from Dictionary.com by John Kelly, Senior Research Editor at Dictionary.com
During public health emergencies, like the outbreak of the coronavirus, it’s essential to stay informed. But a lot of that information, when it’s not misleading, can be overwhelming and confusing—down to the very words we use to talk about a crisis.
What’s COVID-19? Is that the same thing as coronavirus? Is the disease an epidemic or pandemic? And what’s the difference between quarantine and isolation?
In everyday conversations, people sometimes use quarantine and isolation interchangeably to refer to separating people in various ways due to the spread of a disease. But for doctors, public health officials, and other professionals, there is an important distinction between quarantine and isolation.
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Let’s break these words down.
What does quarantine mean?
In general, a quarantine is “a strict isolation imposed to prevent the spread of disease.” We know what you might be thinking: so, a quarantine is … just an isolation? Not exactly.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, the practice of a quarantine specifically involves:
… the separation of a person or group of people reasonably believed to have been exposed to a communicable disease but not yet symptomatic, from others who have not been so exposed, to prevent the possible spread of the communicable disease.
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