Worried you'll be asked to self-quarantine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus? Here's how to prepare and what to expect.

By Nicole Harris
Updated March 23, 2020

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Parents.com's COVID-19 Guide for up-to-date information on statistics, disease spread, and travel advisories.

Officials worldwide have been trying to combat the spread of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes, COVID-19. As one preventative measure, government and health organizations have been asking people with potential exposure to self-quarantine, which might limit transmission of the respiratory disease that originated in Wuhan, China.

In America—where the coronavirus is rapidly spreading—thousands of people have been advised to self-quarantine in affected areas. And considering that the coronavirus has spread to every state, that's a lot of people who are avoiding social interaction.

So what happens if you’re asked to self-quarantine as a coronavirus prevention method? Read on to learn how to prepare and what to expect.

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Why Are People Being Asked to Self-Quarantine?

The coronavirus causes coughing, fever, and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When infected people cough, contagious droplets are released into the air—and these can cause infection if they come in contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth. Naturally, being near people who might have the coronavirus increases your risk of contracting the disease. 

In an effort to limit transmission, officials have been isolating those with confirmed coronavirus cases. “Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick,” according to the CDC. State and local governments can order isolation for individuals at risk to the community. 

Officials have also been asking those with potential exposure to self-quarantine. This includes, for example, family members and coworkers of infected individuals, and those who traveled to countries with the coronavirus outbreaks (like China, Italy, South Korea, and Iran). “Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick,” says the CDC. 

You don’t need to wait for a government order to self-quarantine. If you’re ill with respiratory symptoms, believe you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, or recently traveled to a high-risk country, you can quarantine yourself to prevent potential community transmission. 

What Exactly Does It Mean?

If you are quarantined, you’ll be asked to remain in your home unless you need to visit a health center. Roommates, children, and other family members might be asked to stay quarantined too—but it’s possible they’ll be able to attend work and school. 

During self-quarantine, here's how you can prevent possible transmission to others:

  • Staying in a separate room
  • Using your own bathroom, if possible
  • Limiting contact with humans and pets
  • Prohibiting unnecessary visitors
  • Wearing a face mask in communal areas
  • Not sharing dinnerware, towels, and other household items. 

Keep in mind  that the absolute best way to prevent coronavirus transmission is washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, says Aimee Ferraro, Ph.D., faculty member for Walden University’s Master of Public Health (MPH). She also stresses the importance of respiratory hygiene: coughing into your elbow, throwing away used tissues, and disinfecting communal surfaces (like countertops or doorknobs). 

How Long is Self-Quarantine Recommended?

Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. However, they believe the incubation period is anywhere from two days to two weeks. Therefore most people are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to the CDC.

What if I Have to Leave the House?

Don't leave the house unless you need to visit the hospital. Warn your medical center in advance that you plan to visit, and wear a face mask during the commute.

How Can I Prepare for Self-Quarantine?

Thanks to the spread of the coronavirus, many Americans have been preparing for potential self-quarantine. They’ve depleted grocery stores of canned goods and hand sanitizer, took measures to work from home, and made arrangements for school closures. Here are some steps you can take to prepare for potential self-quarantine; they may be especially important if you live in an area with high rates of coronavirus transmission. 

Stay hygienic. Maintain proper hand and respiratory hygiene to avoid getting coronavirus in the first place. Also teach these practices to children—and encourage them to avoid body contact and stay away from anyone who appears ill. What’s more, “parents should keep their children home from daycare or school if they are sick, and call their healthcare provider early to discuss the best approach for treatment,” recommends Dr. Ferraro. 

Stock up on non-perishable food. This includes canned beans, boxed pasta, jarred sauces, and anything else that won't expire quickly. You might also buy longer-lasting produce like apples and carrots. Don’t hoard, though—you’ll only be confined to your home for 14 days, and other people need supplies as well.

Buy cleaning supplies and necessities. Purchase cleaning products like soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. If your grocery store is out of hand sanitizer, consider making your own kid-friendly option. You’ll also need basic toiletries like toilet paper and toothpaste. 

Prepare to work from home. Take measures that allow for telecommuting, if possible—take your work laptop home, set up virtual forms of communication, etc. 

Get entertainment. As you can imagine, you’ll probably feel restless when stuck at home for two weeks. Board games, streaming services, and activities will be saving graces for children, so be prepared!

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