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.
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.