What is the difference between social distancing and self-isolation?

Measures of social distancing and physical isolation are being increased around the world as an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19, a respiratory illness. While isolating yourself from other people is an important and effective way of keeping yourself and others from catching viruses, what is the difference between the practices of social distancing and self-isolation, and what should you be doing at a minimum? Everyone should be social distancing and reducing their contact with others, but not everyone should self-isolate. These are the differences.

Social Distancing

This is a measure meant for all members of the population. Even if they do not feel sick, people should stay at home and only leave for essential reasons, such as to get groceries or go to work if their employment has been deemed essential and they cannot work from home. Avoid crowds, don’t have any guests over to your home to visit, wash your hands consistently, and make sure you stay six feet away from other people. Social distancing is the most impactful measure being put into practice, as it applies to everyone. Even if you are not displaying symptoms of coronavirus, there is a chance you could still have the illness and be spreading it to people you come into contact with.


Self-isolation is a measure meant for people who have symptoms of the coronavirus illness and have received positive test results or other confirmation by a medical professional. These people should stay at home and in a room by themselves if they live with other people. They should not leave their home unless their symptoms have worsened to the point where they need to receive medical care at a hospital. The people they live with should also refrain from leaving the house and going to work or the grocery store for 14 days.

Although social distancing and self-isolation are dramatic measures that impact daily life, they are effective and necessary in the attempt to slow the spread of disease. The more people understand the differences between these recommendations and comply accordingly, the sooner the outbreak will be controlled.


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