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COVID-19 Resources

Self-Quarantine: Who Needs It?

Mar. 26, 2020

“Wash your hands,” “do the five” and “flatten the curve” are trending terms that already summarize 2020. It is an unprecedented time that calls for everyone to practice new or unfamiliar habits to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).


As the number of cases of COVID-19 rises, healthcare experts continue to learn more about the virus. Carl Fichtenbaum, MD, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, said self-quarantine is necessary for those who:

  • are known to be infected with COVID-19.
  • are suspected to have COVID-19.
  • have been exposed to patients who are ill with COVID-19.

How to Spot Symptoms

While healthcare experts are still learning more about COVID-19, patients may experience:

  • Cough.
  • Fever.
  • Tiredness.
  • Difficulty breathing.

When Self-Quarantining Is Needed

“If you are ill, you need to stay in self-quarantine until you are better from your symptoms,” said. Dr. Fichtenbaum. “One practical method I suggest to ensure you don’t spread the virus further to others is to make sure you have no fever for three days and then count forward another seven days until you are able to come out of self-quarantine. It will not be practical to test everyone who has COVID-19 to make sure the illness is gone for the foreseeable future.”

If you are not ill but have been exposed to someone who is diagnosed with COVID-19, then Dr. Fichtenbaum suggests remaining in self-quarantine for 14 days.

The 14-day time period coincides with the virus’s “incubation period,” or the time between catching the virus and showing symptoms. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the incubation period ranges from one to 14 days.

“The incubation period varies for patients, so to help prevent the spread of the virus, we need to practice self-quarantining for a time period that might seem a little long to a lot of people,” said Dr. Fichtenbaum. “Remember, COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected patient coughs or sneezes. This means that the virus can spread quite easily. Self-quarantining is necessary to help prevent the spread.” 

Actions to Take

Self-quarantine means that a person stays home and keeps away from everyone else to prevent them from developing COVID-19. This is different from “shelter-in-place,” when people mostly stay in their homes. UC Health advises that you comply with any "stay in place" orders from your state and federal government leaders.

When in self-quarantine, Dr. Fichtenbaum suggests people take the following actions:

  • Stay at home and away from family members and/or roommates.
  • Do not have visitors.
  • Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid using the same utensils, towels, plates, and glasses at home when in self-quarantine.
  • Disinfect commonly used areas, like bathrooms and kitchens, after use by the person under self-quarantine.
  • Wash clothes, linens and towels to ensure disinfection.

“While there are many actions to take, it is equally important to monitor your symptoms,” said Dr. Fichtenbaum. “Check for fever and monitor your cough and shortness of breath. If these symptoms develop, call your healthcare provider.”

Self-quarantine is not for people who are healthy. Dr. Fichtenbaum suggests that if you are healthy and have not been exposed to someone who is ill with COVID-19, then social distancing is more appropriate.

Social distancing is an intentional behavior that increases the physical space between people to avoid spreading the virus. Dr. Fichtenbaum recommends staying at least 6 feet away from other people will lessen your chance of catching COVID-19.

“If we all do our part,” said Dr. Fichtenbaum, “then it will make a big difference for your health and the health of others around you.”