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Coronavirus terms defined: Social distancing, quarantine, self-monitoring, isolation

By Merritt Jones, | Posted - Mar. 16, 2020 at 7:41 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — With confusion and fear surrounding the coronavirus outbreaks across the country, terms like social distancing and quarantine need some clarification.

Social distancing

Social distancing means avoiding large events and mass gatherings, defined as groups of 50 or more including but not limited to conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, etc.

Though many events are already postponed and canceled due to coronavirus concerns, the CDC asks that events of any size should continue only with adherence to social distancing guidelines. For the next eight weeks, they also ask the public to avoid theaters, shopping centers, schools, churches and public transportation.

As of Monday, President Trump added that for the next 15 days, everyone should avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more. Previously, on Sunday, the CDC asked U.S. citizens to avoid groups of 50 or more.

"Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities," the CDC explained on their website.

Social distancing also includes avoiding close contact with others.

"Close contact means being within approximately six feet of a person who has COVID-19 for a lengthy period of time," according to Utah’s coronavirus website.

Caring for, living with, or visiting a person who has COVID-19 can count as close contact. It can even occur with those who share a health care waiting area — if the individual is within six feet of an infected person for a lengthy period of time.

Public health officials use the social distancing strategy often to combat influenza and other respiratory diseases.


The CDC defines quarantine as the separation and restriction of movement for people exposed to a contagious disease for active monitoring, "to see if they become sick."

Utah’s coronavirus website adds, "Quarantine means separating a person or group of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease, but have not developed illness (symptoms) from others who have not been exposed."

Groups and persons who have recently traveled to countries where COVID-19 is widespread will be monitored in U.S. Quarantine Stations. Located at ports of entry and land border crossings, these help to limit the introduction and spread of infectious diseases into the United States.

Individuals released from quarantine are no longer considered a risk of spreading the disease.


Federal quarantine is rarely used. In fact, the last large-scale isolation and quarantine occurred during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-1919.

"In recent history, only a few public health events have prompted federal isolation or quarantine orders," according to the CDC.

At this time, Utah officials are just asking people to socially distance themselves from others.


As defined by the CDC, isolation "separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick," differing from a quarantine that separates individuals who are exposed without symptoms from healthy persons.

Each state has laws to protect the health and welfare of people within their borders. This includes enacting requirements of isolation or quarantine, "to control the spread of disease within their borders," according to the CDC.

Currently, anyone traveling from an area where COVID-19 is widespread that has not already been under quarantine should self-isolate for two weeks. This also applies to individuals who have had close contact with someone infected with the virus or disease.

Both isolation and quarantine help protect the public by preventing exposure to people who may or may not have a contagious disease.


The CDC encourages all U.S. citizens to check themselves for coronavirus symptoms — a fever, cough and shortness of breath — as concerns with exposure arise. Also to continue protecting others by staying at home if you’re sick and covering coughs and sneezes.

Sanitizing all surfaces also remains important.

Experts say the virus spreads from person-to-person, through respiratory droplets produced by coughs or sneezes. Utahns should continue to avoid close contact with sick individuals and wash their hands often.

"You may also be at risk if you have direct contact with infectious secretions of a person with COVID-19 (e.g., being coughed on)," Utah’s coronavirus website states.

Those who are sick should wear a facemask around others. Those who are healthy do not need a facemask. The masks' purpose is to keep sick individuals from spreading illness.

If you believe you may have the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, call your health care provider first. For more information on what to do if you are sick, please visit CDC’s "What to do if you are sick" page.

Utah’s coronavirus website also encourages Utahns to keep in mind the time of year. Cold and flu season are still abroad, and allergy season is beginning for many. You are still more likely to get the flu than the coronavirus.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources


  • To help mitigate infectious transmission of COVID-19, health care officials advise anyone who thinks they might have the virus to first call their doctor before going to a hospital
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often
  • Stay home if you’re feeling sick
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Cough or sneeze in your elbow or a tissue

Risk and symptoms

  • Utah is seeing a growing number of cases, state counts by county can be found here and global updates can be found here.
  • Infected patients typically have a fever, cough and shortness of breath


Merritt Jones


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