Physical (Social) Distancing vs. Quarantine (Self-Isolate) vs. Isolate

Physical (Social) Distancing vs. Quarantine (Self-Isolate) vs. Isolate

Photo by Anna Shvets

There are differences between physical (social) distancing, quarantine (self-isolate), and isolate.1 Please refer and adhere to your jurisdiction’s protocols. If you have recently traveled, you may refer to the latest COVID-19 update on the International Air Transport Association website,2 which includes a list of countries and their restriction measures. 

In order to make data available for Canadians, people living in the United States, and the rest of the world, we included information from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. See below for information about physical (social) distancing, quarantine (self-isolate), and isolation from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. 

Table of Contents

  1. Physical (social) distancing
  2. Quarantine (Self-Isolation)
  3. Isolation
  4. References
1. Physical (social) distancing
This video shows physical distancing (i.e. remaining at least 2 metres or 6 feet from others) in different settings. Please follow guidelines and recommendations of your jurisdiction.
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

Physical (social) distancing is something we all must do to slow the spread of COVID-19. Keep 2 metres (6 feet) distance between yourself and other people.

Read more here:

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. Physical distancing: How to slow the spread of COVID-19 https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/social-distancing.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

To practice physical (social) distancing, stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm’s length) from non-household members  in indoor and outdoor spaces.

Read more here: 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Social Distancing. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html
World Health Organization (WHO)

It is recommended to maintain at least a 1 metre physical distance from others. This suggestion applies to all individuals, even those that may not have been exposed to COVID-19.

Students and staff are recommended to follow physical distancing guidelines in schools and classrooms 

Read more here: 

  1. World Health Organization. Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
  2. World Health Organization. Considerations for quarantine of individuals in the context of containment for coronavirus disease (COVID-19). https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/considerations-for-quarantine-of-individuals-in-the-context-of-containment-for-coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)
2. Quarantine (Self-Isolate)
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

For 14 days, you may need to stay at home and monitor for symptoms.

You may need to quarantine for 14 days even if you have no symptoms in these cases (and perhaps other situations):

  • Are returning from travel. 
  • Had close contact with someone who has tested positive or is suspected of having COVID-19 infection. 
  • Have been advised by your local public health authority that you could have been exposed and need to quarantine. 

Read more here:

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. How to quarantine (self-isolate) at home when you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and have no symptoms. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-how-to-self-isolate-home-exposed-no-symptoms.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Quarantine keeps someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others. You should stay home for 14 days after your last close contact with a person who has COVID-19 and monitor your health.

You may need to quarantine for 14 days if you have:

  • Been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19

What is close contact? 

  • You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes.
  • You provided at-home care to someone who is sick with COVID-19.
  • You had direct physical contact with the person (touched, hugged, or kissed them).
  • You shared eating or drinking utensils.
  • They sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on you.

When to start and end quarantine depends on different factors and situations (See the link below to determine when you can end quarantine and be around others)

Read more here: 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quarantine if you might be sick. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/quarantine.html
World Health Organization (WHO)

Quarantine refers to separation of individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19, even if the individuals themselves are not experiencing symptoms. 

It involves restriction of activities and self-monitoring of symptoms with the goal of preventing possible infection of others. It is recommended to quarantine for at least 14 days after exposure, during which the individual should physically distance from others, including family members. 

Read more here: 

  1. World Health Organization. Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
  2. World Health Organization. Considerations for quarantine of individuals in the context of containment for coronavirus disease (COVID-19). https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/considerations-for-quarantine-of-individuals-in-the-context-of-containment-for-coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)
3. Isolation
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

You may be advised by your local public health authority to go directly home and stay home until you are no longer at risk of spreading the virus.

You may need to isolate if you have:

  • Been diagnosed with COVID-19 or you are waiting for your laboratory test results for COVID-19.
  • Symptoms of COVID-19, even if symptoms are mild and have:  
    • Been in contact with a suspected, probable, or confirmed case of COVID-19. 
    • Been advised by your public health authority (e.g. if you are returning from travel).

Read more here: 

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. How to isolate at home when you may have COVID-19. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/covid-19-how-to-isolate-at-home.html 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Isolation separates people infected with the virus (those who are sick with COVID-19 and those with no symptoms) from people who are not infected.

You need to isolate if you have COVID-19 (including if you are symptomatic or asymptomatic). Continue to monitor your health. 

When you can be around others depends on different factors and situations. (See the link below to determine when you can end isolation and be around others)

Read more here: 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Isolate if you are sick. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/isolation.html
World Health Organization (WHO)

Isolation is the separation of individuals who are known to be ill with COVID-19 symptoms, with the goal of preventing infection of others. 

The individual is to: 

  • Stay at home
  • Maintain a 1 metre distance from others, including family members
  • Not go to work, school or public places
  • Monitor symptoms

Isolation lasts at least 14 days. If the individual develops difficulty breathing or other severe symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. 

Read more here: 

  1. World Health Organization. Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
  2. World Health Organization. Considerations for quarantine of individuals in the context of containment for coronavirus disease (COVID-19). https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/considerations-for-quarantine-of-individuals-in-the-context-of-containment-for-coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)
4. References
  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html 
  2. IATA. Travel news powered by IATA Timatic. https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/international-travel-document-news/1580226297.htm

Disclaimer: The information regarding COVID-19 is changing constantly as more data become available. The information provided in this website is not meant to replace diabetes healthcare team or public health agencies recommendations, and is intended for information purposes only. Please check with your healthcare providers for any deviations from your care plans.


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