The Terminology of Keeping Distance


The terminology comes from the public health field but most of us struggle to comprehend the exact meaning and what should be applied in our own situation.



“Social Distancing: This Is Not a Snow Day.” To slow the coronavirus, wrote Dr. Asaf Bitton, we must act quickly and start “making daily choices to stay away from each other as much as possible.”

Social distancing is ultimately about creating physical distance between people who don’t live together. It means closing schools and workplaces, canceling concerts and Broadway shows. For individuals, it means keeping six feet of distance between you and others and avoiding physical contact.

It means no dinner parties, no playdates, no birthday parties even with a few friends.

Who should do this? Everyone.


This means stay home. Don’t leave the house unless you absolutely have to. Don’t socialize with people outside your family. Don’t go to a friend’s house for dinner or invite a trusted friend over.

You are allowed to go outside for essentials (groceries or prescriptions) but you should limit those trips to no more than once a week if possible. People with essential jobs — public safety, medical, sanitation or grocery worker — can still go to work. And you can visit someone if you are their caregiver.

You can walk the dog or exercise outside as long as you keep a six-foot distance from others.



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Who should do this? Everyone who lives in an area with a mandatory shelter-in-place order (Northern California and possibly, soon, New York City). But many infectious disease experts say that everyone else should voluntarily shelter in place.

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Checking your temperature,  and watching for signs of coronavirus infection (fever, shortness of breath and coughing, flu-like symptoms.) A person who is self-monitoring should already be staying home and limiting interactions with others.

Who should do this?those with possible exposure to the virus but had only distant contact with the infected person.


This term is used to separate and restrict the movement of someone who is well but who recently had close contact with a person who later was diagnosed with the virus. A person in self-quarantine should follow all the rules of sheltering in place, except they should avoid going to stores or interacting with the public even on a limited basis for a 14-day period. (A friend should bring you groceries.)

A person in self-quarantine should sleep in a separate space from other family members.

Who should do this? Persons without symptoms, but with a contact history (with someone who later became ill.)



Isolation is used to separate a person who has a diagnosed case or someone who has distinct symptoms including a cough, fever and shortness of breath, but hasn’t yet been tested or received test results. A person in isolation should be confined to a separate room with no or minimal contact with the rest of the household (including pets) and use a separate bathroom if possible. Most of the time, a sick person will feel a bit miserable, but he or she can pick up food trays left at the door. Sanitize a shared bathroom after using it.

Who should do this?  Anyone with a confirmed case of Covid-19, a person waiting for test results or a person with obvious symptoms who is still waiting to be tested. Everyone else in the household should self-quarantine.



A government-imposed lockdown on a community, as has happened in Italy, in which movements are severely restricted. People can still go out for essentials and to get fresh air, but they can do so only under strictly controlled conditions or on a specific schedule imposed by public safety officials.

Who should do this? Everyone who lives in an area under quarantine. “We haven’t seen this in the U.S.,” according to Dr. Bitton, but certainly in Wuhan, Hubei, Italy, and other countries.

About D. Posnett MD

Emeritus Prof. of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College
This entry was posted in Coronavirus, Health Care, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Terminology of Keeping Distance

  1. Pingback: #StaytheFuckHome | Resist and Replace

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