David Witt, MD, explains the difference between ‘quarantine’ and ‘isolation’

Although the term “quarantine” has been used to describe the state of millions of Americans who are staying home due to orders from their city or state to prevent the spread of COVID-19, “isolation” is a more accurate term for what most people are doing, said Permanente physician leader David Witt, MD, in a recent interview with U.S. News & World Report.

Dr. Witt explained that a quarantine is used to separate and restrict someone who has been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they get sick.

“For a quarantine, there is a legal penalty if you violate it,” said Dr. Witt, an infectious disease physician with The Permanente Medical Group in Northern California. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, however, many people and media sources are not using the term “quarantine” in the legal sense.

Not all workers can do their jobs from home, making the current closures and shelter-in-place mandates challenging for many people. Despite this, Dr. Witt said, he has been encouraged in the San Francisco Bay area to see the number of people self-isolating and respecting the mandate to stay home, which can help reduce the number of people exposed to or contracting the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

People can reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19 by avoiding public transportation where many are packed close together, Dr. Witt said, as well as by communicating with medical professionals via telehealth.

If you think you have symptoms of COVID-19 or another illness that may need help from a doctor, check with local or state recommendations for how to proceed, Witt advised.

“Much can be done over the phone, at least to assess if it is urgent or not,” Witt said.

Read the full story on the U.S. News & World Report site.