If you’ve potentially been exposed to the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), you may have been told to self-isolate.
It’s a strategy that health agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and national governments are recommending to help limit the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
But who exactly needs to self-isolate and what does it involve?
Self-isolation rules may change as the COVID-19 outbreak continues. They may also differ between different countries and regions.
In the UK, for example, self-isolation is currently recommended for:
If you don't know if you need to self-isolate, check the recommendations for the country or region you're currently in.
Most countries have a specific phone number that you can call if you're worried that you may have been exposed to the new coronavirus. You should call this number for advice about self-isolation.
If a health professional has told you to self-isolate and you don't have any symptoms, you should stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 14 days.
If you do have symptoms, you should avoid contact with others for 7 days.
If you live with someone who has symptoms of COVID-19, you should self-isolate for 14 days from the day the person started having symptoms.
When self-isolating, you must:
Don’t go to work or any public places, and avoid using any form of public transport, including taxis.
If you live in shared accommodation, such as student accommodation or a hotel, you should still avoid contact with others. You can do this by:
Even though you'll be avoiding direct contact with others while self-isolating, you should still maintain good hygiene to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
You can do this by:
Some people have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they develop COVID-19. These include:
If you live with anyone who falls into any of these 'at-risk' groups, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.
If you've been asked to self-isolate, you must stay away from work. Speak to your employer and let them know that you need to stay at home and out of contact with other people for the next 14 days.
Different employers have different policies for staff members who have to self-isolate, but if you’re well, you may be able to work from home.
Seek medical care immediately if you develop a cough, fever, shortness of breath or if you feel like your illness is getting worse.
Most countries have a dedicated phone number for people worried that they may have been exposed to the new coronavirus. Call this number (or an ambulance if it’s an emergency) and let them know that you’ve been asked to self-isolate because of the new coronavirus.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [cited 12 March 2020]. Available here.
Self-isolation advice [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 12 March 2020]. Available here.
Advice for home isolation [Internet]. GOV.UK. 2020 [cited 12 March 2020]. Available here.
COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) - Self-isolation [Internet]. Ministry of Health NZ. 2020 [cited 12 March 2020]. Available here.
Editor B. Coronavirus (COVID-19): What is self-isolation and why is it important? - Public health matters [Internet]. Publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk. 2020 [cited 12 March 2020]. Available here.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.