Dr Isabel Thompson is a general practitioner working in Johannesburg. She is a member of GGPC(Gauteng General Practitioners Collaboration) which has created a platform for doctors to share resources during Covid-19. Look for  #voicesthatcare on the GGPC Facebook page.

At the beginning of lockdown, we took the words isolation and quarantine lightly. Like we would never have to do this. And, besides, wasn’t being in lockdown isolating already?

We all know someone who has tested positive and has had to self isolate.Self isolation is if you have Covid (confirmed) and self quarantine is if you have had a high risk exposure and thus MAY be infectious/or still develop symptoms. So someone who has tested positive should self isolate.

While the restrictions on our movement may be less, we have to be responsible and act in the safety of all. That means using masks, physical distancing, washing and sanitising our hands – and quarantining for 14 days if we have been in high risk contact.

What? Quarantine? Staying home for  Two Weeks?

Yup. It’s hard, especially after coming through 100+ hard days of lockdown, but it is essential.

If you have been in high risk contact within a few days prior to a person being confirmed COVID positive, there is a good chance you will have contracted the virus yourself. And the only way NOT to pass it on (despite masks, sanitizer and physical distancing) is to self-quarantine at home. In fact, in some cases even if you have tested negative, you will be asked to quarantine.

1) What is a high risk contact?

  • – no mask
  • + closer than 1-2 m
  • + for longer than 15 minutes
  • + indoors/poor ventilation means more risk than outdoors/ well ventilated

2) What is quarantine? 

  • You have to stay home
  • That means no trips to the shops, no school, no work, no visitors.

3) Why 14 days?

  •  if you are infected with COVID, it takes 1-11 days to show symptoms (5 days average)
  •  you may be asymptomatic for the duration of the infection. Remember, asymptomatic people can still infect others, so you could unwittingly spread the infection
  • or you may start getting symptoms a few days after you become infected. Meanwhile, you might have already unwittingly spread the infection to others
  • you will probably be infectious for up to 14 days. Thereafter, it will be safe for you to resume your daily life

4) If I test negative for COVID, do I still have to quarantine?

YES! DEFINITELY! Here’s why:

  • the test isn’t 100% reliable. Up to 29% of people who have COVID will test negative and this is especially true of those who are either asymptomatic carriers of COVID, or who have not yet shown symptoms of COVID. So you might still infect others, even if the test comes back negative
  • there is no way around it: after a positive contact, YOU ARE OBLIGED TO QUARANTINE for 14 days
  • this is regardless of a positive or a negative test, and why we don’t test asymptomatic contacts
  • furthermore, tests have now become a scarce resource, and need to be saved for those who really need them

Do what you can to flatten the curve!

We know that quarantine is a big ask. No one wants to quarantine. It’s hard! And boring! But let’s not forget that this is a life threatening illness, and many vulnerable people will die from it. Infections are rising exponentially right now and hospitals, both private and government, are filling to capacity. There are fewer government-directed restrictions, but we all have to do our best to act responsibly, for our sake and for the sake of our fellow citizens. And so, I repeat, that means:

  • using masks,
  • physical distancing,
  • washing and sanitizing our hands – and
  • quarantining for 14 days if we have been in high risk contact.

Please work with your doctor around these decisions. We care. We are there for you. And stay safe!

Useful guidelines on quarantine and isolation

What to do if I:

Footnote: “Quarantine” after quarantina (Italian: forty): in the 14 and 15th centuries, sailors had to wait for forty days in their ships on arrival in port. If there were no outbreaks of plague during that time (incubation of plague +_38 days), they could go ashore, safe in the knowledge that they would not carry infection into the port. 

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