 14 days in your home, you might as well have everything you need. Just be sure you’re doing so with moderation. After all, 14 days is a finite amount of time. Buy only what you’ll need for yourself and members of your household for that duration.

Experts recommend starting out by stocking your refrigerator and pantry with any and all food items you might need or want. Reminder that the goal is to keep your distance from others, which means limiting even delivery services like food takeout. Non-perishable groceries are ideal, including canned goods—soup, vegetables, fruit—as well as pasta, rice, peanut butter, crackers, chips and other similar items. Frozen foods are also recommended, or foods you can freeze for a later date. This includes fruits, vegetables, meats, or pre-prepared meals. And ice cream, of course.

Access to drinkable water, whether bottled or tap, is essential. Regardless of whether or not you have a virus, hydration is one of the surest ways to stay healthy.

Before self-quarantining, think through any additional household items you may need. Over-the-counter or prescription medication; household products like toilet paper and cleaning supplies; personal hygiene products like toothpaste and shampoo; and anything else your household might need, from baby diapers to pet food.

Also, don’t forget to supply yourself with what you need to stay engaged and entertained. Board games, books, or the endless supply of streaming movies and TV shows will surely help. Keep in mind that quarantine will limit your mobility for a short period of time. A small set of weights or ideas for how to integrate some exercise in your days may help keep you focused and strong while you take COVID-19 precautions.

If you need supplies delivered, ask the delivery person to leave your package or food right outside your door and then collect it. That’ll make things safe for everyone involved.

How can I keep the rest of the home clean?

It’s important to keep spaces clean, focusing on the areas that the hands are going to touch the most—doorknobs, faucets, toilet handles, countertops. Wear household cleaning gloves to prevent any further spread.

When cleaning, it’s less ideal to use sponges because those stay moist and hold germs, so you can actually spread more germs with it. Bleach or EPA-approved disinfectants are great to use, and there isn’t one particular product that works better than the rest.  If you use a spraying disinfectant, let the product dry on the surface first to help kill germs.

Health and safety are always our top priorities at Memorial Hermann. This article reflects our perspective as of March 13, 2020, and we will update it regularly as COVID-19 evolves.

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Ali Vise