If you or someone in your household develop flu-like symptoms, a fever or a persistent cough, you should self-isolate and not leave your house for any reason for at least 14 days from the onset of symptoms, until symptom-free and fever-free for 72 hours without the use of fever-lowering medications. If you have received a negative test result for COVID-19 during this period and no other members of your household have developed symptoms, all should be well.
However, if you did test positive for COVID-19 and were instructed to self-isolate at home, you could still infect others after you stop feeling sick, so the latest recommendation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that you remain in self-isolation for another 14 days after symptoms disappear. All other members of your household must also self-isolate and, if any of them become unwell during the first person’s 14 days of isolation, the same measures will have to be followed for another 14-day period.
You have to test negative for COVID-19 twice in a row, 24 hours apart, to confirm that you are no longer contagious before resuming your normal routine.
What does self-isolation mean in practical terms?
- Stay in a separate room away from other people and pets in the home and remain there as much as you can. Keep the windows open to let in clean, fresh air.
- Avoid all contact with other people and pets in your home. When you can’t avoid being around others, always cover your nose and mouth with a face mask.
- Do not leave the house unless it’s to seek medical attention. Call ahead before going to your doctor’s office, clinic or hospital and inform them that you have, or may have COVID-19. Avoid using public transport.
- If you can, use a separate bathroom to everyone else in the home. If you are sharing a bathroom, you should use your own towels, toothbrush and washcloth, and keep them separate from the rest of the household. Clean and disinfect the toilet and bathroom every time you have finished using them.
- If you share a kitchen, avoid using it when others are present. Take turns to cook or use the kitchen. Clean the kitchen and disinfect any surfaces you have touched afterwards with household detergent or bleach. Take your meals back to your room to eat.
- Use separate utensils, glasses, cups, cutlery and crockery to everyone else. If you have a dishwasher, use a 60° cycle to clean and dry your used crockery and cutlery. If you don’t have a dishwasher, do your washing up using warm water and your normal washing-up liquid. Dry them thoroughly afterwards using a separate dish cloth.
- Other people in your household should regularly and thoroughly wash their hands and avoid touching their faces. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry.
- All high-touch surfaces in your home should be disinfected every day, including phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables.
- Tissues, disposable cleaning cloths, wipes, masks, gloves and other personal waste should be stored in disposable rubbish bags, placed inside another bag and stored separately for at least five days in direct sunlight before being placed outside for collection.
- Any dirty laundry should be washed separately at a high temperature (60°), and then tumble-dried or hung outside in the sun to dry before being ironed.
The difference between quarantine and isolation
The word ‘quarantine’ refers to the separation of a person or group of people who have been, or may reasonably have been, exposed to a communicable disease but are not yet symptomatic, to prevent the possible spread of the communicable disease. Voluntary quarantine (when someone isn’t ordered to go into quarantine but chooses to do so just out of caution) is often called self-quarantine.
Isolation happens when a person is infected with a communicable disease, and is separated from people who are not infected (in a hospital, for example) in order to stop the spread of the disease. Voluntary isolation at home is now often referred to as self-isolation, although it does not necessarily mean that the person or group of people are actually infected, but may have reason to suspect that they could be.