What’s the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Isolation and quarantine are two buzzwords associated with the novel coronavirus. They sound similar--so what’s the difference? Both are public health tools to protect people from getting sick with COVID-19. But they’re not the same thing. 

According to the CDC, isolation is the separation of sick patients from people who are not sick. Quarantine is the separation and restriction of the movement of apparently healthy people who were exposed to a contagious disease.

Isolation prevents the spread of a disease by keeping people who are sick with the novel coronavirus away from the healthy people. This can be done in a separate room at home or in a health facility, like a hospital. Isolated individuals’ movement is severely restricted. 

Quarantined individuals might have the virus, even though they aren’t sick yet, so they’re expected to stay away from others. They are restricted to personal spaces unless and until they need to seek care at a healthcare facility. Quarantined individuals should not travel.


Last update: April 19, 2020
Science review: ERS, JAB